Google has a very nice Environmental Report. If you read it, you will like many things. They are using AI, solar and indeed technologies to reduce their carbon footprints. The search giant has signed agreements that total excess of 2.6 GW of renewable energy. That is impressive.
We tackle these projects because they reduce our company’s environmental impact, and also because they improve our bottom line. But mostly we do this stuff because it needs to be done and it’s the right thing to do. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, and in 2017 we’ll reach 100% renewable energy for our operations, including our data centers and offices. But our ambitions don’t end at our own door. Climate change is real. We’re a global company, and our goal is to give everyone everywhere the tools and opportunities they need to play their own part in protecting the planet
But beyond all these exciting numbers, you will not see one indicator I really care about: how communities and jobs are performing owing to the disruption from Google. There is nothing wrong with disruption. That is part of commerce. My point is that we need to know besides the environmental sustainability, community sustainability. That one is from me. And there is nothing that says that I cannot bring that conscience in the technology nexus.
Amazon may have its own environmental report with all the usual efforts to reduce carbon footprints. But ask any Mayor in some American suburbs, they will explain how Amazon has ravaged their malls and shopping centers through the disruptive impacts of its ecommerce operations. How do you capture that impact? Possibly, when those malls fail, they are returned back to weeds and then they become environmentally sustaining! Of course, that is not the vision of Amazon. But it is something we need to care about in these reports. How are we fairing in this age of disruptive innovation? Can we capture them as they impact lives and communities in some of these reports? I know that we care about carbon footprints. I also think we need to see the positive and negative impacts on our communities documented.Google PPA Locations and capacity (source: Google)
It is time we examine how technology disruption affects jobs, and companies should be required to model those in their reports. That does not mean that the companies are going to be victimized, but it needs to be clear if there are efforts to manage such changes. As we welcome AI and blockchain, we can see massive dislocations in the labor force. If companies do not track such impacts, but rather focusing on mundane things like renewable energy installed capacity, and total gallons of water reused, we will not get the full picture. For example, the Google report should include besides designing efficient data centers, advancing renewable energy, creating sustainable workplaces, and empowering users with technology, the efforts to assist communities (and possibly people) which are being disrupted. In Amazon’s report, the community sustainability should be a requirement.
The following data summarize key highlights of our environmental initiatives discussed in our environmental report published in December 2016. They provide a snapshot of our performance and together demonstrate how we’re strengthening our business by reducing the environmental impact of our operations and working to empower people everywhere to live more sustainably.
In other words, I want these technology companies to report the impacts on the lives of people disrupted. If AI has caused the loss of 10% of jobs in an industry, you can take a percentage of your market share to explain if there are efforts you are making to provide opportunities to the equivalent number of people. While we like our trees and nature, humans are part of it. And if we continue to innovate, displacements will continue to happen.
This point may not be obvious. I will explain with employment in the Nigerian banking sector. The rate of customer growth is faster than the rate of staff growth. We have more than 70 million bank accounts today from 40 million above 6 years ago. Total staff strength stands at about 78,000 today. Simply, over six years, we have added more than 30 million bank accounts with only extra 18,000 staff. But note that between 2007 and 2010, the banking sector shrank. Technically, Nigeria has not returned employment to pre-great recession when we had excess of 80,000 staff. So, if you move the analysis few years before, you will note that we have added tens of millions of new accounts while shrinking the total manpower.
Nigeria’s 14 quoted banks with total staff strength of 59,807 incurred a wage bill of N265 billion in 2009. This is about N4 million per staff. This is based on an analysis of the staff cost disclosure by the 14 banks in their 2009 annual reports
Technology has brought productivity gains and banks do not need many staff. The same is happening in insurance, oil and gas and across the industrial sectors. Suddenly, we have many young people unemployed. A graduate that finished 30 years ago was sure of something. Today, a student entering a university today is not certain of job because the jobs opportunities are shrinking.
If you check all these elements well, technology is at the heart of it. And I do think there is a need to capture the impacts as they affect nature and most importantly how a company’s activities have affected jobs, communities and humans. I agree, when one industry loses jobs, opportunities emerge in other industries. Unfortunately, since banks stopped using big halls to hire as they did in the 2000s, and telcos have cut back, I am yet to see new industries that have taken over in the short term. That may come, of course, but at the moment, we have issues at hand.
Reporting how technologies affect labor, just as they affect our environments, makes sense in environmental reports. So, Google next time you publish your environmental report, I want to see community sustainability report inside it.