What happens when the world’s IT leader, Atos, leads the path towards decarbonization? To answer this burning question, Plan A hosted a fireside chat with the French giant Atos. We had the chance to hear from Catherine Briat, Head of Central Europe Communications & Marketing, strategic initiatives, Public Affairs, Head of CSR and Decarbonization Global Communications at Atos.

Catherine is an exceptional leader. The webinar starts, and the audience is captivated. She starts by sharing her sustainability journey: before joining Atos, she was a diplomat, for the French embassy in Berlin. Now, Catherine exerces her leading role at Atos. Here is a summary of the event, in an interview format.

How to drive and implement a successful decarbonization strategy?

Last December, Atos decided to accelerate its strategy for decarbonization, so I took the responsibility of global communication for decarbonization.

Atos is a pioneer in sustainability, starting its journey in 2008 to face the climate change crisis. For this, we launched the “Atos environmental program”. In 2018, after the COP21, we committed to the Paris Agreement, and we launched our purpose. Last year, we announced our commitment to become net-zero emissions by 2035. But, at the beginning of 2021, we decided to accelerate our sustainability journey by announcing the same day that we released our financial statements to be net-zero by 2028, years before what we had planned. We have no more time to lose, and we know we can achieve it.

How are you planning on achieving net-zero emissions?

We will achieve this objective by having green offices worldwide, especially in India, where we have solar panels on roofs’ offices. Then, it comes to the supply chain with Scope 3 emissions, which is the biggest challenge for all companies since it is a scope mainly out of our control. So, we have created a procurement department to operate with our suppliers and implement sustainable change.

50% of Atos’ carbon footprint is coming from computers, you could expect that from data centres, but it is not the case.

For example, 50% of Atos’ carbon footprint is coming from computers, you could expect that from data centres, but it is not the case. So we are engaging actively with our suppliers to reduce our environmental impact and implement change. For that, we have set up drivers to incentivise our suppliers. For example, we have released a green app to make people aware of their behaviour and get educated on sustainability, and it is a very complex topic. Because if you are not aware, it is tough to implement change.

We have also offsetting programs because, as you know, it is impossible to emit zero emissions. So, we have several projects to support that. Even though offsetting is a controversial topic, it is a complementary and viable approach to reach net-zero emissions. You cannot have a full scope decarbonization strategy without offsetting, especially for stock-listed companies like Atos.

Carbon-neutrality: What we are talking about has to be more out there and understood. It is important to be net-zero, commit to it, and be driven by science-based targets (SBT), but it is very challenging to do. We have to remain under 1,5°C, and we will not know if we can achieve it. That is why we need disruptive innovation to save it. Otherwise, we cannot achieve this target. We are 8 billion people on this planet, and our challenges will keep growing as world citizens are asking for more development. But growth has to come with sustainability and innovation.

It is not time anymore for promises. We have to prove what we do and prove it with evidence, facts, and data.

Catherine Briat, Head of Central Europe Communications & Marketing, strategic initiatives, Public Affairs, Head of CSR and Decarbonization Global Communications at Atos.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of greenwashing in communication and marketing, so we need transparent communication. We are all in the same boat, so it is a collective effort.

A need for stronger carbon accounting standards and frameworks

Scope 3 is necessary to influence change in others. But there is something that we are all missing: we need more standards, we need the same level of comparison and understanding. We need standardization for decarbonization and which criteria are used to calculate scope 1, 2, 3 emissions. However, it is still an immature market because some companies take the full scope 3 emissions, some others not, etc.

What are your perspectives on ESG?

ESG, standing for environmental, social and governance, is the financial concept for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) — it is non-financial data for a listed company like Atos. It is part of our global strategy, and it is more and more important for a listed company to take into account ESG criteria. A company has to meet society’s requirements regarding social, environmental and governance (e.g. ethics, trust). How do you match the company’s objectives with society’s expectations? Look at the younger generation. They are asking for these criteria first. If they are looking for a job, they are looking into these factors first, so it is important to consider them.

A company has to meet society’s requirements in terms of social, environmental and governance.

Catherine Briat, Head of Central Europe Communications & Marketing, strategic initiatives, Public Affairs, Head of CSR and Decarbonization Global Communications at Atos.

Is sustainability connected to growth?

It has to be. And, this is where digital comes into place. Of course, digital is part of the issue and part of the solution. At Atos, we bring disruptive innovation to solve decarbonization issues. For example, quantum computing is highly promising in replicating the carbon process in the atmosphere. As this is a very complex chemical process, it is an amazing process if you succeed in replicating it.

Growth has to come with sustainability and innovation.

Catherine Briat, Head of Central Europe Communications & Marketing, strategic initiatives, Public Affairs, Head of CSR and Decarbonization Global Communications at Atos.

Digital brings innovation with AI, edge computing, and maybe 10 years from now, technologies will change the way we capture carbon and transform it. I truly believe in innovation and progress. For example, look at the pandemic. Who could have thought we would have found a vaccine? This new technology, the messenger RNA – brings promising innovation to treat cancers and other diseases.

On the topic of datacentres, Atos is working towards datacentres powered with green hydrogen. We announce a promising partnership with HDF (Hydrogène de France); we will develop the first green hydrogen datacentre. This is one of the major innovation in the field. As datacentres will consume 8% of the global electricity by 2030, we need to find an accurate solution.

How hopeful are you for the future?

I am positive; I always believe that there are solutions. I am a mother, and I need to think for the next generation, and I am very engaged; I have been vegetarian for 30 years and actively part of NGO’s. I truly believe in innovation, as part of the solution will come from the digital. My last words would be: stay positive but active.

Looking for the perfect end of the working day? Then, “Meet the Giants” series is made for you. This bite-size format is full of sustainability insights, bringing you the knowledge you need. Watch the episodes or simply reserve your e-spot for the next event!