Aug 12, 2022

Making sense of sustainability (Part four): Seven obstacles to sustainability and how to overcome them

Iti Kapoor

Iti Kapoor

Making sense of sustainability (Part four): Seven obstacles to sustainability and how to overcome them

In the first three parts of our sustainability blog series, we discussed the global challenges that all of us (organisations, communities, and individuals) need to tackle in order to reach a sustainable future, as well as how technology can help us on that journey.

In this final blog, we summarise the seven obstacles we see organisations facing on the journey to net zero and how to address them.

1. Sustainability strategies set without clear direction and misalignment to corporate strategy.

Many organisations have net zero strategies in place, but as highlighted by Forbes, ‘companies that speak of sustainability are lacking when it comes to implementation’. To increase the effectiveness of net zero strategies, organisations need to ensure that strategies are clearly defined and well aligned to corporate strategy and company values. BT have achieved this by structuring sustainability as a critical pillar of their corporate strategy. They actively focus on embedding their sustainability strategy into their wider corporate strategy, culture, and mindset.

At Credera we have embedded our sustainability strategy into our operating model and value streams. We have an internal working group called "CredClimate" that is committed to deliver results, across a range of sustainability initiatives including: carbon footprint tracking and reduction, environmentally focussed CSR days, and supporting green charities. These sustainability initiatives are backed by senior sponsorship, reporting, and accountability, and has a team committed to acquiring depth of expertise in these areas.

Net zero conference

Christien Mott and Kelly Jackson at the 2022 techUK Tech and Net Zero Conference.

Listen next: Podcast - How can environmental sustainability be implemented into everyday business decisions?

2. Absence of science-based targets.

Well-defined strategies will need to be backed up with clear science-based targets. These targets are defined by the SBTI as ‘targets in line with the latest climate science deemed necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.’ Science-based targets are regarded as the backbone of a successful sustainability strategy and they will benefit businesses as they:

  • Increase investor confidence

  • Boost brand reputation

  • Increase resilience against regulations

  • Drive innovation and provide competitive edge

  • Increases bottom line savings

For instance Unilever actively uses science-based targets to ‘boost competitive advantage, add transparency, and external credibility to internal sustainability goals.’

At Credera, we use our baseline footprint to help set our net zero targets for our Carbon Reduction Plan and we’re focusing on making our targets more realistic as part of our annual calculation cycles.

3. Lack of senior sponsorship as well as low levels of awareness and adoption.

Without full commitment from senior leaders, you cannot create a sense of urgency, and programmes will lack the ownership and accountability to be successful. Our top tips for securing sponsorship and adoption are:

  • Mobilise a sustainability board or committee: This board or committee are responsible for driving a sustainability agenda, maintaining governance, tracking progress, and endorsing the importance of sustainability across an organisation. Our CredClimate committee is sponsored by our senior leaders and driven by employees to help us on Credera’s journey to sustainability.

  • Embed net zero objectives across core management structures: net zero objectives can be included in corporate KPI reporting as well as in core management roles and responsibilities. This will drive accountability and responsibility for leaders to think, act, and work sustainably.

  • Develop the skills of senior sponsors and leaders: invest in top sustainability credentials to for these people to develop the awareness and understanding of how to make sustainable decisions and run a sustainable business.

4. Inability to identify, quantify, and track emissions.

Many organisations are aiming to eliminate scope one and scope two emissions as part of reaching net zero. But without clear understanding of these emissions (including what is being produced, where, when, and how are they being produced), it makes it very difficult for an organisation to make significant reductions.

In addition, organisations lack the quality of data/data analytics required to drive effective decision making towards managing environmental impact. In our second blog series, we outlined how to overcome these obstacles. Our headline actions to address are:

  • Collect relevant data and ensure users can access insights

  • Make strategic use of sustainability data in forecasts, trend analysis, and decision-making

  • Engage with third parties and sustainability metrics beyond carbon emissions

  • Dedicate people to sustainability reporting and engage wider stakeholder communities

5. Low levels of innovation and investment in green technology

Technology will be a key contributor to businesses reaching net zero on many fronts. Investment in technology is crucial for the transformative changes needed to close the gap on our climate change commitments. This is evidenced in the UK Government’s “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” that every industry needs to play its part in.

Once you have a clear picture of your emissions, you can make plans to reduce them with innovative and green tech business solutions. These include:

  • Green energy solutions: Technology is central to scaling up renewables, batteries and energy storage, hydrogen, and sustainable fuels.

  • Decarbonising your technology estate: For example, transitioning datacentres to 100% renewable electricity and minimising energy consumption. In the third part of our sustainability blog series, we outline in more detail how embracing and optimising the cloud can support business’ sustainability goals by:

  • Adopting a cloud-native strategy

  • Utilising energy efficient hyperscale cloud data centres over conventional on-premises data centres

  • Migrating workloads as well as modernising applications

6. Inefficiencies in business operations and wasteful use of resources

Business operations needs to be made efficient to reach sustainable goals. This can be achieved by:

  • Getting rid of legacy infrastructure inhibiting transformative change. For example, we completed one of the largest infrastructure service transitions in Europe, working on a programme to migrate a single supplier network service to a multi-supplier target operating model. The client is now able to access a more innovative range of network and IT services and have reported average like-for-like cost savings of 70%. 

  • Minimising emissions of business operations: For example, using AI for smarter transport routes, or transitioning to EV transport as BT have now done for over 30,000 vehicles

  • Embracing circular economy initiatives for consumer technology: Apple have explored the transition to a phone subscription model with a “right to repair” to minimise emissions through excess production

7. Lack of bold decision making required to transform into a sustainable business

We must prepare for sustainability now as it is the biggest challenge facing organisations. In our first blog series, we outlined the business transformation required to adopt a carbon-conscious operating model and put people and processes at the heart of sustainability.

The transformation of business models will be disrupted by innovation and adoption of climate technologies, and as mentioned, these will require significant investment. For these reasons, bold decision making is key.

One way in which organisations can capitalise on digital disruptions and make transformational decisions is through tech ecosystems. McKinsey states that “fast followers may never catch first movers” and joining climate tech ecosystems early will provide competitive advantages in the market. Apple is well renowned for capitalising on first mover advantage. Their early efforts since 2015 to switch to recycled aluminium and smelt aluminium using hydroelectricity has helped them to reduce carbon emissions associated with aluminium by nearly “70%” since that time.

Closing thoughts

Organisations face an increasing number of obstacles to handle sustainability across their strategy, operations, data, technology, people, processes, and decisions. However, these obstacles are like any another business challenge that organisations face, demanding recognition and action.

With a well-defined strategy driven by science-backed targets and supported by technological investments, any business can sustain these sustainability obstacles and define their journey to success.

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