Sustainability is often mistaken for environmental, social and governance, which have connotations and relevance, but fail to define what the term really means. People, planet and profit, known as the 3Ps in many circles, are the key components of sustainable action, but as they are referred to as environmental, social and economical factors the confusion arises.
Nevertheless, these are the key areas of focus, and it’s important that businesses endeavour to meet all three for that coveted ‘sustainable’ status. But how much do businesses know about their impact on communities, the planet we live on, and the economic growth as a result of decarbonisation and social prosperity?
While the focus is often on large corporations and their impacts—because they do have the platforms and reach to facilitate them as such—SMEs must also understand how this affects them, especially when collaborating with said companies.
“In the bustling arena of sustainability conversations, the ‘People’ aspect often finds itself in the shadows, not quite catching the limelight like its counterparts ‘Planet’ and ‘Profit,” says Sherif Tawfik, Chief Sustainability Commercial Officer of Central, Southeast Europe, Middles East, and Africa at Microsoft. “The talks about environmental conservation and economic gains are everywhere, while the important discussions about social sustainability - think equity, diversity, and social responsibility - don't always get to the same stage.”
“This oversight might be because gauging social sustainability isn't as straightforward as counting carbon emissions or dollars. It’s a bit elusive, dealing with a wide canvas of human experiences and societal nuances. Unlike a company's carbon footprint or bottom line, you can't easily put a number on concepts like social equity or community well-being.”
Digital transformation aligned with sustainable development
Two of the key components that enable companies to fully understand their business are knowledge and technology. With digital evolution well under way, and likely to be a staple in the future, Tawfik suggests that organisations that fail to digitise will be left behind along with their outdated legacy systems.
“In the modern business landscape, relying on outdated technology is similar to still using fax machines for all communication – it just doesn't cut it anymore,” says Tawfik. “Technology is foundational, and when it comes to sustainability efforts, digital tools are absolutely crucial. After all, you can't progress what you can't measure.”
Businesses that already exist in the digital ecosystem need not get complacent that adoption is the solution to ensuring that their teams can instantly gain access to the insights and knowledge that will allow them to track the progress of company’s activities.
“Microsoft, with its roots in the mission of placing a PC on every desk and in every home, has evolved to a powerful commitment of empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. This pledge inherently speaks to inclusion—for all people and organisations, regardless of their size,” says Tawfik. “It's about democratising technology access, seen as a critical booster of productivity, and making sure that small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are central to this transformative journey.”
With technologies in place, onboarding is necessary to allow, hopefully, a diverse workforce to learn the system and the company’s approach to sustainability reporting and analysis. To this point, there are three key ways in which firms can combine technology with their sustainability efforts.
The first one is to embrace it. From the perspective of Microsoft, it’s about companies working with providers that align their goals and have the solutions to support.
“Leveraging Microsoft's Cloud Services, businesses can tap into sustainable practices that lead to a whopping 98% reduction in emissions compared to traditional IT setups. It's about ensuring that the tech backbone of a company is geared towards sustainability right from the start,” says Tawfik.
“Next, it's essential to prioritise measurement using advanced digital tools. Having accurate, intelligent, and analytic data is the cornerstone of making real progress. Businesses should transition from rudimentary Excel-based reporting to more sophisticated tools that allow for automation and trend identification. This shift ensures that sustainability efforts are not just tracked but are also strategically aligned for impactful decision-making.”
The final point addresses some of the most advanced solutions for visualising a company’s sustainability footprint—some of them exploratory; showing promise for sustainable improvement nonetheless. Tawfik believes that innovation is at heart of any progressive sustainability strategy.
“Simulating real-world scenarios through Digital Twins and exploring the Industrial Metaverse, businesses can experiment, innovate, and drive sustainability seamlessly. Microsoft, for instance, provides businesses with the opportunity to mirror and migrate their processes within advanced Digital Twins and Metaverse environments, fostering innovation and sustainability simultaneously.”
Partners are the enablers of the 3Ps
“Partnership and collaboration are like the secret sauce in bringing the 3Ps - People, Planet, and Profit - to life. No single organisation can claim to have access to everyone or hold the keys to all methods of sustainability. The beauty of partnership lies in its foundation: it's about coming together and pooling diverse resources, ideas, and energies.”
“Just think about it: one of the key elements of the ‘People’ aspect is the celebration of diversity, inclusion, and equality. This spirit of togetherness and embracing different perspectives is exactly what partnership is all about.”
Partnership should be more than just a commercial endeavour. As sustainability takes precedence, businesses at the forefront of the digital era have the ability to show SMEs how to adapt to these changes. This also opens the door to lessons in both directions as, what Tawfik suggests, companies can learn valuable lessons from each others’ strengths.
“Why is teamwork so crucial?,” he asks, answering: “When organisations join forces, they can leverage each other's strengths, knowledge, and resources. It's like putting together pieces of a puzzle. One company might have groundbreaking environmental practices, while another may excel in ensuring worker well-being. Together, they can create a complete picture of sustainability, addressing all 3Ps more effectively.”