The reduction of greenhouse gases has become a critical target for businesses around the world, and the way forward is through assessment, measurement and the transformation of operations. Many organizations have set aggressive net-zero goals in recent months, some shooting to cut their emissions 50% by 2030 and some going for net-zero by 2040 or 2050.
Wipro has set 2040 as the year it intends to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and Ford Motor Co. aims to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050. Though 21% of the world’s largest 2,000 public companies now have net-zero commitments, this is only a small fraction of the world’s overall population starting the race to end global warming. In reality, it will require a much larger majority to slow the effects.
Sustainability in business has gone from an interesting differentiator in product marketing to a core dimension, with many elements measured in a system of people, product, profit and planet. It now provides a competitive edge, and sustainability is now demanded by customers, observed by shareholders and regulated by legislators — all evaluating businesses on their authenticity in helping slow climate change (versus greenwashing to check the box and throw the ball in anyone else’s court).
The Great Beyond
To become truly sustainable, organizations will need to try much harder and envision radical change across the spectrum, from sourcing and product development to distribution and supply chain to product life cycle, recovery, recycling, remaking and responsible end of life. It is a requirement of producers to honestly assess their environmental impact, create a strategic plan to transform operations, and measure and report on outcomes—beyond sales and beyond profit.
Success can and should be measured in purposeful ways. One is the creation of honestly sustainable products and services based on maximizing circularity. Product life extensions with designed abilities to upgrade, managed by superior customer service programs, go a long way in building brand loyalty and influence. Measurable cost reductions by digitization, transparency and simplification in the supply chain, lowering energy usage, reducing packaging and shipping impacts, and eliminating all forms of greenhouse gas emissions are key drivers for both the bottom line and for demonstrating sustainable operations to environmentally conscious consumers.
The ambition and complexity of a revolution in go-to-market processes, transformation of the value chain, and end-of-product-life impacts cannot freeze us. We must start from somewhere. It’s never been more important to outline and set pragmatic steps to change behaviors all along the spectrum—from producers, suppliers and distributors to consumers and waste managers.
Prioritizing Sustainability Now
If we hope to truly make a difference in climate change, we need to step up and lead as global organizations dedicated to completing the most critical mission of our collective existence. Here are a few places to start:
1. Stand up a framework for data democratization, measurement and reporting.
Organizations that endeavor to reach a state of sustainable operations will need to understand their environmental impact across their entire value chain. To understand footprint and impact, they must start with understanding and unifying data, which requires a digital services platform that allows open data formats and data democratization.
Developing accurate data sources and aggregating them at the right levels of insights are two of the hardest pieces of the sustainability endeavor. Timely ingestion of accurate emissions, energy consumed, and waste data into a modern sustainability reporting framework is a requisite digital service.
Organizations should prioritize the implementation of renewable energy-powered clouds that allow granular power management through automation. Also, the selection of open, flexible and composable systems and partnerships are key to fast and simple pivots in response to rapid innovations.
2. Develop an assessment of current impact across the entire value chain.
Organizations need to invest in digital services focused on sustainability efforts to understand climate risk resulting from operational outputs. In addition to reporting feeds, the use of advanced prediction services that combine and fuse data from satellites, drones, and weather patterns can add another powerful layer of intelligence to consider economic shifts and geopolitical risks. Then develop a mitigation strategy to address pollution spikes across the entire value chain.
3. Set net-zero targets and develop a transformation plan.
A modern sustainability reporting framework will allow the organization to ingest internal and external data, plus understand the impact of activities at the workflow levels and their latent impact. This can be materialized using tools like predictive machine learning, zero-carbon cloud services, visualization tools and dashboards, and data democratization. Ultimately, the greenhouse gas reduction targets will be based on findings from current operations and must be discussed with executives’ teams for consensus and alignment.
Development of a transformation plan will require understanding the current footprint, setting sustainability targets and embracing digital enablers. Leadership should make sustainability a key transformation enabler rather than a compliance and reporting cog. This requires hiring leadership that understands sustainability, and there should be sufficient financial enablers and non-financial enablers to invest in sustainability innovations.
C-suite and the board must be well-informed of the targets and transformation plan relative to growth and profitability. True alignment requires balancing internal goals, external success measures and environmental impact. Executives must believe in and mandate sustainability from beginning to end. This effort must become part of the organizational ethos.
Lastly, organizations need to hire leaders who have sufficient experience in and understand the decarbonization cycle and its economics. Many leaders who have held roles in ESG and corporate responsibility have experience orchestrating the many components of the sustainability mission.