Blog | The Pressure is On - Sustainability and the Digital Transformation

With many businesses and nations committed to net-zero by 2030, the pressure is on for organisations to demonstrate their progress towards these goals. But against a backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty, economic turbulence, and fast-paced digital transformation projects, some technology leaders are coming into conflict with their organisation’s sustainability goals. In the face of impending regulations and legislation; the challenge facing IT leaders now is delivering both digital transformation and sustainability objectives simultaneously.

Everybody wants sustainability to be a priority, but the fact is that organisations are struggling. Every poll of organisations today shows that while support for sustainability is virtually universal, the number of organisations actually taking steps to incorporate sustainability into strategies and business models is much lower. After listening to the challenges being faced by our Technology Leaders Club community, it becomes clear that the roadblocks for digital sustainability go far beyond the purely technological.

Education, training, culture

Who are the sustainability experts of today? As it turns out, they are just the technology experts of yesterday. So many of the people who are now in charge of working towards sustainability goals are just the people who expressed an interest and found themselves landed with a new job title. This isn’t to say that these people aren’t qualified or passionate about the cause, but to highlight the lack of formal training and education available. The people working towards sustainability today are doing so without a map or any real guidance. What does sustainability even look like? How do you quantify success towards sustainability goals? Right now, we are still figuring it out so it should come as no surprise that we appear slow off the mark.

It is not just those leading the sustainability charge that need a little bit of guidance. As with all large-scale business change – and it does need to be a large-scale business change – the whole business needs to come along for the ride. Education and training are required so that everybody at every level can understand what sustainability means for them and the role they have to play. When sustainability is understood and accepted across the business, then it can start being incorporated into every operation, workflow, process – everything.

Focusing on sustainability as a standalone target to be achieved is a disservice to the importance of sustainability as a component of everything an organisation does. For it to be embedded into the organisational culture, there needs to be a pivot towards sustainability as a success criterion for all of an organisation’s operations.

Focusing on sustainability as a standalone target to be achieved is a disservice to the importance of sustainability as a component of everything an organisation does.

The cost

Another key barrier for sustainability efforts is the perceived cost. We live in difficult economic times, and if something has to give, unfortunately sustainability is usually first on the chopping block. But as with all things surrounding sustainability, the cost is not properly understood – how can we understand the cost if we don’t even know what it looks like or how we will achieve it? Impending regulations and legislation mean that everything from network strategy to third party partner selection could impact sustainability goals. Re-architecting for sustainability is not going to be cheap or easy, but can organisations afford to fall afoul of regulatory bodies?

Fortunately, approaching digital transformation sustainably isn’t as esoteric as we might think, and a lot of organisations may well be on the right track already. The answer is simple – if you drive efficiency, more often than not, you drive sustainability.

A sustainable transformation

When looking at driving a sustainable digital transformation, our Technology Leaders Club community found that small changes could make a big difference. The cloud can drive sustainability when used efficiently, but not a lot of organisations take that into consideration. Systems not getting spun down when they are finished with and lifting and shifting systems from on-prem straight into the cloud – even just tackling these simple examples will make an impact on your sustainability efforts.

Moving to the cloud offers the opportunity to drive waste out of your systems, in turn delivering a more efficient, lower cost system that is inherently better for the planet. In the same stroke, organisations can take the opportunity of a digital transformation to wind down legacy systems, not just from a carbon footprint perspective, but also the recycling of the physical machinery. For those concerned about the costs of sustainability, instead prioritise communication around the value of operational efficiency against the cost of the business as it is.

Another key element of cost vs efficiency in businesses today is data. We are all collecting frankly frightening amounts of data that we simply don’t know what to do with. Where is all this data going? Who is paying for its storage? One of the biggest challenges for sustainability in technology today is the impact of storing and processing vast amounts of data. Data is bogging businesses down and driving up costs, any move towards sustainability needs to address this. Healthy, relevant, and meaningful data is a critical part of sustainability and modernisation efforts. This means running regular data cleanses and promoting data literacy.

A way forward

The journey towards sustainable digital transformation is undoubtedly complex, but it is also essential for organisations to secure their future in a world driven by environmental consciousness and regulatory pressure. While the challenges might seem daunting, they are not insurmountable. The key lies in recognising that sustainability is not a solitary goal, but an integral part of every facet of an organisation's operations.

Education, training, and a shift in culture are fundamental components of successfully integrating sustainability into an organisation's DNA. As technology leaders, it's crucial to bridge the gap between the tech-savvy expertise that brought us here and the knowledge needed to steer our organisations towards a more sustainable future. Understanding that sustainability and cost are not opposing forces is pivotal. Driving efficiency and embracing cloud technologies can lead to significant improvements in both operational effectiveness and environmental impact.

Every small change contributes to the larger picture, and the potential for positive change is immense. Efficient cloud usage, responsible data management, and the conscious phasing out of legacy systems are all tangible steps towards a sustainable digital transformation. Organisations that recognise the intrinsic link between sustainability and success will find themselves better positioned to navigate the evolving landscape of regulations and public sentiment.

While the journey might be complex, embracing sustainable digital transformation isn't just a choice—it's a necessity. It's our responsibility to not only drive innovation but also to lead the charge in shaping a future where technological progress and ecological preservation coexist harmoniously. The pressure is on, and through collective effort, we can turn it into an opportunity to create a more sustainable and prosperous future for everyone.

Organisations that recognise the intrinsic link between sustainability and success will find themselves better positioned to navigate the evolving landscape of regulations and public sentiment.
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