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The entire world is in the midst of a digital transformation, which has changed daily operations for countless businesses across industries. Technological advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are helping company leaders operate at greater efficiency than ever before, generate revenue, and perhaps even make the world a better place in the process. But how?

Why sustainability makes sense

For years, companies of all sizes have recognized the inherent value of environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives when it comes to customer retention and smooth overall operations. Sustainability strategies are a smart business move that may foster company longevity and keep customers coming back.

However, while plenty of company leaders recognize the critical importance of sustainable initiatives, only about one-fourth of companies include sustainability as part of their business model, according to the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). For the greatest chance of long-term business success, the Switzerland-based organization encourages executives and company policymakers to first comply with local laws and regulations and then take a more proactive approach to sustainability.

To that end, data and automation can help, by giving established companies and startups alike the necessary tools to meet their sustainability goals.

Breaking barriers and implementing green initiatives

Ideally, a company’s sustainable initiatives should be authentic and environmentally focused, rather than rooted in the hope of increased profits. Today’s tech-savvy consumers increasingly use their spending power to support environmentally conscious companies and are even willing to shell out a few extra dollars on sustainable products and brands. Forward-thinking companies can maintain transparency by disclosing their sustainability goals and initiatives publicly and by encouraging customer feedback.

Yet, that feedback won’t amount to much without the ability to make sense of it all, and automation can be a game-changer in this regard. Automation software can help alleviate some of the burdens of data interpretation, enabling companies to speed up their green initiatives and saving time and money. For example, with automation software on hand, companies can quickly and easily track energy usage, amount of waste produced daily, consumer habits, carbon footprint and more, in an effort to streamline operations.

Depending on the amount of data collected, it could take months for a human worker to properly organize and analyze the relevant information. Technology gets us there much faster, with greater accuracy.

Data-powered insights to inform optimization

When it comes to a company’s sustainability goals, waste reduction tends to be at the forefront of the conversation and for good reason: while it’s difficult to determine the exact numbers in terms of industrial waste production, waste generation is a massive global problem that’s only expected to grow. What’s more, solid waste management is an inherently wasteful process in its own right, contributing some 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in 2016 alone, according to The World Bank.

A massively wasteful industry, manufacturing may benefit greatly from the data-automation-sustainability interplay, starting with mindful inventory management. Excess inventory can clog up the supply chain and landfills alike. Yet, through data-based insights and intelligent automation, businesses may be able to strike a balance between too much stock and not enough, significantly reducing waste, emissions and overall environmental impact.

Increased efficiency of processes

Waste comes in many forms, and countless businesses are guilty of wasting time. The adage “time is money” comes into play here — inefficient processes and redundancies can significantly hinder day-to-day operations while wasting company time and money. The good news is that automation can help bridge some gaps, improving efficiency of processes in every corner of the supply chain.

Human error contributes significantly to the problem of inefficiency and wasted company time, and company leaders across industries are taking note. Companies can decrease workplace stress and redundancies via workflow automation, allowing employees to focus on meaningful work and potentially make fewer mistakes. Companies looking to implement workflow automation into their sustainability plan should start small and identify the operations wherein automation will reap the biggest payout. That payoff could encompass financial goals, environmental goals, or another plan altogether.

Weighing cost vs. benefit

For small business owners, implementing sustainability initiatives may seem more like a pipe dream than a tangible goal, as the technology can be costly to implement. What’s more, businesses that are using technology to drive sustainability must employ talented workers who can tap into those resources and streamline operations for the greatest economic and environmental benefit.

However, as companies can leverage automation and data analytics to increase efficiency, adjust energy usage, reduce waste and otherwise help with sustainability, the cost of investing in automation is worth it. By giving company leaders the ability to see the big picture in terms of carbon footprint, data and automation can help optimize operations and improve a company’s bottom line.

This article was written by Charlie Fletcher from VentureBeat and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].