IBM’s 2019 Corporate Responsibility Report: IBM and Good Tech

By Matthew Dillon

From research labs to the boardroom, responsible stewardship and trust have been hallmarks of IBM’s culture for more than a century.  

The annual IBM Corporate Responsibility Report, published on June 29, details IBM’s performance and progress in 2019 and beyond on a wide variety of issues. Those include how the company operates with trust and transparency: how it supports its employees, the company’s social impact, protecting the environment, responsible supply chain management and governance.

In his letter introducing the report, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna notes that 2020 has presented the world and IBM with new challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval from enduring racial injustice. “Over its 109-year history, IBM has helped the world weather many storms,” he writes. “That history gives us confidence that we will help society to navigate these challenging times and emerge from them stronger.”

The following examples cover just three of the many areas IBM’s work has addressed:

Response to COVID-19. IBM has shared resources, formed alliances and deployed solutions to help meet the complex, urgent challenges of COVID-19. That includes responding to the supply chain constraints that occurred as the pandemic spread rapidly in spring 2020. Many hospitals and government agencies scrambled to find and purchase masks, gowns and other vital medical supplies, often from nontraditional suppliers. Buyers needed to assess the credibility of new suppliers quickly and simplify the process of locating essential items.

IBM responded with the launch of Rapid Supplier Connect, a blockchain-based network made available at no cost in the U.S. and Canada through August 2020. The system features a streamlined onboarding process, validation checks and inventory information in nearly real time. Organizations buying medical supplies, the report said, could “assess the credibility of new suppliers quickly, and simplify the process of locating essential items.”  

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Some of the COVID-19-related initiatives from IBM.

AI Ethics Board. Because Artificial Intelligence is a major focus for IBM, the company has taken steps to ensure that AI progress in line with its corporate values. IBM has established an internal AI Ethics Board, which the report describes as being “comprised of a cross-disciplinary team of senior IBMers, co-chaired by IBM’s Chief Privacy Officer and AI Ethics Global Leader, and reports to the highest level of the company.”

The AI Ethics Board is intended to deal with the difficult questions that surround a technology with so much potential. While many of the perceived issues with artificial intelligence can be resolved through training and education, this board is positioned to deal with the truly challenging problems.

AI “focals” have also been established within the company to streamline the Board’s efforts. The end result is an approach to ethics that emphasizes accountability and is fully integrated with IBM and its culture.

Sustainability. IBM has invested heavily in conserving energy as part of the company’s overall environmental goals. According to the report, the company’s energy consumption declined by 4.5% in 2019, and “electricity from renewable sources now accounts for 47% of IBM’s total electricity consumption.”

IBM will also contribute to all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Announced by the U.N. in 2015, these goals have a global focus, aiming to “build an inclusive and sustainable world,” as described in the report. They go beyond reducing emissions, requiring action against social and economic inequality.

IBM is well suited to help contribute to this global effort.  Given IBM’s experience with supply chains, emphasis on social impact, commitment to diversity, and the company’s technological expertise, the company is well suited to the task of striving for the 17 goals and the mission to build a better world.

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One measure of IBM's environmental progress is the company's reductions in CO2 emissions.

Learn more in the full report, “IBM and Good Tech: Modeling responsible stewardship in the digital age,” available at ibm.org.