Sustainability and digital transformation are two concepts that have gained significant attention in recent times. Sustainability is “concerned with protecting the planet, halting climate change and promoting social development, without endangering life on Earth or leaving anyone behind,” as defined in activesustainability.com. Furthermore, “this concept seeks to cover our present needs without compromising resources for future generations.”
On the other hand, digital transformation refers to the “the acceleration of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact in a strategic and prioritized way,” as succinctly defined by CIO Magazine. There is a close relationship between sustainability and digital transformation, and they can work together to create a better future.
One of the main drivers of digital transformation is the need to reduce the environmental impact of businesses. Digital technologies such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) can help businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by optimizing energy consumption and reducing waste. For example, cloud computing can help businesses reduce their energy consumption by replacing physical servers with virtual ones that require less energy to operate. The IoT can help businesses to optimize their energy consumption by providing real-time data on energy use, allowing businesses to make more informed decisions about energy consumption. AI can help businesses to reduce waste by optimizing supply chains and reducing overproduction.
Another way digital transformation can support sustainability is through the creation of new business models. Digital technologies can enable businesses to create new revenue streams by offering sustainable products and services. For example, ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are helping to reduce the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing carbon emissions. Similarly, e-commerce platforms such as Etsy and eBay are enabling the sale of second-hand goods, reducing the need for new products to be manufactured.
Digital transformation can also enable businesses to measure and report on their sustainability performance. By collecting and analyzing data on their environmental impact, businesses can identify areas for improvement and set targets for reducing their carbon footprint. Digital technologies such as blockchain can help to ensure the accuracy and transparency of sustainability reporting, making it easier for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability to stakeholders.
One example of using digital transformation for sustainability is the implementation of smart building technologies. Smart building technologies use digital sensors and data analytics to optimize energy consumption and reduce waste in buildings.
For example, a building equipped with smart sensors can automatically adjust lighting and temperature based on occupancy levels and external weather conditions, reducing energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. In addition, smart sensors can monitor air quality and water usage, enabling facility managers to identify and address inefficiencies and reduce waste.
Data analytics can further enhance the sustainability performance of buildings by providing insights into energy consumption patterns, enabling facility managers to make data-driven decisions to optimize energy use and reduce waste. For instance, predictive analytics can be used to identify equipment that may require maintenance, preventing energy waste due to equipment malfunctions.
Furthermore, smart building technologies can improve occupant experience, leading to higher productivity and reduced absenteeism. For instance, sensors can detect when spaces are overcrowded, prompting facility managers to adjust space usage and improve air quality, resulting in a healthier and more comfortable working environment.
However, it is important to note that digital transformation is not a silver bullet for sustainability. Digital technologies themselves have an environmental impact, and it is important to consider the full lifecycle of these technologies, including their manufacturing, use and disposal. Additionally, digital technologies can exacerbate existing inequalities, and it is important to ensure that the benefits of digital transformation are distributed equitably.
In conclusion, sustainability and digital transformation are two concepts that are closely intertwined. Digital transformation can enable businesses to reduce their environmental impact, create new business models, and measure and report on their sustainability performance. However, it is important to ensure that the benefits of digital transformation are distributed equitably and that the environmental impact of digital technologies is taken into account. By working together, sustainability and digital transformation can help to create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.
The author is the founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse, a digital, culture and customer experience transformation consulting firm. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.