From the digital to the sustainable transformation

Why sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive.

The recently published results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying – IPCC — IPCC) have once again underlined the urgency for action. It means that no company is able to avoid the issue of sustainability. And yes, the importance of this issue has also reached the strategic level: 74 percent of companies have already defined sustainability targets, and at 63 percent of companies these targets have even been broken down to the level of individual organizational units. Those are the findings of the latest Future IT Report by Campana & Schott and the University of Duisburg-Essen. 

What I have noticed: In the current debates, sustainability is increasingly placed in contrast to profitability. But I do not see it that way. Sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive – on the contrary, sustainability must be understood as an attractive opportunity. As a potential for innovation, and as the potential for finding answers to the new demands of customers.   

Sustainability in and with IT organizations

But many companies still do not have a comprehensive sustainability strategy, which was another finding of the Future IT Report 2021. Here, it is worth looking at our experience with the digital transformation. The probably most important insight: As long as the sustainability strategy (top-down) is not in place, ideas and initiatives of engaged employees should be promoted and tracked (bottom-up). Testing individual measures, collecting experiences or perhaps enabling local communities as a start: That was the proven formula for success in the first phase of the digital transformation – and one of the most-discussed topics at our Virtual Conference.  

It is important to set ambitious goals that are implemented in many small and achievable steps. That is also confirmed by the current Future IT Report 2021: A clear majority of companies (83%) is convinced that the digital transformation helps with achieving sustainability targets. The companies provide many examples of how the enormous task of the sustainability transformation can be tackled in and with the IT organization.  

In the IT organization this may include measures for the longer-term use of hardware (circular approach), or reducing the amount of electricity for operating the computer centers. 

Working with the IT organization, it becomes possible to implement e.g. projects that allow customers (and the environment) to benefit from resource-optimized logistics processes, or according to which suppliers are consistently analyzed and selected on the basis of sustainability criteria. 

Social sustainability – the example of Frontline Workers

I believe that the sustainability transformation also must also include social targets. As part of Campana & Schott’s consulting activities, we have long focused on including all employee groups in our client companies. So-called Frontline Workers account for over 80 percent of the global workforce. But when they work in production, logistics or directly with the customer, they are often cut off from the digital company platforms.  

It means that while we are busy discussing the home office or hybrid work methods, most of the employees do not even have access to important news, processes and relevant data. This situation was once again highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing Frontline Workers with simple digital tools already goes a long way towards ensuring that they are included. They are able to get information on their own, or they can take part in discussions.  

According to our German Social Collaboration Study 2020 employees (e.g., in production or logistics) are able to directly improve the processes in their own daily work routines. For example, digitally included Frontline Workers (with a high degree of social collaboration maturity) are 42 percent more efficient than those with a lower degree of maturity. This efficiency effect due to social digitization is even higher than among desk-bound employees (Information Workers: +39%). 

When Frontline Workers communicate their ideas through digital channels – something they have already been doing in their private life for a while – companies and their customers also benefit. Conversely, employees also experience their own impact and they increasingly see themselves as part of the company. Maybe they even feel more as a part of society.  

Support for Frontline Workers is one example of how small (social) changes go a long way towards promoting sustainability in the company. 

My concluison

New laws and regulations are required so that the urgently required changes in the environment and society can be achieved consistently and rapidly. That is the responsibility of policy-makers. Companies are responsible for the creative design: How can we understand sustainability as an attractive opportunity for satisfying new customer requirements and profitability? What types of solutions and products do we want to try? How can customers be involved in this development? The digital transformation was the result of economic objectives. The sustainability transformation is led by economic and societal objectives. In my opinion, that is a very motivating perspective. 


Dr. Eric Schott