There is a new paradigm for an efficient business process: a sustainable one

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Pre-lockdown, sustainability seemed top of everyone’s agenda, with 2020 set to be the ‘year of sustainability’. And while COVID-19 has changed almost everything else, that can still be the case. Amidst some of the biggest socio-economic shocks for a generation, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency argues that “we should not allow today’s crisis to compromise the clean energy transition”. Now is the time to transform towards a green recovery.

COVID-19 has forced us to rethink our business processes, but it has also accelerated the sustainability agenda

For years an ‘efficient’ process has been a lean one, that creates value with minimal waste- defined largely by unnecessary monetary costs. With the arrival of Industry 4.0, this ‘efficient’ definition has been expanded to include transparency and digitisation. This has brought more real-time data and even early predictions of future issues, allowing greater precision. For example, as a result of initiatives such as Smart Factory, manufacturers expect on-time-delivery of the finished products to accelerate by 13 times, while quality indicators to improve at more than 12 times the rate of improvement since 1990.

Despite the clear cost benefits, neither the traditional nor newer definitions emphasise the environmental impacts of a process, it’s use of materials and wider emissions. Both approaches, however, are ripe for sustainability inclusion. Both mandate a meticulous assessment and understanding of process nuance, with increased transparency particularly shining a light on the sourcing of materials.

Right now, companies across all sectors have had to drastically rethink processes throughout their value chain, in order to pivot and survive in a changing business landscape. And while their environmental accountability may have slipped down their priorities. ‘The choices we make now will shape the global economy for decades to come’.

Sustainability should be placed at the heart of a transformation business case

Any company looking to re-evaluate their business processes, especially if upgrading them using more digitally focused technology should be looking through an environmental lens. This could start by putting sustainability at the heart of a business case, alongside cost. This is often when crucial process-based decisions are made, and when embedding environmental KPIs will be crucial. These KPIs will vary by sector and process, but should be tightly designed and tracked with the same rigour as other types of value previously seen in lean and digital business cases. For reporting purposes,  many companies such as Nestle, Unilever and BT Group have already started adopting carbon pricing ($1-160/ tonne dependant on sector), making the benefits justification an even easier equation.

Capgemini have been supporting our clients to do just that, deploying our deep process and digital expertise to deliver both environmental and business outcomes. We have pledged pledged to save 10 million tonnes of Carbon for our clients by 2030, alongside our own ambitious net zero strategy. Lean and digital accelerators such as our IESOAR methodology for innovative process optimization and automation can easily lead to sustainability and operational improvements. For example, we have innovated some of Scottish Water’s customer facing processes, replacing previously time and carbon intensive physical visits with an easy to use mobile app. We have also digitized customer interactions for a major government department, drastically cutting the carbon and cost associated with millions of letters.

Environmental optimisation could bring unexpected benefits

Despite the challenge of an increasingly uncertain future, now might just be the most logical time to invest in a green recovery through transformation. These processes will be robust, and future-proof, setting up for sustained growth with better resilience.

Cost and emissions savings can easily fit hand in hand, with opportunities to be found through reduced spend on energy, raw materials and recycling value from wasted products.  On top of this, both employees and customers have reported increased engagement and satisfaction with businesses who are tackling the environmental challenge head-on.

Now is a time of change, but those changes must be sustainable, both for business longevity and planetary health. Simple cost-cutting will not build an effective base for growth, nor will it provide a competitive advantage. Similarly, isolated adoption of environmental principles will not be enough, and could lead to unsuccessful long-term maintenance. Effective change management should be combined with digital, process and sustainability goals, to produce a truly positive new normal.



Hugh Crawshaw

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