On Earth Day, Digital Networks Turning Global Commerce a Brighter Shade of Green

When Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, its organizers envisioned a future where the nations of the world would band together to protect the environment. At the time, technological advancement was widely associated with the rapid industrialization of the developing world, contributing to smog, polluted waterways and toxic landfills. Few might have predicted that 49 years later, technology would take the forefront in global efforts to achieve greener, more environmentally sustainable business practices across borders and industries. By opening up transparency among the millions of buyers and suppliers who engage in commerce every day, digital networks enable trading partners to gauge each other’s adherence to Earth-friendly standards in their business operations.

Through cloud-based networks, businesses can determine whether a potential trading partner ethically sources its raw materials, disposes of waste products responsibly, and complies with local regulatory requirements and a wide range of other socially relevant criteria. Enterprises large and small thus put their purchasing power in the service of creating a cleaner world. They align their business practices and commercial relationships with the brand values affirmed by customers, investors and other key stakeholders.

Some of the foremost observers of the cloud-software business have taken note of the industry’s leading role in advancing environmental compliance through digital procurement networks. According to Kelly Barner, of Buyers Meeting Point, “Digital networks level the playing field between large and small companies, ensuring that innovation and performance — not just size — determine the potential of the whole supply chain. Anyone who thinks a supply network can be sustained by big marketing budgets alone should remember that the pollination of tiny bees makes the whole ecosystem possible. Similarly, small suppliers innovate as though their lives depend upon it (which they often do). As long as they can be ‘found’ by strategic procurement teams, they have the potential to impact directly their customers’ competitive advantage.”

Echoing Barner’s emphasis on networks, Hal Good, a procurement expert and former chief procurement officer, says, “Celebration of Earth Day should remind us that through the utilization of the latest digital technology and the enablement of reliable intelligence monitoring systems extending into multiple levels of the supply chain, our organizations can promote responsible and verifiable sustainability practices and fair business practices at levels previously unattainable. Building on this new capability in the future and utilizing blockchain as an additional resource, we can further benefit our communities, improve Corporate Social Responsibility outcomes and make our world a better place.”

Yet it isn’t only industry observers who acknowledge the importance of technology in creating a greener tomorrow. The United Nations, though its Global Compact, has enlisted the industry’s support in implementing the world body’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Through digital networks, some of the world’s premier technology firms are lending businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations the tools necessary to combat hunger, provide clean water and sanitation, and promote good health and well-being.

As Sue Allchurch, the U.N. Global Compact’s chief of outreach and engagement, explained earlier this month at SAP Ariba Live in Austin, Texas:

“The Global Compact is the United Nations’ corporate sustainability initiative. [It was] launched in 2000. [U.N. General Secretary] Kofi Annan reached out to private-sector CEOs at Davos suggesting that we all need to work together — the public and the private sector, the U.N. and you leading CEOs — to create a better world,” she said. “They established a set of principles which cover human rights, labor, anti-corruption and of course the environment. They established those principles and values as a basis by which all organizations can run their business in a responsible way.”

SAP, for example, is a patron sponsor of the United Nations Global Compact’s Action Platform on Decent Work in Supply Chains.

Whether at the global or local level, data networks are increasingly indispensable to efforts to bring about a more sustainable environment. Why? Because one cannot fix what one fails to measure, and one cannot measure what one fails to acknowledge. On Earth Day, we acknowledge that a fragile planet depends on us all — businesses, governments, NGOs, and citizens working together — to envision a greener future and measure our progress toward creating it.