Singapore and Thailand Lead Asian Markets in Making ESG a Top Business Priority

Google Cloud’s latest sustainability research highlights that financial performance and fulfilling ESG responsibilities is not a zero-sum game

  • Leadership alignment, advanced technology tools, and agile team structures needed to embed sustainability into a company’s operations and unblock progress

Google Cloud has revealed Asia Pacific (APAC) findings from its global sustainability survey, which highlights that—despite economic headwinds—Singapore and Thailand are among three markets where business executives rank Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts as their number one organizational priority, with the other market being Germany.

Globally, the findings show that ESG efforts have fallen from being the number one organizational priority in 2022 to number three in 2023. The results from Taiwan—where executives placed ESG as their number three organizational priority—are in line with the global trend, while executives in Japan consider ESG to be their fifth organizational priority.

Sustainability is a critical corporate issue, touching everything from climate change and clean air, to regulatory compliance and brand integrity. The second annual CXO Sustainability Survey, commissioned by Google Cloud and conducted by The Harris Poll, surveyed 1,476 top-level executives in 16 markets, including four Asian markets – Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. It brings to light the steps that executives must take to avoid new hazards where sustainability is concerned: stalled progress and a failure to execute.

Financial performance and fulfilling ESG responsibilities not a zero-sum game

The majority of respondents across the four Asian markets recognize that customers are more likely to engage and do business with sustainable brands (JP: 67%; SG: 97%; TH: 85%; TW: 89%) and believe that delaying or scaling back on sustainability goals is damaging to company value (JP: 52%; SG: 87%; TH: 84%; TW: 88%). However, these respondents also said that their company leadership is not fully aligned on sustainability-related decisions (JP: 63%; SG: 85%; TH: 59%; TW: 77%). Uncertain economic conditions then mean that they (JP: 60%; SG: 85%; TH: 76%; TW: 75%) are challenged with achieving progress on their companies’ sustainability goals while operating on lower budgets than before.

“Markets in APAC are displaying varying levels of maturity and readiness toward operationalizing sustainability-related initiatives, but we’re seeing a consistent trend: executives citing the lack of leadership alignment amidst the current macroeconomic environment as the reason for a regression in their organizations’ sustainability efforts, as well as resulting pressure to prioritize driving revenue and optimizing client relationships,” said Karan Bajwa, Vice President, Asia Pacific, Google Cloud. “Intelligent and data-driven tools like Active Assist, which companies can use to simultaneously optimize IT costs, improve security, and reduce their carbon footprint, are already embedded into Google Cloud to help business executives demonstrate that financial performance and fulfilling ESG responsibilities is not a zero-sum game. These tools can help quantify the tangible impact and return on investment (ROI) from embedding sustainability into a company’s operations and business model.”

Overcoming accidental greenwashing with accurate data and measurement

Corporate greenwashing and green hypocrisy are pervasive concerns amongst executives in Singapore (69%), Taiwan (60%), and Thailand (69%), while less so in Japan (43%) – the lowest percentage out of all the markets surveyed. Most of these executives (JP: 61%; SG: 92%; TH: 83%; TW: 87%) believe greenwashing is accidental (i.e., when companies cannot effectively measure results or progress, they tend to overstate their sustainability efforts), underscoring the need for data-driven systems that deliver actionable insights to help them understand where and how to implement sustainability initiatives that drive the highest impact, and accurately measure progress.

Reassuringly, the majority of executives in Singapore (55%) and Thailand (63%) already have a measurement program for their sustainability efforts in place, compared to 37% of global respondents, 37% of respondents from Taiwan, and 16% of respondents from Japan. Executives in Singapore (55%) and Thailand (67%) also believe that having access to advanced measurement tools would be very helpful in furthering their organizations’ sustainability efforts, compared to 47% of global respondents, 36% of respondents from Taiwan, and 15% of respondents from Japan.

Driving change through an agile approach and internal capability building

In addition to accurate measurement, achieving an organization’s sustainability goals requires a relook at existing structures and skilling programs. Apart from alignment that is needed within the C-suite who tend to make sustainability-related decisions on behalf of their companies, executives across the four Asian markets cited an agile approach and internal capability building as crucial elements for success. They believe it would be most effective if their companies adopted a cross-functional approach, as opposed to having a dedicated sustainability team (JP: 69%; SG: 93%; TH: 96%; TW: 81%). Majority are seeking access to the right talent to advance their companies’ sustainability efforts (JP: 60%; SG: 56%; TH: 45%; TW: 64%).

“Companies can mobilize existing talent to design and operationalize technology- and sustainability-related initiatives, leveraging the lateral and transferable skills that these employees already possess in areas like cloud architecture, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). Google Cloud has been supporting enterprises’ internal digital skilling efforts through programs like Google Cloud Skills Boost. In addition, we’re offering a hands-on lab that helps engineering teams become familiar with the sustainability features that are embedded into the Google Cloud tools they already use, and a tailored training curriculum that equips learners with foundational skills to identify and address the sustainability challenges faced by their employers,” added Bajwa.

Technology as a pathway to sustainable growth

Google Cloud supports organizations by operating the industry’s cleanest cloud, enabling them to act today to decarbonize their digital infrastructure and applications, and achieve their most ambitious sustainability targets.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for example, has been partnering with Google Cloud on the Point Carbon Zero Program, which is currently driving the innovation, incubation, and scaling of climate FinTech solutions in Asia. The Program aims to bolster the financial sector’s access to accurate and granular climate-related data, for more efficient deployment of capital toward green and sustainable projects. 

In 2017, Google became the first company of its size to match 100% of its annual electricity use with renewable energy – and has continued to achieve this every year since. By migrating their digital infrastructure and applications to Google Cloud, organizations will inherit Google’s carbon neutrality and immediately improve their sustainability profiles.

Intelligent optimization tools and sustainability features are embedded natively into Google Cloud, making it easier for companies to identify opportunities to reduce carbon emissions at scale:

  • Carbon Footprint delivers a complete picture of Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions associated with a company’s Google Cloud usage, allowing it to break down data by project, service, or region and take concrete actions to reduce these emissions and make more sustainable decisions. 
  • Active Assist uses AI to provide companies with recommendations for cleaning up their cloud environment, so they can optimize IT costs, improve security, and reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Google Earth Engine draws on Google Cloud’s multi-petabyte catalog of satellite imagery and geospatial datasets, and planetary-scale analytics, to show timely, accurate, high-resolution, and decision-relevant insights about the state of the world’s habitats and ecosystems, helping companies gain visibility into their supply chains and understand their climate risk exposure.