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Report Finds Widespread Adoption of Emerging Tech, but a Missed Opportunity for Sustainability

Less than 2/3 of executives are investing in tech for sustainability, despite competitive advantage


While 92% of executives agree that emerging technologies can help improve both their bottom line and sustainability, only 59% are investing for this purpose, finds a new Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) report being released this week at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit. This 33-point opportunity gap shows companies are leaving environmental and business opportunities on the table despite growing demand for climate action from customers, employees, stakeholders and regulators.

EDF’s second annual benchmark report, Business and The Fourth Wave of Environmentalism, surveys 600 leaders in major companies across retail, manufacturing, energy, technology, and financial sectors with $500 million to $5 billion in revenue. Executives were asked how they view and leverage new technologies to accelerate sustainability efforts and boost the bottom line, including artificial intelligence, automation technologies, blockchain, data analytics and sensors. EDF’s benchmark report tracks where business leaders across industries are looking to make sustainable changes.

“Too many CEOs are missing a golden opportunity to seize competitive advantage by becoming climate leaders,” said Fred Krupp, president of EDF. “By adopting and scaling the use of best-in-class technologies to also drive corporate sustainability, executives can create gains for shareholders, reduce the impact of global warming and help their bottom line.

“The world’s leading scientists say we must produce no more climate pollution than we can remove—reaching what we call a 100% clean economy—soon after mid-century. It’s an ambitious but achievable goal that will require a serious commitment not just from governments, but also from businesses that want to be part of the solution. We’re running out of time—we need to close the opportunity gap now.”

Key findings of the report include:

● 90% of executives say their businesses are either in the early adoption phase or have successfully integrated data analytics and automation into their work, up 4-5% from last year

● Data analytics is most recognized for its potential impact on the bottom line (35%), with AI (28%), and automation (19%) following

● Blockchain has the highest potential for adoption, as it is the least-familiar technology across industry, followed by sensors

● In the energy industry, 92% say that the Fourth Wave technologies will improve their revenue; 91% say the same for improving the economy; and 85% say the same for job growth

● Half of tech leaders say they have successfully implemented and integrated AI into their business processes, higher than in other industries

Respondents also listed impediments to making choices that have a positive impact on the environment, including: a lack of clear or quick return on investment; a lack of awareness or education around specific technologies; the omission of environmental stewardship from internal dialogues; and, a lack of infrastructure. The findings suggest that executives can close the opportunity gap by increasing their understanding of the landscape of technologies that can support both core business operations and sustainability efforts.   

For example, UPS, which is highlighted in the report developed a real-time data analytics system to optimize driver routes. This technology helps the company avoid 10 million gallons of fuel consumption per year, reduce emissions by 100,000 metric tons annually – and saved $400 million in the process.

“We’re seeing companies everywhere, big and small, making changes within their operating structures to decrease their carbon footprint, but recycling and going paperless is not enough,” said Bryce Goodman, Kravis Senior Contributing Scientist and Innovation Fellow at EDF. “The opportunity is there for these companies to take that extra step and make investments in technologies that can be applied to long term sustainability for the planet.”

The report also found that while the C-level may be more positive about their future as it pertains to environmentally sustainable business practices, directors are the ones best positioned to see the on-the-ground efforts and identify roadblocks. As such, directors can help C-level executives apply practical experience to accelerate sustainability initiatives.

Environmental Defense Fund (, a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.

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