How technology democratised sustainable business practices

Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner might have been right, elephants can dance – large companies can be nimble. But they sure are hard to catapult. We have an opportunity to leverage technology to activate a new business strategy – sustainability -  as a kind of trebuchet for small and mid-sized businesses.

The business case for sustainability has been proven time and time again, and this has lived primarily within the domain of the large corporation. Large companies with a long-view have embraced sustainability as a strategic imperative. And they have the budgets to embrace the cultural and practical change that comes with it. In fact, the sustainability software industry is $11B annually. This is almost exclusively really big software firms selling really big software solutions to really big companies. From a tech standpoint, sustainability is for the wealthiest of companies – the one per cent.

To our detriment, sustainability as a business strategy has largely been out of reach of small business, but technology is rapidly bring a host of solutions to change that. Like we have seen in accounting and marketing automation, businesses of all sizes now have access to right-scaled tools to help them meet new business pressures created by the arc of business sustainability.

Today, start-ups are finding opportunities to outperform the competition using technology to leapfrog in the area of sustainability. Supply Chain Sustainability Surveys are creating new headaches for them to deal with. But those that comply with ease and accuracy win and maintain contracts.

Read: How new tech is transforming office dynamics

Large corporations, getting control over their understanding of their own internal footprint (commonly called Scope 1 and 2 emission in Greenhouse Gas reporting) are reaching into their supply chain to determine the broader (and more accurate) impact that their operations have (Scope 3). These supply chain partners are feeling the heat to maintain contracts by accurately tracking, disclosing and in some cases reducing their own environmental impact.

Supply chain pressures

One Rapport (a data analytics firm offering sustainability technology solutions) customer imbedded within the supply chain of a multinational telecommunications company was suffering from supply chain sustainability survey fatigue. Three different surveys requesting much of the same information were creating a strain on internal resources. With the integration of Rapport, not only did their compliance pressure go away with simple data tracking and disclosure, but their supply chain sustainability index score increased by 30 per cent, putting them on improved footing against much larger competitors.

Other pressures can be alleviated as well. Small and medium sized businesses are perpetually faced with a desire to reduce operating costs and improve their margins. Where Lean Manufacturing played a roll in helping manufacturers eliminate the seven classic wastes in manufacturing (labour, overproduction, space, defects, unnecessary human motion, inventory and transportation), sustainability offers a new lens to do the same for the classic environmental impact of all businesses (carbon, water and waste) all directly negatively impacting the bottom line.

Reduced impact on environment

One of the United States’ fastest growing craft brewers wanted to "keep an eye" on their own sustainability as they planned for 400 per cent growth. Once they could visualize their impacts via Rapport they were able to target areas for improvements. Water was a natural target, as it comprised the majority of their products direct contextual impact. Thanks to operational scale (visualized through the data analytics dashboards), they were able to reduce their impact to 3.5 gallons of water per gallons of beer. Equally impressive was their ability to reduce solid waste costs – moving from one pick up per week to one per month during and after their massive expansion.

The academic literature (and advertising community) has set sustainability up as a quest for perfection by the one per cent. It is not. It is a business strategy with concrete positive impact to the bottom line. It has also been put on a technology shelf reachable only by large businesses with deep pockets permitting a longer payback horizon. No longer. Sustainability can be, and is now, a straightforward (and practical) business strategy available to the 99 per cent.

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