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December 14, 2020

Sustainable development is no longer just a buzzword for environmentalists. All stakeholders of a community must actively work towards achieving it. The pace of environmental degradation has lent an urgency among governments, businesses and citizens alike to take corrective measures. The environmental impact of the rapid pace of growth has been estimated at a whopping £368 billion a year by 2050. This is clearly unsustainable.

Fortunately, there has been a growing awareness of the need for sustainability. The United Nations and leading corporates such as Microsoft, Amazon, Unilever and Cisco have already committed to building a sustainable future. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has announced a $10-billion Bezos Earth Fund, dedicated to environmental initiatives.

However, government and corporate initiatives are not enough to build a sustainable future for businesses and communities. We need to build a new enterprise order. This new approach to business has to be led by leaders who understand and factor in environmental costs and benefits in the value they deliver. They need to inculcate an acumen for environment issues and community consciousness and include the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their business plans.

There are three basic tools that can enable this shift in approach for a greener planet -- design thinking, data literacy and insight generation. To build a new enterprise order, these three classic innovation techniques need to be combined with the intent to reuse, empathy for communities, sensitivity towards environment, and the ability to minimize resource footprint.

Design thinking can drive innovative ways of doing business that can help reduce carbon footprint. Out-of-the-box solutions devised by cross-functional and creative teams focused on delivering a common good are essential to break away from past practices with high environmental costs.

This is where data literacy comes in. Business and community leaders need to measure and account for the environmental costs as well as benefits. Traditional balance sheets tracking profit and loss need to be upgraded beyond number crunching to measure the real value and costs to the environment and community.

Leaders need to understand the reality hidden in the numbers and derive the right insights from them. The new enterprise order requires data embedded in every function and process to enable insight generation and insight-driven decision making.

Let us consider intelligent power plants as an instance. Using internet of things and AI, intelligent tuning of turbines can lead to potential annual savings of $10 million for a 1,000-MW power plant on the balance sheet. However, the environmental benefits are not accounted for. Similar is the case for connected fleets and intelligent power management in factory floors.

The new enterprise order needs to factor in these environmental benefits in the decision-making process to build a sustainable society.

This combination of design thinking, data literacy and insight generation will help align profit with people and planet sustainability. Leaders must ensure that their organizations are purpose-driven, adaptive and resilient. The blueprint for such a leadership includes the following attributes related to sustainability:

  • Genuine ambitions

  • Successful collaborations

  • Enhanced performance

  • Consistent commitment

  • Honest intent

Business and government set-ups should ensure that leaders with the above attributes are spotted early and are groomed with the right focus.

This can help build business strategies, models, products, supply chain, partnerships, and operations for creating business value at scale, while ensuring environmental and community sustainability. Sustainable development goals are not only about meeting targets, but also about building pathways and scenarios for organizational achievements.

Emerging data ecosystems with data democratization and open data capabilities, help drive insights gathered from integration of various data sources. Future leaders need to facilitate data-driven decision making and build organizational data maturity. This requires leaders to leverage data maturity frameworks that help accelerate the sustainability journey.

Leaders must understand the value of sustainable growth. For instance, Environment Social Governance (ESG)-focused investment portfolios have given better returns during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many business and government initiatives have not yet reached the required level of engagement. The need of the hour is to create leaders who can include the environment and communities within the spectrum of enterprise and economic growth, and value generation. This is where leaders with a sustainability mindset can lead us towards a better future by taking the right decisions, because the cost of inaction today is more than the cost of action.

Dinanath (Dina) Kholkar is the Vice President and Global Head, Analytics and Insights, at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In this role, Dina helps some of the world’s leading companies unlock the potential of their data through the power of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover new business opportunities, drive business growth, and increase revenue streams. Dina has been recognized as one of the top 100 influential global data leaders and data visionaries. He advocates ‘data centricity’ as a strategic lever for business growth and transformation. Dina is also actively involved in leading sustainability initiatives in education and agriculture through his volunteering work at IEEE Pune Section, Pune International Center (PIC) and Tata Group.

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