Time for T? Image: Aleksey Boev on Unsplash
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- Alongside ESG issues, there exists a vast and growing array of technological issues, risks and opportunities.
- This is the 'T' in ESGT.
- This year has been characterised by a perfect storm of interconnected ESGT systemic risks.
- The faster decision-makers are able to identify and resolve their ESGT issues, the quicker we can achieve our most pressing and important goals.
We are living in a world continually bombarded by serious environmental, social and governance issues. It is a world that is finally waking up to the notion that environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, risks and opportunities are critically important to any organization’s strategy, resilience and long-term viability – whether it is a business, a nonprofit, an educational institution, government entity or even a nation.
While the recognition of all things ESG is finally happening, there is no time to waste to add a 'T' for technology – making ESGT – to include the vast and growing array of technology and digital issues, risks and opportunities (see table below).
This year has been characterised by a compounded, interconnected storm of ESGT systemic risks (and, I would add opportunities) that have been accelerated in many ways by the pandemic that is currently enveloping the world:
Environment: Climate change concerns have continued to accelerate and, in some cases, worsen dramatically this year, above and beyond what scientists had already feared. Scientists have pointed to the overlap between the destruction of biodiversity and human encroachment into natural habitats as facilitating the spread of novel viruses – COVID-19 is, of course, exhibit A. This will continue to be a problem in search of multiple global solutions.
Society: Health, safety and security issues have exploded in the wake of the pandemic. Not only have those issues – which have been lurking for a long time – rushed to the surface, they have also spilled over into an array of related social issues, such as inequality (economic, racial and global); workforce displacement and job destruction; and workforce relocation from office to home, with its serious new social repercussions for privacy, child/eldercare and related matters as well as serious new opportunities for improving the future of work.
Governance: Leaders, executives and boards of directors everywhere have been put on their back feet. They not only have to deploy immediate crisis management, but also long-term, multiple and multifaceted crises and business continuity management. Governance in all its aspects has been roundly affected by the multiple strategic ESGT risks the world confronts today. Companies and non-profits without agile boards and government agencies and international organizations without proactive governance will be severely affected and will potentially seriously damage the interests of their most important stakeholders.
So, why add 'technology' – another layer of issues, risks and opportunities that are not directly, or just barely, addressed) – to the still-evolving ESG discussion? It’s simple: technology issues – the good, the bad and the ugly – suffuse everything we do, every minute and hour of every day.
Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. Even though we have been living with worsening cyber insecurity for many years, COVID-19 has turbocharged the bad actors (criminals, nation states and other malcontents) to continue to open Pandora’s box of cyber uglies. Check out some of the headlines:
- The FBI has warned that “cyber threats to voting processes could slow but not prevent voting”.
- “Cybercrime ramps up amid coronavirus chaos costing companies billions.”
- “Interpol Report shows alarming rate of cyberattacks during COVID-19.”
- “The coronavirus pandemic delivers an array of cyber security challenges.”
- “WHO reports fivefold increase in cyber attacks, urges vigilance.”
There is, of course, an extremely positive side of technological advance – witness how the scientific and medical community, thanks to vast digital and technological improvements that didn’t exist even 10 years ago, have been able to collaborate across borders to advance and accelerate the discovery of vaccines and other possible treatments for COVID-19.
Despite much of the national and international political (or governance) dysfunction we have witnessed so far this year, technology is helping to turbocharge solutions to this unprecedented global challenge. The proof, of course, will be in the pudding – whether the geopolitical and governance challenges the world faces today will impede what technology and science are capable of. Let’s hope not; let’s choose hard work and hope over complacency and despondency.
One thing is clear, however; the more business, society and government understand how to identify and resolve their key ESGT issues, risks and opportunities and incorporate them into their long-term strategy (as depicted above), the sooner we will be able to achieve some of the critical goals of resilience building and sustainable development – such as those espoused by the Sustainable Development Goals and the World Economic Forum's Great Reset. In the process, perhaps we can collectively preserve, protect and add value with values to our various bottom lines – socio-economic, financial, reputational and ESGT.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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