How Digital Transformation Can Drive Sustainability

If your business isn’t considering sustainability, it’s well overdue. Governments, employees and consumers are all pushing for businesses to prioritise environmental concerns and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable brands. However, it can seem a big ask, especially when there are many other priorities fighting for attention. 

Digital transformation and sustainability aren’t always thought of as working together and can compete for attention in the boardroom. However, when digital solutions are built and implemented with sustainability in mind, they can become complementary drivers. By integrating sustainability into transformation efforts, it’s possible to both create more sustainable solutions and drive revenue growth at the same time. Efforts to create more sustainable processes are no longer just nice to have, they’re fundamental for the future. When done in the right way, digital transformation can deliver the balance between being more sustainable and optimising business operations to improve the bottom line. 

The Conflict Between Transformation and Sustainability

With the aim to secure global net zero emissions by the middle of the century, sustainability has never received more attention. World leaders have called on industry to limit emissions and act in a more sustainable way. Digital technologies are often hailed as enabling tools for sustainability, they can save energy, connect people globally and inform decisions through big data. However, digital technology most certainly isn’t carbon neutral; in fact, it accounts for a huge amount of global emissions. While it can improve productivity and drive business operations, the rapid growth of the digital universe correlates to huge energy consumption and physical e-waste that contributes to climate change.

What is Sustainable Digital Transformation?

Sustainable digital transformation means doing the right thing when building and implementing digital solutions and products. That means considering the impact of both what is built and how it’s built. To be responsible, businesses need to not just implement digital solutions, but use tools that will track the impacts of those solutions. It’s a case of asking sustainability-driven questions throughout the whole development process and product lifecycle to ensure that systems and applications do more good than harm and new issues aren’t introduced. Of course, while sustainability is extremely important, it’s also vital to ensure digital transformation delivers a return on involvement. 

Sustainable digital transformation means embracing technology and using it in the right way so that digitisation and sustainability work together. When done right, digitalisation enables businesses to embed sustainability into their systems, optimising production outcomes to create the greenest output while also reducing costs. For example, data can be captured and operational processes run in the cloud to enable remote collaboration. It’s an opportunity to transform, embed data intelligence and predictive analysis throughout the supply chain and bring about a new decade of sustainability. 

Sustainable innovation often results in solutions that are less expensive, have less environmental impact and improve employee retention. After all, digital transformation projects can provide real-time information and measurement of processes with great transparency, and use it to reduce waste. With a commitment to sustainability, digital transformation can drive inspiration and innovation. 

6 Ways to Achieve Sustainable Digital Transformation

Sustainable digital transformation is a long-term commitment that involves a complete change in mindset. While every business wants to be successful, putting sustainability as a top priority means considering the wider implications of every decision first. There are several ways that businesses can make their digital transformation efforts more sustainable: 

  1. Build Data Integrity – it’s impossible to manage something if it can’t be measured. Measuring the success of digital transformation and sustainability efforts and keeping stakeholders, decision makers and end users informed ensures expectations and perceptions are managed. Building data integrity enables you to visualise what good looks like, understand the impact of your actions and trust data to make sustainable decisions.
  2. Align Infrastructure – many businesses have fragmented systems with a complex mix of legacy and enterprise architectures. To be able to capture the value of data and drive more sustainable solutions, there’s a need for a unified approach to digital transformation where systems are integrated, aligned and able to deliver more efficiency in terms of energy and cost. 
  3. Be Flexible – creating linear systems is no longer good enough. The issue is that, while they work in the first instance, they become obsolete as technology progresses, turning into e-waste not to mention creating a huge energy sink. With access to advanced tech like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and real-time data, you can balance sustainability and environmental costs. Flexible architecture prioritises compatibility, modularity and adaptability. 
  4. Democratise Sustainability – sustainability shouldn’t be the goal of one cheerleader within your business, it should be everybody’s problem and priority. You should try to build mutual accountability, with ecological concerns being a mainstream conversation in all of your projects. Digital tools can help this, giving employees of all levels of business the ability to be involved and drive change. 
  5. Deliver True Value – data and automation can be used to improve processes while more directly addressing core customer needs. By reducing unnecessary costs to the end user, you can outprice competitors. What’s more, by prioritising direct and longer-term customer relationships, you can understand how customers really use products and deliver true value. 
  6. Be Mindful – we all need to consider how we use technology, make better decisions, and optimise our behaviour. Data can be used to analyse the sustainability of our project, processes and systems. Instead of short-term thinking, you should consider long-term impact.

The New Era of Digital Transformation

No company is able to avoid the fundamental changes required for sustainable business operations; after all, human survival depends on us all significantly cutting global emissions. This means that transformation efforts need to go further to harness the untapped possibilities of clean technology. Those who sell products may well transform to selling services, and those who sell services may look to deliver experiences. We need to consider the whole ecosystem, invest in the right partners and suppliers, collaborate and join forces to make a long-term difference. Ultimately, we are going to see whole new models of value creation and delivery. After all, reaching net zero hangs on innovation and digital will be the key driver. 

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