Our conclusion of the study is clear. Sustainability and SDG action is wanted and expected by a broad stakeholder group represented by internal and external parties, and is seen as critical for most organizations and companies. However, although many sustainability activities are focused around broad operational areas, real financial impact is not realized, measured, or understood. Where technology and digitalization could be implemented to transform the effect of sustainability activities, there are few cases where this has actually succeeded, or has been tried out. Our view is that until there are clear methods of making sustainability operationally material, financial bottom line value will be very difficult to realize.
THE DEVOTEAM PERSPECTIVE
Globally, our societies are facing unprecedented challenges at levels we have never experienced before. The combination of a global pandemic, a general destabilization of the international political scene, and increasing climate change, has left humanity in a precarious situation. Business, institutions, and public focus on sustainability is therefore more important than ever.
On a positive note, the overall conclusion of this study is that sustainability is very much on the agenda, also among the top management and leadership in most companies. Equally, it is encouraging to note that a majority of organizations feel that sustainability will continue to be of major importance now and in the future.
However, it is also concerning to see that there are so few organizations that have really “cracked the code”, and that the follow-up to the objectives – with a few exceptions – is not an integral part of corporate governance today. If we are to move forward with the SDGs – and we must! – companies need to be able to monitor and follow up on their initiatives as part of day-to-day management.
We have seen a number of positive examples through the study results, including numerous water and energy saving projects, waste recycling, travel reduction and so on. Our interviewees have suggested that there are many areas that are being focused on with positive impact, for example ESG or Sustainable Investment practices. There are movements in these areas and more and more positive examples of how good business leadership and management can go hand in hand with helping make the world more sustainable.
On the other hand, we must do more. Collectively, we need a better understanding of how to implement sustainability in such a way that it gives real bottom line impact. Our fear is that if the level of financial impact cannot be secured and understood, we risk a deterioration in the number of businesses that really invest in the SDGs, due to cost cutting needs, and an incessant focus on Return on Investment.
A sustainable society is an inherently resilient society with a stable economy based on strong collaboration between private, public, and educational partners. A resilient society is also agile, and able to change and to adapt. Fully embracing technology and digitalization will allow us to achieve these attributes. Technology helps us manage the intricacies of global processes, and enables communication, collaboration, and visualization across distance and time. Data and advanced data analyses is critical to understand the complex interrelationships of our planet and to digitize core systems along with reliable security solutions. Our prediction is that technology will be a foundation of what will enable us to continue our work with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and create value through them. Without resilience and without a robust technology platform, in addition to strong governance and public and private support, we will fail.
However, with the correct use and application, we stand a good chance of winning, and of making our planet a better place to live.
DEVOTEAM CALL TO ACTION
Our research and conversations with business leaders have, as the study supports, highlighted that although focus and implementation of sustainability activities is widely sought, accepted and understood, the majority of businesses have not yet been able to generate necessary value from this. So, what can private and public businesses do to shift sustainability activities from branding and compliance, to real operational effect?
We would like to propose three initiatives which can make this happen:
- Develop a sustainability strategy – research suggests that in the majority of cases, sustainability is handled as a separate activity in most businesses, and is often an “add-on” to other operational work. Seen in another light, if push comes toshove, those organizations that approach sustainability as an add-on, can remove or stop their sustainability work without any major implications. This will clearly illustrate how unconnected sustainability really is to the core of the business. Therefore, we recommend that to really embrace sustainability, and to ensure that an organization can realize value from it, a sustainability strategy must be developed (taking departure in which SDGs that are important, why and how), and it must be connected to the broader corporate/organizational strategy. If this is accomplished, sustainability can impact and guide the organization in their strategic direction and operational decisions, and hence become an integral driver of real impact and value.
- Governance and technology – as sustainability is made a central part of an organization’s strategy, similarly the activities and effects of sustainability must be managed, followed-up and reported just like other key functions in a business. The business must set appropriate and measurable goals in line with other operational KPIs. In order to do this efficiently, technology should be used to accelerate and ensure quality in reporting. Data, AI, and machine learning are fairly simple technologies to implement in any modern organization and will help guarantee that the business understands and can realize value from its sustainability actions and focus.
- Communicate and share results – as we have seen from the study, sustainability in itself is an important differentiator to owners, potential employees, partners, and customers. Communicating the positive results of sustainability activities and the plans for the future to these stakeholders, will not only endear them even more to the organization. It will also help the company to commit to become more sustainable and to increase efforts to drive results to the bottom line.
A CASE IN POINT
The Municipality of Aarhus, the second largest in Denmark, has set ambitious and significant sustainability goals. As part of their climate initiatives, The City Council has unanimously decided that Aarhus should be CO2 neutral by 2030, and have already reduced their CO2 emissions by 50% since 2008.
Devoteam is a leading consulting firm focused on digital strategy, tech platforms and cybersecurity. By combining creativity, tech and data insights, we empower our customers to transform their business and unlock the future.
With 25 years’ experience and 8,000 employees across Europe and the Middle East, Devoteam promotes responsible tech for people and works to create better change.
Creative Tech for Better Change
Hans Gunnarssøn Lindeman
Senior Advisor, Devoteam
Expert Director, Devoteam
Expert Director, Devoteam