Unlocking Sustainability Success Through Transformation

by Victoria Thomas, Principal for IBM UK&I Sustainability Software

In a landscape where scrutiny on sustainability is intensifying, organisations are under the spotlight from customers, investors, board members, employees, and regulators to deliver on sustainability initiatives—and do it in a way that’s profitable. Yet, the most adept organisations are struggling to achieve tangible outcomes. 

According to a recent study conducted by IBV ESG Study, business leaders are aware of the intersection between sustainability and business value. However, the study also reveals that companies have not made significant progress towards their ESG goals. The study found that while 94% of executives have developed their organisation’s ESG proposition, only 42% have made progress against them. 

The following seven trends outline opportunities for organisations to operationalise their sustainability goals, helping them close the gap between expectations and reality.  

1. Embrace tech transformation as a key driver

As business leaders grapple with the challenge of sustainability, they’re turning to IT to track and execute on their sustainability goals. Digital technologies open opportunities by creating new paths for tapping into the power of data and information, gaining visibility into the environmental implications of economic activity. IT also provides insights into efficiencies that can drive better business outcomes and reduce environmental impact. This double win for profitability and sustainability is a major driver behind the forecasted increase in IT investment over the coming year.

2. Data as a driving force

Data is critical for measuring sustainability efforts, but many organisations struggle to operationalise it effectively. Tracking environmental impact requires a detailed picture of every facet of operations, and typical siloed data structures make such a holistic overview difficult to assemble. However, even with a cloud-enabled architecture to ease the access to organisation-wide data, leaders still cite a lack of solutions that enable them to measure, interpret and drive value from it.

To remedy this, organisations should consider implementing a purpose-built cloud software solution for tracking and assessing sustainability initiatives that can ease the process of consolidating data, deliver deeper insights into performance, and help identify areas for improvement. 

3. Scope 3 Emissions Challenge

Organisations will increasingly be required to disclose Scope 3 emissions—the emissions resulting from third-party entities with which the company does business. Sometimes referred to as value chain emissions, they often represent the majority of an organisation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and they present numerous hurdles when it comes to data availability and collection. Businesses seeking to track Scope 3 emissions may also face additional challenges when it comes to the selection and application of emissions factors, as well as in defining KPIs.

Creating a Scope 3 emissions inventory can be challenging for reporting consistency and the comparability of the results. Companies need to be aware of these challenges as they make assumptions, set boundaries, develop a Scope 3 emissions inventory, and represent the results.

4. Connecting Business Objectives with Environmental Gains

Companies today need to do more with less, as the demands of compute-intensive applications and data processing continue to rise in step with power costs. Yet, processes to boost cross-organisational efficiency can be difficult to implement into existing technology infrastructures. 

Because of this, many organisations are struggling to maximise their critical assets’ value throughout their lifecycle and achieve operational efficiencies, such as reducing waste, costs and emissions. Ideally, every asset and resource can be connected, monitored, managed and optimised using technology; such a digital transformation is an essential step in the process of improving sustainability efforts.  

By embedding intelligence into more assets, organisations can get deeper insights into their operation, allowing for improved reliability and efficiency. It also unlocks the ability to perform more sophisticated predictive analytics that can help to optimise energy usage, extend the lifespan of assets and reduce downtime and costs—all while building resiliency and sustainability.

5. AI’s Accelerative Role

Despite their good intentions, many organisations are taking on the challenge of managing sustainability data in a decidedly outmoded way—often involving spreadsheets populated with manually gathered information. AI and automation have the power to completely streamline data collection and analysis, transforming the process of evaluating environmental risks, making informed decisions, and ensuring swift regulatory compliance. AI offers predictive abilities, optimisation tools and anomaly detection that can dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of insights, helping businesses adapt more quickly and efficiently.

Not only can AI swiftly uncover opportunities for improvement across business operations and throughout value chains, it also frees employees from the time-consuming task of manual data processing, allowing them to drive creative change at a higher level.

6. The C-suite commitment

Sustainability strategies require a tremendous amount of coordination and dedication to succeed—and it’s critical that the highest tier of leadership is fully behind the push. C-suite officers must prioritise sustainability and command adherence from all decision-makers below them to keep sustainability from being sidelined. 

Among the leadership group, finance departments will begin playing an outsized role in directing sustainability efforts as ESG reporting requirements call for greater transparency. Adept CFOs can get ahead of the mounting pressure from regulators and investors by seeking out investments that increase the organisation’s social impact and lower its carbon footprint. 

7. Holistic activation

While the C-suite will be spearheading your strategy, true sustainability transformation is a team effort. Organisations that make sustainability a shared responsibility will meet less resistance to the changes it requires and enjoy greater energy behind its operationalisation. In the process, you’ll be building a more united culture that stands to benefit other areas of the business, as well. 

Still, this effort will take more than just inspiration; companies have recognised the need to upskill their workforce to deliver on their sustainability mission, and are increasing their spending on staff training over the next five years. Investing in employees is key to bolstering business strength.

The report’s findings are clear: talking about sustainability is easy, but achieving it requires hard work and deep coordination. As organisations face mounting pressure, these trends offer a strategic starting point. With the right tools, strategies, and a culture of commitment, businesses not only contribute to a sustainable future but also position themselves for long-term success.

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