Sustainability Live – Net Zero 2024, 6th and 7th March

I must admit this was not the usual type of conference I would attend. More often than not, I attend events dominated by technology and aimed at technology professionals. So, Sustainability Live was to be a new experience for me with my principal interest lying in how technology was featuring in the overall sustainability debate.  

The business imperative 

The opening keynote was almost a call to action – sustainability and reaching Net Zero are business imperatives. The key message highlighted that it has never been more important for businesses to focus on sustainability. Not only for the greater good of the planet and its people, but also to build business resilience to deal with future climate events, supply chain and resource challenges, geopolitical events and the increasing costs of doing business.  

Mitigation and adaptation 

This topic posited that we need to accept change will happen and some aspects of climate and social change are inevitable – so how do society and organisations mitigate future risk and adapt their businesses? This harks back to the aforementioned resilience but delved deeper into the entire eco-system in which business operate, to understand the complexity of the supply chain to integrating social, economic and environmental factors into informed decision-making.    

This is forever, it’s not simply a target

With all the talk about Net Zero targets it was thought provoking to suggest that isn’t in fact the end goal. In fact, economies will need to pivot to climate adaptation and social-economic realities as a continual discipline.   

Setting the scene -Day 1 at Sustainability Live, discussing all things sustainability, AI, and achieving Net Zero targets.

Sustainability rising on the agenda

There was discussion backed by research on how sustainability was rising on the CEO agenda. Research detailed that many CEOs are more involved in their ESG strategy than ever before – perhaps it’s that business resilience and risk factor coming into play. But amidst all the research, some touching human elements, such as that many executives present observed their children asking more and more about what their parent or guardian is doing to protect the planet or end poverty as a leader in their business. In short, the next generation are well aware of sustainability topics and are concerned which echoes research I’ve seen before on the future workforce expecting more from their employers beyond platitudes on climate change and social equality. 

And putting the tech side, aside, for a moment…

There were some fascinating discussions on sectors such as transport and the future of sustainable aviation. A sector often cited for its poor performance on carbon emissions (there was a big spotlight on a future using sustainable aviation fuel) it was also clear it was one which is only set to grow and is essential to modern living in a global economy. Only 20% of the entire world population has ever experienced air travel which was a real wow moment. 

So, what were the key takeaways?  

As Global Lead for Cloud Transformation at Version 1, I was particularly keen to understand the role of technology in sustainability. So here were my key tech takeaways: 

Data, data and more data

I think without exception, the term data featured in almost every talk or panel discussion. This is in part driven by regulatory change (see next point) but it was highlighted that in order for organisations to compliance they require good ESG data – some already digitised and some perhaps not. But it went deeper than mandatory regulatory reporting, the fact was that to ensure that adaptability, mitigate risk and build a resilient and sustainable business of the future, data was needed to drive insightful decisions. 


A huge theme of the day – regulation is comingThe EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive is just one piece of legislation facing companies. For the first time businesses are going to have to report on more than financial performance but also consider their environmental and social impacts. And to do that, as mentioned above, they need data. And I hope I heard it right but there is apparently new regulation or policy on sustainability themes every 6 minutes!   

Big Tech is at the table 

Delegates and speakers from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon were prominent. The former promoting the goal of 100% sustainable energy by 2025, and carbon negative and water positive by 2030. And, very interestingly, by 2050 removal of historic scope 1 and 2 emissions from Microsoft’s founding in 1975. Microsoft in particular underscored challenges in dealing with scope 3 emissions which count for 96.71% of their total emissions  

As a partner to some of these big-tech companies in the public cloud space, its often questioned how sustainable they really are, but at the very least, there is clear investment and sincere attempt by these organisations to create a more sustainable business for them and their customers.   

And last but not least…Artificial Intelligence (AI)

“AI is trash” are three words I heard from a panellist at one talk, putting forward a point of view that the hype was, for now at least, way beyond the reality and it would take time for it to make an impact. When they asked for raised hand on who agreed, there was some minority agreement in the audience. And whilst there may be an element of truth in that perspective, AI still dominated proceedings.   

There were two perspectives, the impact of AI on sustainability and how AI could contribute to sustainability. On the former, for example, it was cited that Meta energy consumption by end of 2024 will increase by 50% through new chips.  Microsoft were keen to point to their AI Carbon Footprint Research focusing on aspects of where you train your model, the size of the model, and innovations in GPU chips and how to efficiently use water for cooling. Version 1 has itself published its views on how green the AI models are. But clearly there’s some way still to go. 

On the impact on sustainability through AI, there was a lot of debate. Use cases ranged from some recognisable opportunities to optimise workflow and processes to accelerating research into sustainability solutions. And using AI to project the impact of sustainable decisions that traditionally take years or a decade of waiting around to see the resulting impact of a decision. Other use cases included better insight into weather patterns and political events to inform risk profiling and adaptation. 

There was much more on AI, but I will leave you with a final perspective:  the use of AI to “chat with your ESG or sustainability data”. If we hark back to business resilience and regulatory reporting, AI could prove to be an invaluable tool in interrogating a host of data in ways we may not yet have imagined. 


I’ve only scraped the surface, sustainability is a massive topic, but I hope this gives a flavour of day one of the conference. As part of a technology solutions company, I only see sustainability increasing on the agenda of most of our customers – and I see AI being central to fulfilling that agenda. As Microsoft quoted, “in the years to come, digital capability…around sustainability will be perhaps as critical as CRM is for sales and ERP for finance today”. 

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Meet the Author

John Taylor is the Global Lead for Cloud Transformation at Version 1. He has over 30 years of experience working with technology and continual change, and has been with Version 1 for over 6 years.