Charting technology's course on the road to good

Charting technology's course on the road to good

Photo of a driver and rearview mirror

This article was sponsored by AT&T.

"Contact driver: calling turned off because your driver is deaf or hard of hearing."

I was downtown at the end of a work dinner when this alert popped up in my Uber app; it prompted me to enter my home address so the driver could rely on written instructions, rather than my verbal ones. During the 10-minute trip, he pointed out an enormous full moon, made contact with me in the rear-view mirror and smiled. I looked up video on my phone so I could say “thank you” in American Sign Language before hopping out when we arrived.

Walking through my front door, I was taken aback by this experience, which perfectly encapsulated the economic, environmental and social benefits of technology I’m often espousing. My driver had a new line of work; I’d saved gas and reduced parking needs by taking advantage of car-sharing; I’d even learned part of a new language, all thanks to my phone.

Imagine if we could multiply this experience times the billions of people on Earth, and again by the hundreds of billions of devices we’re using to connect to networks and make our world more efficient.

That possibility is why I believe the technology industry has the capability — and the responsibility — to revolutionize our world for the better. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative, a group that studied this connection for years, shows how we can use information and communications technology to bolster revenue and cut costs, as well decouple that growth from greenhouse gas emissions that until now has accompanied economic booms. It also details how technology can improve access to health services, education and better work.

Based on this finding, AT&T set a goal to enable carbon savings 10 times the footprint of our operations by 2025. We plan to do this by enhancing the efficiency of our network and delivering low-carbon solutions that help our customers live, work and play with less environmental impact.

Your next question is probably, "OK, but how are you going to measure that?" And my answer isn’t comfortable, because the truth is, I don’t know. One of the most significant tasks behind this goal is establishing a path to measure this impact. 

Others such as BT and Dell already have jumped into these waters. But as an industry, we face a lot of unanswered questions. How do you we measure the carbon impacts of our technology? How do we account for our footprint and our savings in relation to those of our peers, suppliers and customers? We look forward to joining our peers, non-governmental organizations, customers and others to come up with a solution; none of us will able to do this alone.

We’re launching this goal, as well as other broad aspirations to improve workforce readiness and help transform our industry’s supply chain, as part of a broader roadmap to 2025. I believe we can use the power of our network — both our technological network as well as our network of experts and relationships — to build a better tomorrow. These goals and underlying targets will help us focus our resources and keep us accountable for progress.

Like many companies, we’re making the move from focusing on outputs (dollars invested, hours worked, etc.) to outcomes and impacts. How do we improve the daily lives around us? How do we transform the way we and our customers care for our world? How can we combine our strengths as a company and those of our communities to tackle such broad challenges?

We talk a lot about the revolutionary nature of technology, but let’s face it — it’s often incremental. One day your phone is also your music player, and the next a new app makes your commute a little easier, and then you’re in the backseat of car learning a new language through streaming video. If you don’t stop to chart your course, it’s easy to miss these milestones along the way.