Business sustainability is nothing new. For much of recent history, the global marketplace has heralded environmental efforts, yet despite environmental crusades and resulting government regulations, the climate continues to change, the endangered species list grows longer, and water scarcity persists. Existing sustainability efforts, it turns out, are neither broad nor sweeping enough to effect significant and lasting change.
Today, business sustainability is more than a trend—it’s essential to operational efficiency, cost savings, and most importantly, our continued survival on Earth. As a tech expert and IT decision-maker, you have the unique power to usher in this critical transformation and position your organization as a leader in sustainable IT—and sustainability overall.
When creating a sustainability strategy, you should focus on four key areas, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review: operations, partnerships, government engagement, and transparency. Here’s how you can address each:
From massive storm systems caused by climate change to resource scarcity caused by overconsumption, eco-concerns create more than a few obstacles for the average enterprise’s supply chain logistics. You can overcome these issues in two ways:
Leverage technology to optimize your supply chain. Reliable supply chain technology can give you greater visibility into your processes and real-time data. This allows you to spot and correct inefficiencies that could be increasing your waste or vulnerabilities exacerbated by weather events.
Adopt a circular model to reduce product waste. What happens to your products once they’ve reached their end of life? Instead of contributing to landfills, create a trade-in or buy-back program that allows you to recover and recycle used materials, like HP’s closed-loop recycling program.
It takes a village to achieve advanced sustainability, and there is strength in strategic alliances. Always look for ways you can join forces with other organizations—including competitors. Consider reaching out to fellow tech pros across different disciplines and industries to determine how you can help each other achieve sustainability goals.
For example, after Haiti was ravaged by an earthquake in 2010, piles of plastic waste lined its beaches. To prevent this refuse from polluting the ocean, HP partnered with Timberland and multiple nonprofits to form the First Mile Coalition, which collects the trash and transforms it into usable materials, such as plastic-based fabrics and ink cartridges.
3. Government engagement
Over the past few years, large organizations have become less shy about aligning themselves with environmental causes and publicly lobbying for policy change. For example, both HP and Intel called to attention the problems of sourcing conflict minerals, which eventually led to the creation of new provisions in the Dodd–Frank Act to require electronics companies to track and disclose mineral sourcing.
“For international efforts to slow climate change to truly be successful, getting businesses on board will be crucial,” says Magali Delmas, a professor at UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability, in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “And it’s important for companies to recognize that lobbying can be an important part of their sustainability strategy.”
You may have noticed a new trend in recent years: organizations publishing detailed sustainability reports that share exactly how their business is performing across various metrics, what practices they’ve employed, and what their plans are for future efforts. This trend of transparency is largely in response to growing demand for data and proof that organizations’ processes match their promises.
If you haven’t already, consider compiling your own external-facing annual sustainability report. Not only will sharing this data foster trust with current and prospective buyers, but it will also keep you and your team accountable and ensure sustainability remains top of mind in all decision-making efforts. For example, when it comes to investing in new tech for your organization, you’ll be more likely to opt for sustainable IT; the same holds true for investments across other departments, too.
There’s no doubt the public is in favor of business sustainability measures. And, in light of a recent national climate assessment by the NCA that warns climate change could cost the United States billions of dollars and thousands of lives by the end of the century, immediate action is essential. By addressing these areas in your sustainability strategy, you can prepare your organization for the future and encourage others in your industry to follow your lead.