Series: The top five trends in corporate responsibility - technology

19 April 2018

by Jonathan Grant and Jacqui Machin in our sustainability team

In an era of unparalleled innovation and technological change, our  fourth post in our corporate responsibility series looks at the impact of this and how organisations are responding.

4.  Technology for good?

The current pace of technological development is being described as the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Companies and corporate foundations are looking at how embracing technology and innovation in their CR programmes can increase their positive impact on society and the environment.  For example, some companies are already using a blockchain ledger to provide full supply chain traceability for diamonds, and more commodities are likely to follow.

Artificial intelligence can solve big data problems, which could transform collection and reporting of a broad range of  data beyond financials.  This could enhance real-time performance monitoring and management.

There is a vast opportunity for 4IR technology to improve the world with companies expected to take responsibility for their actions and the outcomes. This is in contrast to previous industrial revolutions: most 19th and many 20th century businesses, for example, took a back seat in addressing the societal problems they caused, leaving some people worse off.  

Alongside  innovation gains, today’s businesses need to mitigate the downsides, such as the jobs that are lost to AI and automation, the loss of privacy and data security, and the harm to physical and mental wellbeing.  There is also high energy demand associated with cryptocurrency mining. We are likely to see growing pressure on companies to be transparent and demonstrate a responsible approach in their strategies for deploying new technologies and managing the impacts of these changes.  

Tomorrow, in our final article in this series, we look at how companies are taking a more rigorous, quantitative approach to assessing risks and setting CR metrics and targets.