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Multi-issue, cross-functional: Engagement strengthens sustainability

Sponsored: Follow these steps for stakeholder engagement, along with tools to select and partner with vendors that align to your cross-functional ESG goals.


Applying these steps towards your ESG goals is a bright idea. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

This article is sponsored by CircleIT.

ESG leaders have a breadth of issues they must address within an organization. This can include managing Scope 3, the carbon footprint, supply chain/vendors, efficient allocation of social impact and procurement protocols. While functions or departments may be siloed, issues and responsibilities are interconnected and all contribute to the sustainability goals of an organization.

Ultimately, the ESG or sustainability leader must connect these disparate dots to form a cohesive process. A holistic ESG strategy accounts for how all departments contribute to reducing a company’s footprint and engages multi-functional teams in a shared mission. "A strong ESG strategy requires implementation of a cross-functional, multi-issue engagement process to support a more responsive sustainability program,” says Heather Loebner, VP Sustainability/ESG, CircleIT.

IT Departments may be overlooked in building a cross-functional engagement team, much to the detriment of the end goal. But there are emissions related to purchasing technology, and any given IT team is responsible for the disposal of retired devices — servers, networking equipment, laptops, phones and more. In 2020 alone, e-waste contributed around 580 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. As the demand for electronics continues to rise, this number is expected to grow to 850 million metric tons by 2030, with much of this impact falling within the realm of Scope 3 emissions. Without proper engagement, sustainability may be left out of the purchase/disposal strategy.

Here are a few points for an effective cross-functional stakeholder engagement strategy:

  1. Build an ESG governance structure — a committee or advisory board — that includes appropriate functions, such as human resources, legal, purchasing, information technology and marketing.
  2. Connect your ESG goals to business and functional priorities. Teams may identify issues previously overlooked, resulting in opportunities to reduce the enterprise’s environmental footprint.
  3. Select suppliers and vendors that aren’t singularly-focused, instead addressing cross-functional and multi-issue needs. Go beyond the basics with your supplier and vendor evaluation and management to ensure you select partners that fit with your enterprises’ values and goals.

Selecting and partnering with a vendor that aligns cross-functional goals is key to long-term success. In the case of electronics, a vendor must support goals towards carbon neutrality or net zero (sustainability goals) and provide data security and reliability (IT goals).

For example, identifying and capturing reliable data within Scope 3 may be dependent on selecting a partner or vendor who is measuring its own environmental footprint, and specifically, any emissions associated in which your enterprise must account. When it comes to electronics, companies must select a vendor that is measuring recycling and reuse, while also reviewing if a vendor can go beyond to fully address social and circularity goals.

At a high level, screen for vendors by asking the following questions:

  1. Does the vendor/supplier have the ability to provide metrics on processes, emissions and other environmental factors?
  2. Does the vendor/supplier have ESG goals of their own?
  3. Does the vendor/supplier have the flexibility to meet your social impact goals? A vendor who has the ability to respond quickly and nimbly to varying social impact goals, whether they focus on education, quickly responding to disasters or addressing long-term environmental conservation goals that align with your business, adds significant value.
  4. Protect your organization through appropriate data and destruction requirements. Does the vendor/supplier possess any specific certifications or standards to ensure protection of your data and environmental integrity, such as National Association for Information Destruction (NAID), Responsible Recycling version 3 (R2V3) and B Corporation? There are many other standards — make sure they meet the needs of your enterprise.
  5. Not all reporting is equal. Does the vendor have the ability to provide data that rolls up into your reporting??
  6. Does the vendor/supplier have the ability to flex when you flex? Today’s environment means managing changes in delivery, processes and other social factors and global issues — such as pandemics, conflicts, value chain challenges and more. While the above list can serve as a checklist, don’t forget that interviewing vendors and suppliers is important. Ask questions such as can the vendor meet new triple bottom line goals, support employee engagement and e-waste reduction goals? For your technology disposal, does the vendor incorporate circularity principles into their processes? Can data reports roll-up to an enterprise’s short-and long-term ESG reporting needs, such as GRI, TCFD, and UN SDGs? While those initials might not have meaning to the IT team, they are core to most ESG teams.

Case study: Sustainability in IT asset disposition

When organizations are ready to retire their data bearing devices, they often work with vendors such as IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) companies to securely manage and wipe data bearing devices to protect the company’s privacy. Once wiped, the devices may follow a traditional path of being recycled or resold. Traditionally, ITADs receive a shared profit with the IT department. This process focuses on maximizing profits, which doesn’t always mean devices are repaired and repurposed towards emission reduction goals. Often times, devices are recycled and stripped down to their basic raw materials rather than having the device repurposed or reused to extend the life of devices and incorporate circularity principles into business processes and client services. The "profit" generated for the IT department may amount to a rounding error for the organization as a whole, yet, the emissions associated from the purchasing to disposal of electronics contributes to an organization’s Scope 3 emissions. Aligning IT and ESG goals results in optimal outcomes for the business at large.

CircleIT, an ITAD provider focused on repurposing and circularity, connects clients’ IT teams with their ESG teams. In one client’s case, this meant facilitating the communication of goals across individuals in three  departments and functions. The result: the client better understood how an ITAD’s services could support all teams and identify where their goals intersected.

"This is the major value that we’re able to bring to our clients," said Will Cohen, President CircleIT. "As a certified B Corp focused on circularity, we’re not just an ITAD provider. We view ourselves as partners in helping our clients achieve their larger ESG goals. We’ve worked with many clients that were unaware of the hidden ESG value they could harness that benefited the organization as a whole." In this case, the ESG team led an employee tech collection program, teaming with human resources as an employee benefit, and collaborating with IT to ensure data privacy. ESG benefited by receiving reports and reduction towards their Scope 3 emissions. This collaboration is at the heart of work at CircleIT and provided added value to the client in areas they didn’t know were available.

While ESG tackles a breadth of issues, focusing on one, such as tech disposal, will help an enterprise progress their sustainability journey, ensure proper data privacy and protection, reduce waste and curb emissions. All by partnering with vendors/suppliers with shared values towards achieving your ESG and business goals.

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