Global Uncertainty Highlights the Need for Responsible Business Leadership
Uncertainty is natural in today’s turbulent global environment. But what is certain is that the need for responsible leadership by business is greater today than at any other time in recent history. As governments grapple with transition and change, responsible business leadership can, and must, lead the way. The issues that face our world won’t wait.
I’m in Davos to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, and these challenges are front and foremost in our minds. Global phenomena such as climate change and population growth are stretching the resources of our planet beyond its limits. In 2030, we’ll have one billion more people on our planet. By then just over half the world’s population—about 4.5 billion—will be connected online. This access is crucial to extending inclusion in education, healthcare, basic financial services and ultimately, the global economy. Without it, large swaths of society will remain locked-out of the benefits of technology, creating a growing chasm between opportunity and exclusion.
Our global population cannot afford huge numbers to be excluded from the openings, access and transparency that being online provides. As technology scales, and with advances resulting in connectivity as possible in Tristan da Cunha as in Tokyo, or in Foula as in Frankfurt, I believe governments and our global institutions should provide new vigor to a previously called upon fundamental right—that of the right to internet access. The internet brings knowledge, connections, speed—all the things that are required to progress in today’s world.
But connectivity comes at a cost and its growth must be managed. In 2015 alone, the data centers supporting every click, search and purchase consumed more electricity than was required by the United Kingdom. If left unchecked, this consumption is projected to triple by 2020. This is not a sustainable trend.
That’s where responsible leadership can lead the way. At HPE we’re working to reduce our impact on the environment, and that of our customers, by rethinking how we operate and innovate. We understand that the first step towards environmental sustainability is to continuously understand the environmental impact across our value chain and take action. That’s why in December we announced a new goal to reduce our operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2025 from a 2015 baseline—a target in line with what climate science says is necessary to keep global warming below 2°C. We also have an aggressive goal on the energy performance of our product portfolio, the use of which makes up the majority of our environmental impact as a company.
Societies are under increasing stress. The gap between rich and poor is increasing in almost every economy round the world. A new age of populism is among us, partly stimulated by a sense of resentment among those who have not felt a benefit to top line economic growth. Connectivity can provide a much needed boon to economies and communities, and do so in a way that positively impacts the lives of all those in society—not just those at the top.
But as we realize the ambition of universal connectivity, we need our global institutions, our nation states and businesses to think not only about the short-term decisions they should take to close inequality gaps, but also to demonstrate commitment to long-term challenges by making responsible decisions now with the future in mind. Designing systems and products with energy consumption in mind, matters. Where and how you build a data center, matters. Funding innovation now to unlock the renewable and energy-efficient technologies of the future—it all matters.
We may solve the connectivity challenge in advance of the best available forecasts. But our climate challenge is serious and will remain. Let’s plan our progress well so we can have a sustainable economy as well as a connected one.