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The biggest questions need the boldest answers. That’s why we’re using our global scale, technology expertise and collaborative spirit to move towards a better today and a brighter tomorrow... together.

Priti Ambani, Director of New Business and Innovation TCS ANZ, sheds light on digital sustainability and why we need to know about it.

Posted: May 2021

 

With an increasing focus on the climate crisis globally and the growing demand for environmentally sound business practices, sustainability is front of mind for progressive business leaders. Unfortunately, in the past, corporations have siloed the different elements of their sustainability initiatives rather than looking at them holistically.

However, accelerated by COVID-19, organisations are investing in a digital core foundation that spans all areas of their business. This digital core provides organisations with a holistic view of their businesses, with a line of sight into emerging opportunities for social and environmental sustainability impact within their businesses. 

It is already known that digital technologies can provide businesses with insights into their operations, processes and customers which pose opportunities for these organisations to better track and assess their impact in all spheres – financial, social and environmental. The introduction of digital sustainability, however, offers a new way of collecting information, supporting these important targets more efficiently and also identifying areas for further impact.

Q:  What is digital sustainability and why isn’t it well known in the market? 

While sustainability is an ongoing central dialogue between companies and society, the complexity of these issues has increased over time. On the other hand, technological advancements have led to business transformation and successes, and have brought immense potential to support solutions for systemic societal and environmental challenges at scale. Thus, there is an urgent need to understand how organisations might create, use, and regulate digital transformation, innovation, and resources to deliver value for our society today and our futures – hence, the need to understand ‘Digital Sustainability’.

The University of Auckland, as part of its research on Digital Sustainability, defines it as “the art of creating, using and governing digital resources to maximise their value for business and society, today and in the future.” 

Sustainability as a concept is well documented within the corporate and academic worlds, delivered through reports and indices on the drivers, governance structures, strategies and outcomes of these initiatives. These reports are created to shed light on the steps taken to support sustainability, touching on social, environmental and financial indicators.

Digital sustainability, however, looks at initiatives that directly relate to digital technologies and the specific ecosystem of services and solutions adopted by corporate entities to further their sustainability impact. As a concept, digital sustainability is not as well-known as other indicators. Organisations are not yet intentionally measuring how their digital and technological assets, platforms and tools are being leveraged for sustainability impact and it’s rarely included in reports by businesses and institutions. We want to change that.

Q: What opportunities are there for digital sustainability and why should businesses care?

While businesses are highly aware of the business benefits brought about by technological innovation and digital transformation, they are underutilising and under-leveraging these capabilities to achieve sustainability targets and deliver impact. As a result, there is an opportunity for businesses to build digital frameworks that simultaneously drive operational efficiencies while also driving more sustainable practices through all areas of the business. 

Over the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous uptake in the adoption of digital technologies by corporate entities worldwide. This increased prevalence brings with it the opportunity to raise awareness about the power of technology and its role in enhancing sustainability efforts. New technologies including data analytics, artificial intelligence and IoT can all be utilised to not only facilitate sustainability efforts but support better management and insights of new and existing initiatives. The opportunities to leverage digital technologies for sustainability are immense and pervasive throughout the business – from supply chains to waste minimisation and from emissions reduction to resource conservation and remediation.