Technology as a Force for Good

At the halfway mark of the 15-year target, the world is not on track to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with as much as US$195 trillion now needed up to 2030, out of an estimated capital stock of US$450 trillion. Technology is likely to be among the deciding factors determining whether the UN SDGs are met or not, potentially reducing the cost to fund the goals by US$55 trillion, solving for c.40% of the SDGs, directly impacting 108 of the 169 targets associated with the goals.

Leading tech companies are showing the way by embracing sustainable growth and impact, while making bold strategic investments across multiple critical future technologies. Investing in innovation and breakthroughs will also lay the foundation for a more prosperous and superior future, which could boost global GDP by 3x to 2060, raising average per capita income globally to that of South Korea today. Creating such a secure, sustainable, and superior future will both address current existential sustainability challenges and deliver fundamental technological breakthroughs that will reach the last mile and transform the world

The inaugural Technology as a Force for Good Report issued by the Force for Good Initiative explores technology’s, particularly digital technology’s, potential in supporting the SDGs and the critical role that the technology industry and its leaders play in this regard. The report analyses the engagement of 100 of the world’s leading tech companies across ESG, sustainability and stakeholder engagement to identify the emerging common ground among leaders and their ambition to be a force for good in the world. The report further examines recent innovative and scaled initiatives with the potential to break new ground for the industry, with selected leaders effectively raising the bar for competitors to in terms of sustainable development, driving systemic change or accelerating the transition to the information age. 

This month’s Sign of the Times provides an executive summary drawn from the report, focusing on its key messages and conclusions. The full version of the Technology as a Force for Good Report can be found here.


Context: A World in Transition Facing Disruption

Our world is set to be fundamentally transformed over the course of the next generation, driven by a number of long-term developments. Climate change is perhaps the most salient, but it is joined by global economic power shifts, increasing wealth inequality, and the resulting mass migration, with as many as one billion people expected to be migrants by 2050.i

Recognizing the systemic nature of many of the challenges laid out above, the United Nations has rallied the world behind a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, secured by the agreement of all 193 UN members, to be met in a 15-year global effort creating a more inclusive and sustainable world. At the half-way mark of this effort however, the unfolding and interrelated political, security and economic crises put the achievement of the goals at risk and threaten to undo in some cases decades of development progress, while undermining global peace, prosperity, and freedom.

2022 in particular, has provided a preview of the consequences of not addressing the major challenges facing the world: an uneven global recovery from the pandemic, the first inter-state war in Europe in nearly three generations erupted, spiralling food and energy prices, and the resulting stagflationimg1 across major economies, as well as increasingly devastating natural disasters, including floods in Pakistan impacting 33 million people, and extreme heatwaves in Europe killing more than 16,000 people.ii These shocks have created significant and unpredictable risks to global stability in a deeply interdependent world. The cumulative impact of all these events has refocused the global agenda away from long-term sustainable development in favour of short-term security, and the two currently represent competing priorities for the world.

The achievement of the SDGs within the next decade The choice between security and development is an illusory one since there can be no sustainable development without security, and there is no meaningful security without sustainable development is critical for the world to avert the crises that will result from over-exploitation of resources, extreme weather events, pollution and biodiversity loss, poverty and inequality, political and social strife, and mass migration, seemingly providing leaders with an impossible choice between security and sustainability.

Fundamentally however, the notion these goals are mutually exclusive is fundamentally flawed, as both are critical to human flourishing, and deeply intertwined. Any shortfalls in addressing sustainable development issues will ultimately drive human security risks and any shortfalls in human security will raise the bar for further sustainable development. The choice between security and development therefore is an illusory one and the challenge for the world therefore is to fund both while minimizing any near-term trade-offs between the two, delivering ‘secure sustainable development’.


Technology is Key to Meeting the SDGs

Technology and innovation have played a fundamental role in all major transitions in human history, from the Agricultural Revolution to the Industrial Revolution, and now the Digital Revolution. Information technology (IT), in particular, is transforming the global economy and society as a whole as industries and communities become increasingly digitized and value migrates online.

Today, we are in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has thus far been built on IT In the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are seeing the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological spheres and with it the integration of technologies such as robotics, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, and energy storage. using a range of technologies like mobile, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, but is increasingly blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological spheres by integrating technologies like robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, and energy storage. Given its fundamental impact and the breadth of its transformative potential, technology has a critical role in driving the SDGs and human security. With progress on many SDGs stalled or even regressing and the time to achieve them running out, it is clear that achieving the goals will require transformative and rapid change, and the delivery of solutions at speed and scale. Further, the US$134-176 trillion total investment required to fund the SDGs represents a likely insurmountable hurdle.

Technology represents the only viable solutions to both these challenges. Only the mass deployment of existing – along with the innovation of new - technology can deliver the transformations on the required scale and timeline, while targeted innovations in health-tech, edtech, fintech and other areas can significantly reduce the costs for achieving the goals.

At their core, the SDGs were designed to level up the world and to create the foundation for a sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous future. Such a future will clearly be digital, making global connectivity and universal access to digital resources among the most basic building blocks for achieving the goals as a whole and beyond that, advanced technology can be a pivotal asset in achieving the SDGs. Of the 169 targets associated with the SDGs, 103 have been found to be directly influenced by today’s digital technology.iii

However, technology’s potential impact goes beyond the SDGs, of course. The SDGs are not binary goals, but rather milestones on a scale of development that represent a threshold from which a just and sustainable future can be built. Technology will of course be critical in building such a future.As it continues to develop, there are three cumulative levels of impact the tech industry can have

  • Level I, Connecting the World (to c.2025): Achieving universal and reliable broadband connectivity that allows the deployment of existing digital technologies will have a significant impact on the goals, driving inclusion, raising productivity, and increasing equality of opportunity across the world.

  • Level II, Levelling Up (to c.2030): With universal access assured, targeted innovation can drive critical progress on each SDG individually, creating products services and solutions to overcome challenges and deliver outcomes related to specific goals across education, finance, and healthcare, among others.

  • Level III, Creating a Superior Position (c.2030+): As digital technology continues to transform the world, and the tech sector increasingly blur with other industries, tech will become the enabler for fundamental breakthroughs in fields like energy innovation, materials sciences, and biology in a radically transformed future for humankind .

Each of the three tech progressions described above has the potential to have a meaningful impact on the achievement of the goals and beyond (see inset). The first two progressions, in particular, will img2 make a material impact on the world achieving the SDGs, (while the third promises a far more radical longer-term impact beyond the goals, transforming the world.) Universal broadband connectivity (Level I) has the potential to close the gap to achieving the SDGs by up to 20%, delivering US$25- 33 trillion in effective savings to the total cost of the SDGs. Fully leveraging technology to level up the world with targeted innovation (Level 2) can almost double progress on the SDGs again, closing the gap by 37%, delivering net cost savings of US$41-56 trillion for the world.iv


How Tech is Making a Difference to Sustainable Development and Human Security

Given the size and influence of the global technology sector, there is a growing expectation from stakeholders for it to act as a ‘force for good’, driving positive impact for sustainable development and human security. The industry’s leaders have clearly understood these expectations and have responded with a wide range of initiatives being executed across ESG, sustainability and stakeholder engagement. Cumulatively, their actions and initiatives establish a ‘common ground’, within an ESG code, embracing sustainability, and engaging stakeholders.

This common ground broadly spans three overlapping areas in the context of transitioning to more sustainable business models, being ‘Mindful Conduct’, adopting and integrating of ESG considerations into business processes; ‘Caring for the Planet’, driving sustainability and sustainable development; and ‘Compassion for All’, engaging deeply to drive value for other stakeholders, including employees, customers, and others.

The Technology as a Force for Good Report examined the key activities of the world’s 100 largest tech companies in this regard, analysing companies with total annual revenues of US$3.7trillion, representing by some estimates over two thirds of total industry revenues. The analysis mapped the common ground among the leading companies in tech, including their relative levels of engagement and their evolving priorities across in initiatives across the three categories, an exercise that also points to the potential future direction of travel for the rest of the industry. The key takeaways of the analysis include the following:

  • 96% of leaders have publicly committed to a multi-stakeholder approach, acknowledging the need for aligning the long-term interests of a wide range of stakeholders.

  • 95% of industry leaders have adopted ESG policies and practices.

  • 94% have recognized the importance of workforce diversity, and have programs in place to drive inclusion

  • 93% have specific programs to support workers’ wellbeing, recognizing the strategic importance of a resilient workforce

  • 84% have committed to Net Zero and have adopted sustainability accounting standards to report on their emissions and long term decarbonization

  • 5% absolute reduction in tech sector leaders’ GHG emissions over two years despite strong business growth, indicating the importance being accorded to climate change by the sector

  • US$45 billion of green and sustainability bonds raised, funding investments into a range of sustainable technologies like green buildings, renewables, clean transportation, carbon sequestration and energy efficiency.

  • US$3.8 billion spent on corporate social responsibility is indicative of tech leaders social impact priorities

Beyond this expanding common ground, a subset of tech sector leaders is breaking new ground in their ambition to have a positive impact on the world as a force for good, be it through the scale of their efforts, the level of innovation achieved, or the nature of their ambition, focusing on otherwise unaddressed issues. These companies have recognised that the sector’s true potential as a force for good lies in its ability to deliver, deploy, and scale technological innovations with a significant impact on the world. Much like the finance industry’s potential as a force for good rests on its ability to allocate capital, the tech industry’s potential rests on its ability to deploy technology – products, services, and platforms – in a targeted and innovative fashion to solve the world’s biggest challenges, in many cases profitably. Tech leaders’ breakthrough initiatives broadly fall into three categories

  • Breakthroughs Transforming the Organization for Impact, being initiatives that originate from the industry’s common ground, but on a scale and scope that is transformative for the positioning of the organization itself for a more sustainable future.

  • Breakthroughs Changing the World for Good, being initiatives where leaders leverage their core technologies to make meaningful progress on key social and environmental sustainability challenges related to major SDGs, and

  • Breakthroughs Building the Future, being initiatives that are driving to the post-industrial Imagination Age, where the boundaries between the tech industry and other major sectors like energy, healthcare, and manufacturing will blur even further, allowing significant advancements of human security.

Companyv Key Initiative Impact Area
Breakthroughs Transforming the Organization for Impact


Apple sets 2030 Goal for Net Zero Emissions Across its Entire Supply Chain



Google Eliminates Carbon Legacy, to be Fully Carbon Free by 2030



Intel Targets Net Water Positive and Zero Landfill Operations Globally by 2030



Amazon Becomes the World’s Largest Green Energy Purchaser



SAP Scales Global Mindfulness Program from Employees to Customers



HP Commits to Ambitious Targets for Diversity and Inclusion



Snowflake Dissolves Corporate Headquarters Becoming “Globally Distributed

Breakthroughs Changing the World for Good


Starlink provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe



Cisco Helps to Bridge the Digital Divide with Rural Broadband Network Solutions for Service Providers



Finastra and Microsoft Driving Digital Financial Services

company10 Launches Carbon Credit Marketplace, Empowering Any Organization to Take Climate Action



Google Using AI for Weather and Flood Prediction



Adobe Digital Workflow Solutions Preserve Three Million Trees Annually



Amazon sets up US$2 billion Climate Pledge Fund



Oracle Cloud Powers ESG Integration and Management


Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments Supporting STEM Education, from K-12 to Universities



Alibaba Develops World’s Largest Digital Payments Platform



Google Classroom Digitizing Global Education



Autodesk Acquire Smart Water Technology Company.

Breakthroughs Building the Future


Facebook becomes Meta, Aiming to Drive the Development of the Metaverse



NVIDIA and Atos to Build World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer



Qualcomm launches Fund and Labs to Accelerate Extended and Augmented Reality Technologies



Samsung Creates Foundation for Hyperscale AI Research



PayPal Supports Cryptocurrencies and Ecosystem



Google's AI DeepMind Solves Structure of All Proteins Known to Science

AI, Human Health


Samsung Electronics Delivers Breakthrough Synthesis Method for Graphene

Material Science


Tencent Builds AI-Power Neurosurgical Navigation System



Baidu to Operate Fully Autonomous Robotaxis


Tech sector leaders have recognised technology’s enormous potential to be a force for good in the world, solving many of the world’s major challenges, driving mass-inclusion and affordable access to services, and accelerating the long-term sustainability transition. However, for technology to have its maximum impact it - like any tool - must be properly deployed and directed. Ensuring technology’s place as a force for good in the world will therefore require not just engagement by the tech sector itself, but also the commitment and alignment of global leaders to agree ground rules for its use and to ensure equitable and affordable access for everybody. If this can be achieved, then the SDGs and global Net Zero can possibly be achieved as well.


Beyond the SDGs: Building the Future

Almost all the breakthrough initiatives above, particularly those building the future, are increasingly reliant on or are directly developing the next generation of disruptive technologies. These innovations are driving the blurring of boundaries between industries and ultimately transforming the world at large. The table below maps the distribution of initiatives by tech sector leaders across major disruptive technologies in IT, industrials, energy, virtualisation, finance, materials and resources, space, and health.

There are a number of findings deriving from tech leaders’ engagement with disruptive technologies across key segments of future tech.

  • Emerging field of competition for technology leadership. Virtually all tech companies are pursuing some sort of initiatives across the 19 technologies, with varying levels of engagement, identified based on publicly available information.

  • Hottest competition is in AI and big data analytics. Enabling technologies that are reshaping IT itself (and therefore its impact on other sectors as well) are receiving the most attention, with 85% of tech leaders pursuing AI initiatives and 60% focusing on big data analytics.

  • The physical world also commands intense competition. Tech companies are highly active in developing (and deploying) digital technologies that could transform the energy and industrial sectors, with 64% of leaders pursuing initiatives in IoT technologies, and 57% engaging with smart grid as well as related technologies.

  • Virtualization and blockchain are both transformative technologies. 46% and 37% of the industry’s leaders are investing, respectively in technologies that will augment or create alternative realities or investing in technologies that may be instrumental in transforming and democratizing finance as well as other fields of commerce and transactions.

  • Space, advanced health, and material sciences remain specialist areas. Technologies related to material sciences, gene-based medicine or space tech remain relatively niche, with only 17-23% of tech sector leaders active in these areas, despite the transformative impact that digital technology is having in them. This perhaps reflects the highly specialized nature of the underlying technologies.

Solving the world’s sustainability and inclusion challenges will not be possible without innovation across all the above areas, with sufficiently fundamental breakthroughs having the potential to change current trajectories of ecosystem impacts and create a step change in human progress. Historically such breakthroughs have been focused on energy technologies, such as the (coal driven) steam engine during the Industrial Revolution, electrification in the 19th Century and the transition to petroleum in the 20th Century. As a result, global GDP growth has accelerated throughout this period, increasing more than threefold between 1765-1880, nearly sixfold between 1880-1960 and nearly eightfold between 1960 and the present day. Unlocking future GDP growth on a similar level will likely also require energy innovation, exploiting a new source that is functionally superior to current sources.

With such a breakthrough the world is likely to progress much quicker than it did during the Industrial Age, thanks to the accelerating rate of technological innovation, leading to a potentially staggering growth in global output during the 21st Century, with a step change in growth during the middle of the century.


The US$350 trillion of GDP by 2060 implies an average GDP per capita globally equal to that of countries like Italy or South Korea today. Conceptualizing the world from this point onward is more

Key Components of a Sustainable Future
  • Energy New energy sources replacing carbon, with fusion and its derivatives being the most likely near-term prospect.
  • Digitisation. Full digitisation of industries, governments, and societies, with data emerging a as fundamental building block of global economic activity.
  • Technology. Blurring boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological spheres creating new possibilities to address major global challenges.
  • Virtualization. Universal adoption of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality platforms, with global economic and social activity increasingly migrating to digital spaces.
  • Materials. Breakthroughs in material sciences replacing the need for the extraction of finite natural resources.
  • Industry. Automation, and energy and material breakthroughs allow for nearly limitless scaling with near zero marginal costs of production.
  • Finance. Distributed forms of inclusive capitalism renew and reinvent global trade without centralized control or financial intermediaries.
  • People. People empowered by technology to access opportunities regardless of geography, demography, gender, race, or income levels.
  • Space. The leveraging of space for access to new resources, exploration, and new territories to live in.

challenging, given that GDP growth will continue to accelerate, reaching US$2 quadrillion by 2080, or an average GDP per capita of US$200,000.

The resulting civilisation would be all but unrecognizable to us, just like pre-industrial agriculturalists could not envisage the modern world of today, although the likely building blocks of such a civilisation are captured in the insert on the left. Making this civilization a reality will require bold investments that deliver breakthroughs across not just information technology but also energy, material sciences, engineering, and life sciences, that will fundamentally transform global industries. If these breakthroughs could be achieved today or in the near future, rather than decades from now, they could also address the SDGs.

Conclusion: Navigating A Just Transition

While the future laid above is an appealing one, the world today lacks a common plan with which to manage its transition there. Just like the future it is seeking to bring about, a successful transition would need to be sustainable and inclusive, requiring global collaboration, careful thought, and measured judgements to maximize the overall benefit and to minimize transition costs.

The blueprint for a just transition would need to multi-faceted and achieve a series of near-, medium-, and long-term goals including but not limited to the ongoing maintenance and preservation of existing institutions such as global governance systems, markets, and trade networks, the achievement of the SDGs as a basis for sustainable growth the medium term, and the investment in disruptive innovations that achieve breakthroughs and step-changes in global progress that will create the future, while at the same time building resilience in the face of inevitable setback and proactively managing the dislocations that will accompany the transition. While achieving the above will require the efforts of all global stakeholders, the tech industry clearly has a central role to play. ‘Creating the future’ is what the tech sector does by default, with tech companies representing seven out of the top ten corporate R&D spenders globally, investing billions in emerging technologies like AI, autonomous vehicles, VR/AR, human health breakthroughs, drones, smart cities, and robotics.

But the tech sector has equally important roles to play in preserving the progress made to date. The modern world is underpinned by its products and services, without which it would be impossible to maintain our financial, economic, social, and even political systems. Indeed, it is the immense profits generated by these products and services that are funding the sector’s investments in future.

Similarly, tech will be critical to meeting the SDGs, creating a tremendous opportunity for the sector. The companies that connect the three billion people currently not online, or financially include the five billion people without full banking services, are creating new customers whose value will only continue to grow when the goals are achieved. Securing these customers today positions tech companies to be the winners of the Imagination Age, further blurring the boundaries with traditional sectors like retail, finance, media and entertainment, healthcare, and manufacturing, displacing their respective incumbents in the process. Governments are left with the difficult task of ensuring that technology’s most powerful players play by rules that create such a future, allowing tech giants to continue to grow while protecting innovators, consumers and citizens.

A more secure, sustainable, and superior future requires rolling out digital technologies to drive inclusivity across the world and unleashing innovations at scale to allow all people to access affordable solutions, creating enormous wealth, such that there is a high degree of parity in accessing opportunity, achieving the UN SDGs. This is the foundation on which major breakthroughs will build a far superior world to the one we inherited from the industrial age. A world in which ‘human security for all’ is no longer an aspiration but a lived experience.

The Leader: Endnotes

  1. Source: UN International Organization for Migration

  2. Source: RMS, Reuters

  3. Source: Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer2030, Deloitte

  4. Please see TF4G Report/Research Process and Methodology for assumptions

  5. Sources: Company press releases and reporting