`ICT can be key in enabling a low-carbon society`

Updated: Feb 03, 2012, 12:05 PM IST

Rajiv Tikoo/ OneWorld South Asia

S. Gopalakrishnan (Kris) is also the chairman of the Business Action for Sustainable Development 2012 (BASD), a coalition of international business groups committed to sustainable development. In an interview with Rajiv Tikoo of OneWorld South Asia, he explains how the IT sector has the potential to not only green itself, but other sectors, too.


OWSA: As the chair of the Business Action for Sustainable Development 2012 (BASD), what will be your strategy to engage businesses at 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Rio+20)?

S Gopalakrishnan: BASD has been set up by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), UN Global Compact (UNGC) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). All these are business associations and they have committed to work together and coordinate for the Rio+20 conference.

OWSA: At the India Economic Summit 2011 in Mumbai, you said sustainability will be for the 21st century what the Internet was for the 20th. Please elaborate?

SG: Internet created increase in productivity. Internet created new businesses and Internet created new business models. All these happened in the 2nd half of 20th century. Similarly, sustainability is creating new businesses and new business models. It is also reducing costs of electricity and reducing the negative impact on environment.

OWSA: How far away are we from the day when the IT industry, going beyond greening itself, will bring in a step change in the whole industrial world in addressing sustainability challenges? Do you see any transformational breakthrough innovations coming by?

SG: According to the recent SMART 2020 report, by 2020, emissions from the ICT sector will represent an estimated 2.8% of total global emissions. However, ICT has the potential to enable others to achieve significant emission reductions, helping industries and consumers avoid an estimated 7.8 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions. That is 15% of predicated global emissions and of five times ICT’s own footprint.

ICT industry has a key role to play in enabling a low-carbon society—provide standardized information on energy consumption and emission across sectors, provide the capabilities and platforms to improve accountability in energy use and carbon emission. By replacing goods and services with virtual equivalents and by providing technology to enable energy efficiency, ICT has the potential to offer innovations that will capture energy efficient opportunities across industries including commercial buildings and homes, logistics and transport, power, manufacturing and others.

OWSA: What is Infosys doing?

SG: At Infosys, we have made commitments to reduce our per capita energy consumption by 50% over 2007 levels by the year 2017. Already, we have reduced power consumption by 24% in the last 18 months. We have also committed to sourcing 100% of all our electricity from renewable resources by the end of the year 2017. We aim to become carbon neutral across all our emissions by the year 2017.

We are also working with public policy makers to ensure that the right regulatory and fiscal frameworks are in place to move us all in the right direction. Infosys is making strides toward self-sustainability in water and engaging in experiments in building technology and legacy building. We have tried to make our employees and buildings use less energy and taken such solutions to our clients too.

For example, we were recently selected by a leading fashion eye ware brand to implement an industry-leading Enterprise Carbon, Energy and Resource Management (ECERM) software to monitor, analyse and report its energy and resource consumption.

OWSA: How realistic is to expect IT to be a leading enabler in coming up with concrete solutions to address poverty, climate, food, water and energy challenges?

SG: Identifying concrete solutions to poverty, climate, food, water and energy challenges has to be a communal effort and is not the responsibility of one industry alone. Businesses and industries worldwide must continue to drive sustainability, not just in their own operations but also in their interactions with their communities. In emerging economies like India, businesses must set an example in their home countries and their broader regions first.

Having said this, the last decade has seen information and communication technologies (ICT) dramatically transforming the world, enabling innovation and productivity increases, connecting people and communities, and improving standards of living and opportunities across the globe.

While changing the way individuals live, interact and work, ICT has proven to be a precondition for enhanced competitiveness and economic and societal modernisation, as well as an important instrument for bridging economic and social divides and reducing poverty.

Governments are now recognising that technology itself is not as important as the socio-economic achievements it can engender – via e-health, e-government services and smart grids for utilities etc. Businesses have realised that ICT is not just an avenue to cut costs and drive efficient operations, but a critical way to open a dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders. ICT`s socio-economic benefits are not limited within borders of a nation. Technology allows the best and brightest minds in every nation to have access to each other in a way that was never possible before.

Infosys itself, we have used our own IT systems to efficiently manage the energy consumption in our buildings. The smart building systems software at Infosys now has built in alerts for signaling breakdowns, for anomalies in energy consumption, and for reminders for periodic maintenance. The Infosys team has used data from this system for setting efficiency standards that apply to all our maintenance vendors as well.

OWSA: You are coming to TERI`s DSDS 2012 from the World Economic Forum at Davos. How helpful are such meets in addressing big economic as well as environmental challenges that we face today?

SG: Congregations such as the World Economic Forum and Delhi Sustainable Development Summit bring together global business and state heads along with academia, NGOs, religious leaders, media etc. on one single platform to proactively address the causes rather than symptoms of issues of global significance such as economic disparity, building sustained economic growth, mitigating global risks, improving and promoting health for all, improving social welfare and fostering environment sustainability. Sessions on issues as above have led to many ideas and solutions.

The theme of World Economic Forum 2012 "The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models" was relevant to issues that we face today and also led to discussions looking at transformation for the future.