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Sustainability is the biggest challenge of our lifetime, says Jonathan Adashek

In an exclusive interview, Jonathan Adashek, CCO and SVP of Communications and Marketing at IBM, talks about how tapping technology organizations can meet their goals to be greener and more profitable.

Sustainability is the biggest challenge of our lifetime, says Jonathan Adashek
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

New thinking on how companies can deliver core business strategies to their sustainable practices, in which innovation plays a crucial role, is critical to the new world. This helps to distinguish between the “leaders” and the “followers.”

In the past, the business case for sustainability was centered around business-as-usual factors such as cost saving, risk management, and resource efficiency. But it has now become clear that business as usual will not be enough to meet the world’s sustainability challenges.

Consumer views on sustainability have shifted in the wake of the pandemic, with purpose-driven consumers now making up the largest customer segment across all categories. 

“Stakeholders today, whether they’re consumers or employees, are demanding transparency on the impact companies are making on environment and social issues,” says Jonathan Adashek, Chief Communications Officer (CCO) and SVP of Communications and Marketing at IBM, in an exclusive interview with Fast Company Middle East.

Earlier this year, IBM Impact was launched, which includes its ESG framework and a series of commitments to building transparency and accountability. 

“But it’s not just tech companies that need to be transparent — it spans all sectors and industries. That’s why we’re so focused on offering technology solutions in this space,” he adds.

For many large enterprises, innovation can come through the acquisition of smaller companies. Startups are now proliferating, and the extent to which larger companies are investing in these test beds of innovation can give an interesting insight into a company’s attitude towards investing in sustainability innovation. IBM recently acquired Envizi, a software solution that offers sustainability performance management to help companies consolidate ESG data, streamline reporting, identify efficiency opportunities, and inform their business strategies.

“Sustainability is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges of our lifetime,” says Adashek.

SUSTAINABILITY AND BUSINESS OBJECTIVES

With a focus on AI and hybrid cloud, and innovations like quantum computing, he says IBM helps organizations align their sustainability goals with their business objectives and comply with regulatory demands. 

And this, he says, is more than just reducing emissions. “We are helping others turn sustainability ambition into action. Businesses need to set specific sustainability objectives in areas like intelligent asset management, intelligent IT infrastructure, resilient supply chains, climate insights, the analysis and reporting of ESG data, the impact of their business on the community, and more.” 

“We believe that companies that are serious about sustainability and tapping technology to meet their goals will not only be greener, but they’ll also be more streamlined and profitable.” 

PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In the Middle East, IBM launched the Sustainability Accelerator to support nonprofit and governmental organizations serving communities, especially those vulnerable to environmental threats. In Abu Dhabi, the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi is tapping into IBM Turbonomic to minimize energy consumption and reduce the carbon footprint.

In the region, the tech giant has also been collaborating with universities by providing access to educational resources made available by IBM’s Skills Build program. “This includes a new collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and IT to leverage Skills Build as part of the presidential initiative Hayat Karima, developing the digital skills of Egyptian students,” he says.

STORYTELLING IS A KEY

Adashek, who joined IBM as CCO in 2020, says his role is evolving, taking a clear focus on driving sustainable revenue growth through AI, hybrid cloud, consulting services, and an expanded ecosystem of partners.” With the spin, we recognized a need to reintroduce today’s IBM more cohesively, providing clarity for both media and the market, driving greater interest, educating prospects about our offerings, and building consideration for IBM as a key technology partner.”

In January, he assumed the role of SVP, Communication and Marketing. While they remain separate functions, aligning under one leadership structure, he says, allows IBM to “identify and capitalize on the inherent synergies between the two and put resources to work in a highly targeted way.”

Speaking on the communication strategy of IBM, Adashek says storytelling has always been a key to reach across a broad range of audiences, including employees, clients, media, partners, analysts, governments, communities, and other influencers. 

“For example, “Let’s create” is the most significant brand initiative in more than a decade for the company. Launched in February 2022, it aligns with the vision, strategy, and purpose behind today’s IBM through storytelling about innovations by IBMers, our clients, and our partners.”

“The campaign reintroduces the company to provide clarity for the market, drive greater interest, educate prospects about our offerings, and build consideration for IBM as a key technology partner,” he adds. 

TECHNOLOGY AND SUSTAINABILITY

Today, leading companies have realized that within sustainability challenges, there are opportunities to re-invent: Who can generate the greenest products? Who can innovate new solutions in the supply chain to eliminate risks and impacts at source at lower cost? 

And technology has the biggest impact on achieving sustainable growth: data and AI can help organizations make sure they’re growing in a way that is both sustainable and resilient. 

“If we really want to drive global sustainable growth, we need to focus on how the tech industry can put its resources to work on behalf of public organizations and entities, particularly when it comes to climate change,” says Adashek.

The tech giant is also a technology partner at COP27.

“We’re eager to be a part of the important conversations that will be taking place and to drive progress on these critical issues,” says Adashek.

“As we head to Egypt for COP 27, we’re working to shift the thinking on how technology is developed towards a process of co-creation from the ground up. Simply providing technology without a real understanding of the cultural, regional, or socio-economic factors that could pose barriers to adoption will not work.”

“If we, as technology solutions providers, work closely with the people using the technology, the partners can figure out how to adapt and apply it in a way that works for this specific community and use-case. It requires more than technology — it requires collaboration and time,” he adds.

Ultimately, the answer will not be a single solution. The power of technology will be unlocked when these innovations are connected and automated in a way that brings together key data across an organization to align sustainability goals with daily business operations. 

“It’s also about getting these tools and insights into the communities and the people working on the ground within businesses, so they can make better decisions to run their operations in a more efficient and resilient way,” says Adashek.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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