This week, Atos published a unique integrated reportwhich augments the traditional annual report with the company’s performance on social and environmental issues.

This decision reflects an opinion we have held for a long time: it is no longer possible to consider that a company’s “performance” is exclusively its financial performance.

It is also impossible to imagine that a company could present its results for the past year without mentioning its social and environmental impact or its role in the societies and communities in which it operates.

And this, of course, is particularly true for technology companies.

 

Tech companies can no longer ignore their social and environmental impact

When we hear that IT could account for 20% of global energy consumption by 2025, how could we talk about our performance without looking at our energy performance?

When we hear growing concerns about privacy, misuse of data or the impact of artificial intelligence, how could we talk about our performance without mentioning what we are doing on these topics?

The short answer to these two questions is: we can’t. We can’t because our investors, our customers and our employees wouldn’t accept it. In that regard, they are completely aligned with the populations and civil societies from which they come, which demand far greater transparency and accountability from companies – especially large ones, and especially in the field of technology.

This is why, for several years now, we have decided to follow the most demanding recommendations of the Global Reporting Initiative when it comes to our social and environmental impact.

Last year, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index placed Atos at the first place among its peers in its European and global rankings, based on our corporate responsibility and sustainable development performance.

This distinction reflects a conviction that is deeply rooted in the group: economic performance and social and environmental responsibility are deeply linked. That’s why they must be treated in an integrated process, rather than as two separate issues.

 

A triple challenge

And, in the current context, we see three emerging issues that will particularly intertwine our technological performance, our financial performance and our social and environmental impact:

  • First of all, the rapid development of new technologies with the potential to create some radical changes: we are currently entering a new cycle, marked in particular by the explosion of artificial intelligence and the IoT or Internet of Things.

This cycle will be marked by profound changes in companies’ business models, in our relationship to data but also in our daily lives. And these changes will lead to intense scrutiny and debate, especially when it comes to ethical boundaries, potential impacts and safeguards.

On these topics, the question of technical performance will always have to integrate an ethical component: every time we wonder “can we technically and legally do it?”, we need to also ask “should we do it?”: is it beneficial for the societies around us?

  • This question is not limited to technical performance – it will also encompass our impact on human behaviors. For several years, we’ve seen various angles of this question emerging in the media, from the topic of addiction to smartphones and apps to content overload, from the “right to disconnect” to “workplace telepressure”.

At Atos, which championed the first “zero email” program, we naturally pay particular attention to these issues.

As technology and data become the fabric of our daily lives, we need to seriously consider the effects of this revolution on individuals and social relationships, set boundaries and define what we expect from tech companies.

  • The third issue is our impact on our environment. It may be the most pressing one. That’s why, for tech companies, the issue of our energy consumption must be at the center of our agenda.

We know that the volumes of data that humanity generates will explode: they could be multiplied by five between 2019 and 2025 – and this is only the beginning.

These data volumes, as well as the new uses that are emerging, will require a sharp increase in computing capabilities. But this increase cannot come without a proportional increase in our energy consumption.

Let me take an example: Atos is one of the world leaders in supercomputers. These cutting-edge high-performance computers are used in a variety of fields, from energy to climate or medical research.

In this area, there is currently a race to the exascale, the capacity to execute a billion billion floating-point operations per second. But it is impossible to do so by scaling up from computers that managed to reach the previous milestone, the petaflops (that’s one thousand million million floating-point operations by second) – this would mean that each of these supercomputers would consume as much electricity as an entire city!

Atos is not new to these topics: as of today, we have manufactured 15 of the 100 most eco-responsible supercomputers in the world. We are fully aware that we cannot aim for technical performance if it comes at the cost of poor energy performance.

 

A milestone, not an endpoint

This year has also seen Atos launch or advance several key environmental initiatives.

At the end of last year, we inaugurated our next-generation data center in les Clayes-sous-Bois: it is 30% more energy-efficient than previous generation data centers. We have also just announced that the group is now offsetting 100% of its CO2 emissions.

All these initiatives are not an end in themselves. They are steps on the road to address these three issues: ethical uses of new technologies, impact on individual behaviors and societies and environmental performance.

Accordingly, this 2019 integrated report is only a milestone on our journey towards being a more responsible company, actively involved in our communities and committed to sustainable progress.

This path is long, arduous and demanding – but it would be foolish and irresponsible for tech companies to choose not to follow it.

 

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