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PUBLISH DATE: Mar 09 2021
UPD: Jun 17 2021
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The Leaders of Tech4Good: Meet Georg Lozinski

We shed light on hot topics and main challenges in sustainability and ethics

This is our first “The Leaders of Tech4Good” interview in 2021, and today, we would like you to meet our Sustainability & Ethics Specialist — Georg Lozinski. Together with him, we will look into why and how companies should implement sustainability strategy. Sustainability is a topical issue nowadays, a necessity rather than a possibility, so let’s have a look.

Who is Georg Lozinski?

Georg Lozinski is a sustainability and ethics specialist at Keenethics. For the last 12 years, Georg has worked in more than 10 countries on various sustainability initiatives and projects with a focus on environmental and climate change issues. Lastly, he has been working for several consulting companies in Germany developing and implementing sustainability strategies for a number of big corporate clients. He also conducted more than 15 trainings on developing and monitoring climate change mitigation projects in several developing countries.

Why have you decided to choose sustainability as your career path?

Since childhood, I was excited to learn how our world is developing and what we can do to maintain our resources and our planet for future generations. This drove me to learn geography and ecology and later to proceed with my professional career working on various climate and sustainability topics. While the time passed, I also understood that sustainability could be not only interesting for individuals, governments, or NGOs but also profitable and very useful for private business. This includes, for example, the possibility to reduce energy consumption, achieve sustainable sourcing of products and materials, assure continuity of business, make customers happy, reach new markets, improve the company’s image, and retain the best people in the company.

Sustainability is such a broad term. How do you define it?

Yes, indeed, sustainability is a very broad term with a number of definitions. From the environmental perspective, I personally like this definition by the 1987 Bruntland Commission Report:

Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Based on this, corporate sustainability is the approach aimed to create long-term stakeholder value through the implementation of a business strategy that focuses on the ethical, social, environmental, cultural, and economic dimensions of doing business. Research shows that organizations that engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts tend to have stronger financial performance.

Most commonly, there are three pillars that form a multi-disciplinary point of view at sustainability — Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) focus areas. On the corporate level, a good practice is to develop a set of KPIs and policies for each focus area and to relate these to 17 UN SDGs (United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals) defined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

A good overview of the topics can be found in the extract from the Sustainability Report below: 

Many companies have already developed and implemented their sustainability strategy, which has a positive impact on their business. Lets take for example a German producer Henkel. Henkel was the first company in Germany and within its sector to conclude a 1.5 billion-euro agreement on a “Green Loan” as early as 2018. Its interest rates are linked to the fulfillment of fixed sustainability criteria in the form of sustainability ratings. The key factor in the adjustment to the interest rates is a change in the ratings supplied by three recognized sustainability ranking agencies: Sustainalytics, EcoVadis, and ISS-oekom. The involvement of these different sustainability rating agencies ensures that Henkel’s sustainability performance is assessed in a balanced, objective, and comprehensive way.

At the same time, still there are companies that do not address sustainability properly yet. Let’s take a look at the example of the biggest international retailer Amazon, which has got bad press coverage about the unfair treatment of their warehouse workers and the disparity in earnings between CEO Jeff Bezos, one of the richest men in the world, and the armies of workers toiling in their e-fulfillment centers.

Eventually, Amazon finally did appoint a head of sustainability in 2014. They have made advances in the areas of reducing waste from excess packaging and investing in Wind Farms. But it is in transportation where Amazon is creating the biggest adverse impacts on the environment. They have done next to nothing in this area. Amazon in 2018 purchased 20,000 delivery vans for last-mile deliveries, which were powered by internal combustion engines — not a single electric vehicle in the bunch. Amazon, a company with the most innovative supply chain in the world, puts so little emphasis on working to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions across their supply chain.

One impressive story about Amazon’s unsustainability was told by a customer who bought nine rolls of window film to make her home more energy-efficient. She was surprised when the rolls arrived at her door in nine separate boxes. Despite being small enough to fit in a single box, the staff at the Amazon fulfillment center opted to pack them individually.

The same story happened to me recently in Germany. I bought 4 pairs of jeans from another online retailer Zalando, and they were delivered to me in 4 separate packages at different times. 

Are there any sustainability topics specific to the IT sphere?

For the IT sphere, in addition to the three ESG dimensions, we can add a number of issues around other topics. For example, we should consider quality management systems (ISO 9001), Business-Continuity-Management-System (e.g. according to ISO 22301), which includes a high degree of digitalization. Also, it is important to consider Best-Practice-Governance-processes, Incident-Response-Teams, and, of course, information management systems ISO 27000 with Best Practices for the safety management and safety controls. 

Let’s have a closer look at each aspect — Environment sustainability, Social sustainability, and Governance. First of all, what are your recommendations in terms of environmental sustainability? 

To start developing the environmental sustainability policy, you should begin with establishing the Sustainability Steering Committee or other management body at the highest level of top management and appoint people responsible for the development and implementation of the sustainability strategy. 

The next step is stakeholder and materiality mapping. The company should identify the most important topics for itself, such as carbon emissions, energy and water consumption, waste, ecosystems improvement, or any other environmental issue. The company should consult with relevant stakeholders such as Contractors, Consultants and Suppliers, Customers, Employees, Local Community, Regulators, and NGOs in order to narrow down and prioritize the most material and important sustainability topics for the stakeholders and for itself. This Materiality Assessment will help to integrate sustainability into the business operations and practices and regularly review and assess the relevance of the material topics. 

Last but not least, the company shall establish realistic and measurable sustainability goals from the short-term (2-5 years), medium-term (5-10 years), and long-term (10-30 years) perspective. Here are the examples of such goals:

  • to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,
  • to reduce the amount of used plastic by X% in 7 years,
  • to reduce water consumption by X% in 3 years.

Also, the company should monitor these goals on an ongoing basis. 

Environmental sustainability should be implemented carefully. Let’s take the example of Volkswagen, a famous German car producer. Volkswagen admitted it had equipped 11 million of its diesel cars with software that could be used to cheat on emissions tests, all while merrily marketing the vehicles as “clean diesel.” When the scandal came out, the carmaker was hauled through the courts and ordered to refund eco-minded consumers more than $11 billion.

How can IT businesses contribute to environmental sustainability?

For developing environmental sustainability, we can start with implementing the Environmental Management System according to ISO14001. Also, the IT environmental sustainability might include Green IT measures for energy efficiency — sourcing or even production of renewable electricity. 

On the energy management side, such measures might include:

  • optimizing the usage of computers, 
  • purchasing laptops with low energy consumption and efficient cooling, 
  • ensuring optimal temperature in server rooms, 
  • installing LED lamps, 
  • installing movement sensors, 
  • using waste heat from the servers, 
  • upgrading building technology, e.g. efficient windows,
  • offsetting greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of carbon certificates,
  • purchasing and using electric cars as company cars,
  • promoting remote work to avoid unnecessary commute and associated carbon emissions.

On the waste side, we might employ waste sorting, appropriate waste utilization, use of recyclable materials in daily operations, and so on. 

Let’s look at a different example here — production company Uniliver and its sustainable brand Dove. One of the ways Dove tries to contribute to solving social and environmental problems is by reducing waste. Since 2013, Dove deodorants come in smaller, compressed cans. Besides that, Unilever wants to bridge the gender inequality gap, to help each woman celebrate herself. Dove advertisements feature women of different body types, skin and hair colors — to exemplify the actual female beauty. In fact, Unilever aimed to boost the self-esteem of 15 million women worldwide before 2020. Surprisingly enough, they reached this milestone as early as 2014.

Coming back to your question “what can IT businesses do for environmental sustainability,” I can tell you about another example: the American software group Autodesk, which came fifth in the 2020 Corporate Knights sustainability ranking. Autodesk rose 43 places from its 2019 ranking due to its use of 99% renewable energy to run its cloud platforms — platforms that help build green buildings, reduce materials in manufacturing life cycles, and support better designs for the circular economy. In addition, I would suggest to the companies striving for sustainability to participate in various international initiatives such as Science Based Targets for climate and in international sustainability rankings such as Sustainalytics or Carbon Disclosure Project. 

Alright, how about social sustainability? What are the policies that you believe all companies have to follow? 

Typically, social sustainability focuses on employees, communities, and customers. It can pursue a broad range of goals — from assuring access to sanitation for a certain amount of people to reaching equal female representation in senior management. An important point here is to link business operations and sustainability activities to strengthen the effect of corporate sustainability. For example:

Through the implementation of the software X, the life of Y amount of people (ill, disabled, etc) can be improved, a number X of trainings can be performed, and Y number of people could be reached and trained.

If your customers are looking for a company focused on quality and competence, you will benefit from increasing personnel qualification through knowledge sharing sessions, trainings, workshops etc. 

To start developing social sustainability, you can take the following measures:

  • choose proper channels to communicate about company achievements, such as social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter) and media platforms (e.g. YouTube), 
  • develop sustainability report, 
  • post sustainability news on the company website, 
  • write blogs on hot topics.

Speaking about social sustainability in HR, companies often sponsor or engage employees in various initiatives, such as planting trees or teaching students. Often these activities are aimed at potential future customers to improve or strengthen brand image and promote the company products or services.  Also, the company may grant their employees certain types of external and internal trainings, promote car sharing, carpooling, or leased bikes, provide fresh fruit baskets or organic food, offer free health inspection, subsidize fitness.

When we speak about sustainability in IT, some international companies have already developed, implemented, and reported on a number of sustainability strategies. Take a look at this example of how sustainability is reported and communicated by Microsoft:

For instance, as part of its social responsibility strategy, together with LinkedIn, Microsoft has launched free trainings to help people acquire relevant skills for jobs in-demand on LinkedIn. Everybody can improve their skills for free with learning paths from LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn, then practice tech skills in the GitHub Learning Lab.

Finally, why is governance important, and what policies does it include? 

Good governance is the foundation of building trust among stakeholders. It is about maintaining the highest standards of integrity, accountability, and governance in daily business operations. It starts with establishing policies and robust internal processes, mapping specific guidance areas, and ensuring compliance at the workplace. Examples of such policies include: Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, Whistle-blowing Policy, Anti-bribery Policy, Diversity & Inclusion Policy, and Personal Data Protection Policy.

The code of ethics is a guide of principles designed to help professionals conduct business honestly and with integrity. This document may outline the mission and values of the business or organization, ethical principles, standards, and the expected ways how professionals are supposed to approach problems.

Code of Business Conduct and Ethics deals with the responsibilities of management, such as delegating authority only to responsible employees and maintaining workplace safety by following safety and health policies, such as:

  • Diversity and Respect, Sexual Harassment, Reporting and Addressing Harassment;
  • Responsibility to Competitors, Fair Competition and Antitrust; 
  • Responsibility to Governments, Compliance with Law, including Anti-Corruption; 
  • Professional Conduct — no drugs and alcohol, Conflicts of Interest — improper payments/gifts; 
  • Charitable donations;
  • Procedures for resolving ethical questions. 

Alright, and are there any Governance practices specific to the IT sphere?

Specifically for the IT sector, there is a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct developed in the USA by the Association for Computing Machinery. This document defines general ethical principles for computing professionals. 

Another important topic for IT is data protection. It is a good practice to appoint a Data Protection Officer and form a data protection team to consult the business on data protection. An integrated data protection management system (DMS) should be implemented in accordance with the requirements of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

So, to summarize all this, what are your top three sustainability recommendations for every company?

Regardless of the line of business you are in or the size of your company, I would recommend starting with the following three steps:

Firstly, in the sustainability strategy development, you should focus on the most material topics in each dimension — environmental, social, and economic — and establish ownership for these topics at the highest level of company management.

Secondly, you ought to develop a sustainability strategy with measurable, realistic, and clear KPIs, as I have explained above. 

Thirdly, you should work on the development and continuous improvement of sustainability reporting and develop and implement a communication strategy for sustainability. To improve reporting on sustainability topics, you can consult with the Framework of Global Reporting Initiative and make communication more effective, engage external influencers. 

And our traditional question, what ethical values do you believe are the most important in today’s world?

I cannot single out only one ethical value. I believe responsibility, integrity, honesty, respect, trust, openness, fairness, and transparency are equally important.

Honesty in communications is crucial. It is about the intent to convey the truth as we best know it and to avoid communicating in a misleading or deceiving way. Reliability and responsibility impose the responsibility of making all reasonable efforts to fulfill given commitments. Responsible people look for ways to do their work better and pursuit of excellence. They do not shift blame or claim credit for the work of others. Caring is also at the heart of ethics. It is about supporting each other and being concerned with the welfare of others.

To Wrap Up

We hope that you find this interview as informative and interesting as we do. If you are doing a Tech4Good business, you can make it even more favorable for the community if you pursue fundamental sustainability goals. If you feel like you need technical help or sustainability & ethics strategy guidance, we will be happy to help. Also, we plan to write more Sustainability & Ethics articles together with Georg Lozinski in the future. In these articles, we will have a closer look at social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and governance. Stay tuned!

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