Senior Vice President, Michael Herron sees climate change as an existential issue that we all have a responsibility to tackle. It has given him great pride to see our sustainability journey at CGI develop from the ground up, with so much passion from our members – and it was this grassroots enthusiasm that led us all the way to the top table at COP26. In this article he shares more about our journey.
I feel I have two roles to play in this collective challenge. Firstly as a citizen, and secondly as senior business leader. As a citizen I feel compelled to ‘do the right thing’ – having two young boys makes me want to take action to secure a better future for them. I do my bit (by installing solar panels on my house and owning an electric vehicle), but there is always more we can do as individuals. As a senior business leader my role is to cultivate an environment in which our members feel comfortable and empowered to support their passion for climate action. In addition, our priority at CGI is to support our clients in delivering their climate commitments as well as driving our own net zero plan.
I have taken great pride in watching our sustainability journey develop over the last couple of years, which started from the ground up. I see so much passion from our employees, who we call members, and we’ve been overwhelmed with volunteers wanting to get involved in everything from recycling, reusing and reducing, to tree-planting, environmental competitions, cycling to work, member education and more.
And it was this grassroots enthusiasm that led us all the way to the top table at COP26.
Sustainability as part of everything we do
What started as a member-driven initiative within our business - called ‘No Planet B’ - has since married with a top-down Net zero strategy, with business objectives backed by science-based carbon reduction targets to get us to net zero emissions by 2026 in the UK, and by 2030 globally.
Sustainability runs through all of our operations and has done for many years. It's a fundamental part of our governance frameworks and how we measure our activities and output. Indeed, we treat our Net zero Programme as if we would any other client delivery plan. As an example, as the leader of CGI’s Central Government Business Unit, I now have a carbon budget for my business unit and I’m measured on carbon reduction alongside my other performance indicators.
Beyond that, there are all the sustainability solutions and advisory services that we provide to our clients, helping them with everything from monitoring weather movements and tidal patterns, to tackling wildfires and protecting marine life. We are not just on our own Net zero journey, but we’re helping our clients with theirs, too. Our key involvement in the DEFRA sustainability e-alliance initiative is a great example of this.
Making our mark at COP26
Our path to COP26 began about 12 months ago when, as a result of our sustainability progress, we were invited to be a part of the Business Leaders Group chaired by the Secretary of State for COP26, Alok Sharma.
CGI was the only IT services corporation present, and we were able to share our progress and demonstrate the great work we had been doing in the sustainability space. Following that, we were invited to be part of the UN delegation at COP26, which meant we were fortunate enough to have a seat at the top table and an even bigger forum in which to have our voice heard.
I think we made our mark at COP26 in two key ways. Number one, we highlighted how the private sector can be a driver of progress. It’s not just about waiting for the government of the day to ask us do something, it’s more about how we should be getting on and doing it ourselves.
The second piece was highlighting digital technology as an enabler of climate action. There are many examples of this in our work at CGI: Earth observation data, AI and cloud computing are being used to monitor and tackle wildfires.
- We're at the forefront of the smart metering programme within the UK, which is driving energy system digitalisation and the wider Net zero transition.
- We can harness the power of data and technology to protect the vital sea and marine life and use that technology to address illegal, unregulated fishing activities.
- We've developed a centralised digitised tree felling application process using our technology.
- We support the environment with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), through 30 terabytes of satellite data managed daily by the Defra Earth Observation Data Service.
Having a seat at the top table at COP26 offered an invaluable opportunity to highlight the critical role digital technology plays in helping organisations reach their sustainability goals.
With all the momentum we’ve built over the past couple of years, we can’t rest on our laurels. We’re already planning for COP27 and will soon be rolling out a carbon footprint app to all of our members in the UK as we push towards our Net zero goal.
We are also now actively using a carbon monitoring tool that can baseline our footprint of services to our clients and draw up carbon reduction roadmaps at the same time.
Additionally, we’re always looking at new ways to harness the great technology at our fingertips to drive sustainability goals. It is about working together with the whole industry and the government to ask what other technologies we can use and which new and different use cases we can apply to existing technologies, such as our Earth Observation capability. How can we do things better?
Ultimately, we want climate action to be a part of everything we do. I’m happy to say we’re on the right path.