Two of the most pressing issues facing organizations today are digital transformation and sustainability. Previously viewed as conflicting concerns, there was a tendency for businesses to waste precious time on debating the merits of prioritizing one over the other. But both of these issues matter to customers, investors and stakeholders alike. So companies that fail to address both will eventually find themselves in deep trouble.
Fortunately, most have now realized that digital transformation and sustainability should not be viewed in opposition. In fact, they are mutually beneficial growth drivers that should be addressed in tandem. Both company profit and green credentials can be improved through an overall reduction of waste and optimization of energy efficiency. This is known as sustainable digital transformation (SDX).
Speeding up SDX
The problem is, when it comes to instigating the convergence of corporate and corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, it’s very difficult to know where to begin. Many companies suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to sustainability and responsibility. They have the right intentions, but more immediate issues (the threat of recession, for example) tend to take precedence when success is predominantly measured through the lens of quarterly fiscal targets.
This means that crucial Sustainable Digital Transformation or SDX changes are often kept on the back burner. But in the absence of a top-down SDX implementation, there are changes that can be made on an individual or departmental level that will yield significant results – often in as little as one week.
So how can you help to implement this in your organization? Well, you might already be halfway there. Sustainability is more than likely already buried in your existing strategy – you just need to think differently about how to extract and execute it.
If your business already has a digital transformation underway or is planning one, you can look for specific initiatives within the transformation plan to apply a responsibility lens. Otherwise, it makes sense to start with identifying and understanding the key strategic imperatives for your department.
Depending on your role within the business, this will likely be related to increasing customer/market acquisition, increasing customer spend, customer retention or customer life-time value. There will almost certainly be some margin goals involved, including improving operating profit, gross margin and creating operational efficiency. Find what matters the most and figure out how a sustainable approach to digital transformation could help to achieve these goals – there’s your opportunity.
It’s important to remember that you can’t get started on everything at once, nor will anyone support you in attempting that. Choose an area where you can have influence and ultimately make an impact. Look for low-hanging fruit: opportunities that are low cost and quick to deliver with easily demonstrable ROI.
Using measurement to build trust
Keeping your mission in mind is crucial for building trust within your organization: you need to convince others that by thinking in a more measured way you can achieve the business targets and be responsible. One of the best ways to do this is by securing some early wins. You will soon see momentum build, which will boost confidence amongst stakeholders that your efforts are delivering tangible value for the business, rather than being a hobby horse or personal crusade.
Data and evidence will be central to showcasing your achievements, so be sure to take baseline measurements before starting any initiative. Also, think about how to make the data for your initiatives visible and accessible to senior leaders. Good quality data builds trust, but only if it is seen by those who you are aiming to convince.
Responsible thinking is based on adapting the concept of ‘design thinking’ for SDX. Once you have identified your opportunity and established baseline metrics, it’s time to turn your attention to responsible ways to solve the challenge. You can apply a responsible thinking approach to this by using the prompt “how might we..”. A couple of examples might be:
How might we reduce carbon <in this process>?
How might we make this <product> circular so that it can be returned, reused, and/or recycled at the end of life?
How might we make this <service> circular to encourage efficient reuse?
How might we think differently about ownership models and encourage multi-reuse?
Once you’ve used the responsible thinking framework to come up with a potential solution, you can analyze your idea by checking it against four key criteria. Is your solution:
Viable – can you make money from it? Does your business case stack up?
Feasible – can you create and deliver the solution in the time frame with the resources you have?
Desirable – what do your customers think of the proposition? Does the price point work? Can they see the advantages?
Sustainable – can you build on your initial goal and continue to improve?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, then it’s time to take action. Implementing your idea and generating results will build organizational confidence that it is possible to deliver on customer expectations and make profit in a responsible way. This opens the door to scaling your SDX program across the wider business until it becomes part of the broader organizational framework.