If big business is to hit ambitious sustainability targets, IT must embrace its role as an enabler, says Rainer Karcher, Chief Sustainability Officer, Allianz Technology. Automation, data, and the ability to make granular management decisions can transform the workplace—if we can control energy consumption.

Leading the digital transformation of the financial services industry

Allianz Technology supplies IT services to the Allianz group. It aims to provide world-class, agile, and sustainable IT solutions that enable customers of the global insurance business to enjoy a full-spectrum, digital experience. Allianz Technology’s work is leading the digital transformation of the financial services industry.

As a digital company—Allianz products and services are mainly digital—the group does not have factories or production sites. Digital represents about 30 percent of the company’s greenhouse gas emissions. With the increase of digitalization, this percentage can easily go upwards.

I had the pleasure to chat with Rainer about how sustainability across the IT function is crucial for the Allianz business model. This blog is the result of that talk.

Angelo Fienga: Rainer, tell us a little bit about your role.

Rainer Karcher: Fundamentally, I’m trying to globalize the topic of sustainability in IT and through IT. We’re not looking at sustainability as purely an energy management or carbon reduction exercise, but as an opportunity for accessibility, inclusion, and social engagement. There is also a human aspect.

AF: Could you outline the sustainability challenge facing IT, and what is the opportunity for Allianz Technology?

RK: It’s clear that IT can be part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. If you look at artificial intelligence, for example, this will lead to a dramatic increase in data center energy consumption, with Chat GPT consuming 10 times more power than a Google search[1]. Then there is the materiality of products: the number of smartphones and new electronic devices in the world, and the amount of e-waste generated.

On the other side, digitalization, automation, and AI can drive productivity gains. We can better understand data, make more informed choices, and we have more time to focus on areas of genuine impact.

AF: Sustainability is such a huge topic, and Allianz Technology operates at such huge scale. How are you gaining momentum?

RK: Allianz Technology has 21,000 employees worldwide, and my current team includes 14 people. The only way we’ll achieve any momentum is by involving many more people.

We want to encourage grassroots initiatives, allow people to be heard, and look to globalize ideas.

Firstly, that’s not as difficult as it might sound; there are an increasing number of people wanting to be involved in sustainability, whatever their job function. Gen Z employees are not attracted to companies that are not serious about sustainability. They want to see real action, they want a voice, and they want to be involved. We want to be seen as an employer of choice for new talent.

Secondly, we have 400 people in our sustainability community, mostly in operations roles. We have a program called Sustainability Remix, where participants pitch an idea and create a business case. We’ll then select the best ideas and provide support. These range from green coding principles in application development to improving accessibility. These are not ideas that could come from our central team.

AF: How are you measuring progress?

RK: For senior management, sustainability performance is included in bonus criteria. We’re measuring carbon footprint per employee. We’re aiming to reduce our own operations emissions by 66 percent by 2030.

We’re also tracking social engagement and volunteering activity.

AF: This positions IT as enabler of sustainable progress. Is it changing the way IT is viewed?

RK: Certainly. From a sustainability perspective, when we all flexed to work from home and how wonderful that was, that was only possible because the IT team had put those building blocks in place.

I think we’re now in the second wave. Smart decision making requires accurate, relevant data. It is IT that is enabling the capture and consolidation of that data. I think the business understands how important that data can be, and the help IT can provide.

“IT has worked for many years in an agile manner. Culturally, agile is something IT teams are used to—having the mindset to test, assess, learn, and develop. If we are to address the huge variety of sustainability challenges, this approach will be necessary throughout the organization.” Rainer Karcher, Chief Sustainability Officer, Allianz Technology

AF: What results are you seeing?

RK: We know that 70 percent of our people are still working from home, and that we’re having to be a lot smarter in how we manage our office space. Cisco technology now allows us to look at energy efficiency by room, by building, managing the power into connected devices. By just making these simple changes we’ve reduced energy use by 20 percent.

We’re closing certain buildings on quiet days of the week, closing on-campus restaurants, lowering the temperature in unused rooms, and switching devices off standby. We also want to make our workplaces more flexible, and help employees find the right environment to work.
Cisco is a huge part of that.

Maybe physical spaces cannot be ‘agile’, but we can be a lot more intelligent in how we use buildings. Wi-Fi hotspots allow us to understand how a building is being used and IoT can make it easier to refine building management.

AF: And your thoughts on the value of your relationship with Cisco?

RK: The relationship with Cisco brings huge value in terms of innovation and creativity. I’m more than happy to be customer-zero in trying new ideas. It’s a two-way street. Our experience may help unlock the next round of innovation.


[1]Artificial Intelligence Is Booming—So Is Its Carbon Footprint,” Bloomberg, 9 March 2023.


Know more about Cisco Sustainability here.