How Companies Can Make Sustainability a Priority in Business
This article was written by Julia Carvalho, General Manager Africa Growth Markets, IBM
With governments and businesses around the world pledging and accelerating their commitment towards sustainability, debating whether to incorporate sustainability into business strategy is no longer an option but a priority for businesses. Companies are embracing sustainability as a critical investment to realise long-term returns and gain a competitive advantage.
Prioritising sustainability is a necessity in today’s business environment. It not only reduces the negative impact on the environment but adds brand value, increases efficiency, meets and satisfies customer demands, and creates new opportunities.
For decades, IBM has surveyed thousands of CEOs about their biggest challenges. In the latest survey, sustainability ranked at the top, a five-spot jump from 2021. Nearly 60% of CEOs told us they see significant demand from investors for greater transparency on sustainability. They are also feeling pressure from multiple stakeholders.
Regulators and governments in most top economies have developed corporate disclosure requirements around environmental impact. Customers want to buy from sustainable businesses and an IBM Consumer Survey found that more than half (51%) of respondents said environmental sustainability is more important to them today than it was 12 months ago. People want to work for and invest in sustainable companies. From the boardroom to the operations centers, all stakeholders want to play a role in making a positive difference.
However, while 86% of companies say they already have a sustainability strategy, only 23% say they are implementing sustainability strategies across their organization. Many organizations with good intentions are stalled at the planning stage because implementing sustainable practices is complex and they don’t know how or where to make an impact. Despite this, the same IBM CEO study found that 80% of CEOs believe investments in sustainability will improve their business results within five years.
Primary steps to build and operationalize sustainability into organizations
Becoming more sustainable is an opportunity to innovate, make a difference, and grow. Organisations can take action by following these steps:
- Define your Sustainability goals. To succeed, your business needs to set and act on clear environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals, then execute with exceptional data discipline across the enterprise.
- Establish your ESG data foundation. Create a clear baseline to underpin every goal from which to determine your current impact, track progress, and implement adjustments. This requires a single system of record to integrate and manage ESG data that aligns to your goals. Collect, correlate, visualize, and analyze relevant data to automate delivery of transparent, verifiable, financial-grade information and identify where improvements are necessary.
- Operationalize your sustainability goals. Businesses must also leverage the links between this system of record for ESG data and the underlying operational systems that run across all the departments and business units of your organization. With these links, you can automate feedback loops that enable actions based on insights. These insights help drive sustainable transformation through intelligent facilities and assets, resilient IT infrastructure, and circular supply chains.
Prioritise three key operational areas
- Intelligent facilities and assets. Monitoring and recording operational data from your organization’s physical assets and real estate facilities is a good start. The data you collect can fuel insights to drive energy savings, optimize waste management, and provide predictive maintenance data to help reduce unplanned downtime.
- Resilient IT infrastructure. Data centers provide multiple opportunities for improving sustainability. Upgrading IT infrastructure with newer, more energy-efficient equipment can help reduce energy consumption and eliminate wasteful, outdated hardware. Taking steps to improve business resiliency across your organization helps you enhance customer experiences and productivity while you work toward meeting your sustainability goals.
- Circular supply chains. Consumers are demanding transparent sourcing data for the products they buy and can reuse. Deploying intelligent workflows and taking advantage of automation opportunities not only reduces waste, but also optimizes fulfillment and delivery paths with lower carbon footprints. Solutions powered by AI and backed by blockchain can help you progress toward a net-zero supply chain.
No one can do this alone. That’s why IBM and its ecosystem partners are developing a portfolio that supports building and operationalizing sustainability. With IBM Technology solutions and IBM Consulting expertise, we help companies set their strategy, harness their ESG data to embed sustainability into the fabric of business, and turn sustainability ambition into action.