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The Road Ahead – The Sustainability Transformation

Philipp Harrschar

Patterns & Lessons from the Digital Transformation

The events of May 26, 2021 must have come as something of a shock to many senior decision makers in Europe and beyond. The Hague district court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce their CO2 emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels by 2030. Whether this judgment will be upheld remains an open question, but it is nonetheless a landmark event which underlines the need for all businesses to take urgent action on sustainability. 
 

Insight in brief

  • Without question, companies in Europe and beyond have to take urgent action on sustainability.
  • The good news: We can learn a lot from the digital transformation and apply the takeaways directly to the sustainability transformation.
  • This blog provides insight, how to be proactive in tackling whatever problems may arise on the road of sustainability transformation.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the digital transformation is still only half complete, and we have definitely not reached the end state – there is still a long way to go. The implication is clear. Without question, we are faced with tackling two major challenges simultaneously – a digital and a sustainability transformation. 

So here’s the good news. We can learn a lot from the digital transformation and can be proactive in tackling whatever problems may arise over the next few years. And learning is key, since speed is crucial. In contrast to the digital transformation, the sustainability transformation has a clear goal, set out in the European Green Deal – Europe needs to be carbon neutral by 2050. Germany wants to get there by 2045.

So, what takeaways from the digital transformation can be applied directly to the sustainability transformation?

Grow Your Own Skills For Sustainability Transformation

As with every rapidly growing area of innovation, you will find that you will not be able to hire the resources you need when you need them at a reasonable price. Consequently, now may be the best time to start the sustainability transformation process of training your existing staff. Good places to start are ecodesign, the circular economy, and regulations relevant to your business.

Push The Quick Start Button

Pick the low hanging fruits. This helps to show that you have made a start on your sustainability transformation journey. One simple idea is to get together a group of creative, sustainability-minded people and run a 2.5 hour creativity session with the aim of generating 100+ ideas. Get the board to buy into your vision and implement the easy ones. It feels like the early days of web and app development. 

Ask For Help

Coming from a leading technology and innovation provider, you would be forgiven for thinking, “Well they would say that wouldn’t they.” But knowing when to get help is a key leadership skill. Despite the fact that we are innovation experts, we still decided to partner with planetly in order to understand our CO2 footprint and to get a baseline for future action. We could have done this ourselves, but it would have been much slower and would have cost us more. 

Define Your Strategy For A Sustainable Ecosystem 

The sustainability transformation will bring new sets of problems. This will in turn motivate smart people to launch startups to find clever solutions to tackle these problems. We have already seen this in the banking industry and, five years later, in the insurance industry. In the period when these startups were rising and then falling, four key strategies were paramount: 

  • Collaborate with the companies providing the most valuable solutions.
  • Copy the idea and do it yourself.
  • Buy the company and integrate it.
  • Create your own startup.

None of these strategies is a walk in the park. But acting now will enable you to choose the right pathway for your business.

Learn from others

Realizing the sustainability transformation every other company is facing the same challenges as you. Why not join forces and learn from each other’s endeavors, successes and failures? Join a circle of like-minded companies to walk the talk together. It’s also more fun than doing the sustainability transformation by yourself.

It’s All About Culture

We need new technologies and new approaches, but ultimately what is needed is a company culture that’s open to sustainability and willing to embrace change. Boosting cognitive diversity is a must. The role of young people here will be different; unlike in the digital transformation, where they acted as technology enablers, in the sustainability transformation they will act as a guiding coalition to push through change. Think of the sustainability transformation as a change project. 

What is the Likely Outcome?

A major difference between the two transformations is that digital transformations tended to deliver greater convenience, a better user experience. The most visible result of this is probably the ubiquity of smartphones today. The sustainability transformation, by contrast, is not about convenience; it is about reducing and simplifying, about rethinking the purpose of doing business. 

Philipp Harrschar Zühlke

Philipp Harrschar

Executive Director Business Development
Contact person for Germany

Philipp Harrschar is Executive Director Business Development and Partner of the Zühlke Group. He has been with Zühlke since 2011 and provides strategic advice and support to clients in innovation and digitalisation projects. His focus is on cross-sector innovation patterns and the use of key technologies.