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It was almost three decades ago that John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, conceived the terms “triple bottom line” and the “3 Ps”—people, planet, and profit. Belatedly, as the climate crisis intensifies, businesses worldwide are turning to his framework. But, he asks, how many organizations are truly committed to taking practical action?
Global technology firm NTT is among the businesses that have stepped up to the challenge. It is championing sustainability and collaboration as the best response to the climate crisis. An updated environment and energy vision, NTT Green Innovation Toward 20401, published in September 2021, outlined workable steps to cut greenhouse emissions 80% by 2030 compared to 2013 levels, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. The company has since focused strongly on reducing the environmental impact of its business activities and developing breakthrough innovations: it is on track to meet these targets.

But not every corporation has such a strong ethic; nor can business alone solve the climate crisis. Mr. Elkington argues that a new approach to capitalism is required for the future of humanity—one that serves people and the planet while also achieving prosperity.

While today he feels encouraged by recent progress and the greater awareness of the need for businesses to be sustainable—allowing nature and human beings to coexist—he says that there is still a long way to go.

“In 1987, when we set up our think-tank consultancy no one had heard of the term ‘sustainability.’ For years, we had to spell out the word, and business leaders thought we must be anti-growth. Where we are now is almost [like] night and day. There has been a seismic shift. For example, around 90 percent of the world’s biggest companies now do sustainability reporting—an area I helped to pioneer.”
Mr. Elkington, now 73, is “excited that we’re starting to speak the language of sustainability—of the circular economy, of impact-positive and negative, and so on.” However, he is concerned that a huge number of commitments, promises, and pledges to reduce harmful emissions and carbon use have meaningless timescales. The main drawbacks are that those in charge now will likely not be in their roles long enough to complete the journeys, and the roadmap to those targets and commitments is often unclear.

Creating Harmony
“Organizations worldwide must drastically improve innovation. The current approach has had a seriously negative impact. The planet and all living beings will likely perish if this trend continues”.
Dr. Katsuhiko Kawazoe Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, NTT

Responsible leadership

“We need to go way beyond expressions of interest to practical action,” adds Mr. Elkington, stressing the urgency of the situation.

“The evidence of the accelerating climate and biodiversity emergencies is increasingly clear in different geographies, but the danger is that these disruptions become normalized. Therefore, we need to see a different quality of leadership in the public, private and citizen sectors.” With world leaders failing to act quickly enough to combat climate change, “people are turning to businesses for leadership, so it’s important that business leaders accept that responsibility,” he adds.

NTT’s Global Sustainability Charter2, unveiled at the end of last year, reinforced the company’s commitment to becoming a sustainable organization. The first of the charter’s three pillars goes to the heart of the challenge. It focuses on ensuring the coexistence of nature and humanity, and aims to solve environmental and social issues while generating economic growth.

Green innovation and collaboration

Dr. Katsuhiko Kawazoe, NTT’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, believes that accelerating technological innovation through collaboration will help create a more harmonious future for everyone.

“Organizations worldwide must drastically improve innovation. The current approach has had a seriously negative impact: the depletion of resources, biodiversity loss, environmental destruction, and global warming. The planet and all living beings will likely perish if this trend continues.”

NTT is leading the way, he says. For instance, in October 2021, the organization issued green bonds worth approximately 300 billion yen (US$2.7 billion) to fund environmentally friendly projects in areas such as renewable energy and energy-efficient broadband infrastructure.

The Innovative Optical and Wireless Network initiative (IOWN), referred to in the charter, is another example. Once available—by 2030, Dr. Kawazoe predicts—it will help to power technology innovations that address issues faced by the elderly and those on low incomes, who sometimes struggle to use digital technologies.

The concept aims to build a network and information-processing platform that features high-speed, high-capacity communication through innovative optics-focused technology, supported by tremendous computational resources, with ultra-low latency and ultra-low power consumption.

“The development of IOWN bridges various research themes,” Dr. Kawazoe says. “Not only will it help reduce energy consumption beyond the telecommunications industry, but it also removes current technological barriers and enables further innovation that contributes to a sustainable future.”

NTT Group, which traces its roots back to the introduction of the telegraph in Japan in 1869, has a long heritage of innovation and collaboration to solve problems. Dr. Kawazoe emphasizes NTT’s renewed determination to ensure a healthy environment in the future through long-term financial commitments and shorter-term business actions.

“Companies must go beyond their boundaries to consider what is best for contributing to the betterment of society, then invest resources to execute that plan. We must not be simply making gains through algorithms and data, but bringing about greater change and progress.”

1 Green Innovation Toward 2040

2 NTT’s Global Sustainability Charter

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