At the Business End of Going “Green”

Sustainability at work is about more than the “green gloss” of articles and business social media posts.  Considering consistency may be one way to help organisations assess their commitment to a more sustainable business model.

This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable ap

This article considers various ways in which “consistency” helps organisations genuinely engage in promoting and improving sustainability across their entire scope of operations.   This is examined across the following areas; Strategy (Mission & ESG), Finance (Controlling Costs), Sourcing (Procurement & Supply Chain) People (Ways of Working & Communication) and Metrics (Measurement & Analysis).

Strategy: Our first area requiring consistency is matching strategy against the UN Sustainability Goals for 2030, adopted by the General Assembly in September 2015.  These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. 

Not all of these will apply to every organisation, but when we look at overall strategy for the organisation, is it broadly consistent with these principles of reducing environmental harm, inequality and injustice, while improving quality of life, opportunity, health and wellbeing?  Is there an overriding commitment to Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) in place which is determining direction and policy? 

To be clear, these do not have to be the prime and certainly not the only goals of the organisation (unless it is an environmental one) but commitment should feature clearly and boldly in mission and strategy statements.

Finance: One of the main concerns for organisations in the current climate is controlling costs.  The financial strategy needs to be consistent in considering the potential for cost savings balanced by commitments to staff, stakeholders and the environment.

So does improving sustainability necessarily mean an increase in costs?  The good news here is that in many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

In many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

As we reduce energy consumption (from premises, devices and datacentres) our costs come down.  As we move systems to the cloud, the length of time we can use a device before it needs replacement also increases.

Equally importantly if we get our ways of working right (see below) then our response to major disruptions and changes need not involve significant extra spending.  Solutions that are designed to be flexible from the outset can respond to major changes smoothly and efficiently, scaling up rather than needing to be changed or increased.

There is a lot of debate around the future of the centralised HQ, driven by a combination of significant overheads and a reluctance to return to mass commute and highly-concentrated workplaces.  While the overall economy clearly benefits from such a “return to normal” it is highly unlikely that most organisations will enforce it – leading to the potential of significant changes to spending (and working) patterns.

Sourcing: Most organisations have at least a sustainability statement in their core strategy, but increasingly procurement professionals (like many of us as individual consumers) are also starting to look at supply chain and how consistent the commitments of our suppliers is with our own key values. 

This can be as simple as making energy-efficiency a metric in a tender / supplier assessment criteria, or requiring that all suppliers have a formally adopted sustainability policy themselves.

The difficulty is measuring what these mean in reality.  A well-thought through strategy and policy document may be enough to qualify for a preferred supplier listing, but does it really mean anything?  Under UK legislation, Scope 3 (Value Chain) Emissions reporting has become mandatory for all but the smallest SMEs.

As verifiable tracking and auditing technologies built around big data, analytics, blockchain and smart sensors become available, new insights will be generated which will help to direct purchasing activities and drive true carbon-accountability from suppliers and supply chains.   

Until then we have to evaluate suppliers using a more basic “benchmark, improve, report” strategy (see Metrics below) to judge their performance.

People: If failing to have a clearly defined strategy that includes sustainability is the most common issue we encounter, failing to support it with consistent operational practices and policies (and communicate those effectively to staff and stakeholders) comes a close second.

Encouraging sustainable ways of working for all staff is unquestionably important.  From minimising energy use and waste to encouraging and enabling recycling, the organisation can promote sustainability as part of its core communications with staff.  Minimising work-based travel has long been a contentious area, with inconsistent flexible working policies for different parts of the organisation and “essential” car users mandated to meet minimum annual mileage targets to retain tax-free travel allowances.

Of course the recent changes to working practices regarding travel to work in the Covid-19 crisis have cast this whole area in a new light, but the fundamental question remains – is working flexibly / away from the organisation’s buildings consistent across the workforce and is it an interim solution, tolerated or actively supported?

This “ways of working question” is vitally important from a sustainability perspective.  According to our research 1 work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions and has significant impacts on air pollution, quality of life and communities.

Work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions

This is not to suggest that all work should be carried out remotely, just that a better balance is needed to create a more sustainable working environment. 

So providing the right equipment, the right “workspaces” and supporting a secure, supported and flexible working environment are all highly important.  Consistency has a further role to play here as we look at user experience from various locations.  True, security (such as access to some data and systems) may need to be adjusted based on device and location, but information technology should be designed to preserve team collaboration and the overall way of working.  In summary people should not feel disadvantaged by working from their location of choice.

It’s also worth noting that the right choice of IT equipment can have a significant impact on sustainability.  Our research also confirms that low-energy devices and cloud solutions offer significant reductions (over 40%) in energy use when compared with traditional PCs, laptops and on-premises data centres.

Metrics: Given the above requirements to consider strategy, sourcing and people, how can we ensure that organisations are taking an approach that is both consistent and effective?

There are four key areas where analytics and metrics can help.

  • Initial Benchmarking – Identifying where we are today, what is the resulting carbon footprint and how does this compare with targets
  • Identifying Priorities – Highlighting areas where we can make the most difference, how quickly and what success looks like for us
  • Progress Reporting – Quantifying the progress we have made, which areas are doing best / worst and encouraging user engagement
  • Analogous Visualisation – Translating the raw figures into something easily understood by staff and stakeholders, like acres of trees, car miles per person and similar ratios

Metrics are the key to driving changes in behaviour.  Many organisations struggle to get started in this area as they lack experience in generating this data without intrusive monitoring or expensive and disruptive systems changes. 

There are a number of organisations, including Px3, who can assist in getting this established with low-cost analysis services and annual audits.

Conclusion

Organisations need to take a consistent, balanced, pragmatic and above all informed approach to sustainability. Compliance with legislation and international goals is clearly a priority, but what is also true, in our experience, is that a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience.

a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience

As we translate these commitments into wider areas of the business, across the full value chain, we will start to see the benefits and impacts accelerate.

Much like the investment in flexible working, a focus on sustainability today will have immediate benefits, but will also put the organisation on the right track as we all respond to an increasingly uncertain future.

1 Research source: MBA thesis & PhD Research by Justin Sutton-Parker at the University of Warwick

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.