The strategic business imperatives of sustainability

By Ken Robinson
Ken Robinson, Market Research Manager at Motus, knows that Sustainability is now a strategic business imperative – and how organisations can thrive with it

Op-ed by Ken Robinson, Director of Product Marketing at Motus


In the past few years, an increasing number of consumers and investors have decided to spend their money on eco-friendly products and sustainability-minded companies. In fact, for nearly 70% of consumers, sustainability is at least “somewhat important” when making a purchase and 47% say they would pay more for a sustainable product. To meet this standard, corporate emissions reduction commitments have proliferated.

Today’s business leaders have recognised that reducing environmental impact drives global change and overall business success. While this is admirable, there is still a gap between recognising the importance of sustainability and implementing sustainability policies. According to BCG’s recent sustainability report in collaboration with MIT Sloan Management Review, although 90% of executives think sustainability is important, only 60% of companies incorporate sustainability in their strategy.

In today’s business climate, sustainability is more than a social responsibility; it’s a strategic imperative. As companies begin to prioritise sustainability, business leaders must mobilise to do their part to manage increasing environmental concerns while also meeting customer and stakeholder expectations. While there are many environmental and social aspects to a successful sustainability programme, one of the key issues these strategies must address is reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. For today’s organisations, this means devising strategic approaches to mobile device recycling and vehicle emissions reduction. 

Assessing carbon footprint – the first step in sound sustainability programmes

To reduce environmental impact, business leaders must first consider which actions are contributing most heavily to their carbon footprint. However, one of the most common flaws in many company sustainability pledges is the gap in how to account for emissions throughout the value chain.

While direct impacts such as company vehicles and facilities are top of mind, there are also indirect influencers that contribute to a company’s overall carbon footprint. Indirect upstream activities that leaders should consider include the outside movement of goods and employee commuting. Indirect downstream activities include the transportation and distribution of products or services, as well as the treatment of products that are at the end of their life. Downstream emissions often have the largest environmental impact, and therefore represent the largest opportunity for leaders to offset their carbon footprint.

Once business leaders identify areas making the largest environmental impact, or opportunities for quick action, they can implement policies, track progress and confirm their actions are supporting a swift reduction of carbon emissions.

 

The recycling potential of company-provided devices 

When accounting for downstream sustainability, it’s important to consider both sold products and business assets. With the proliferation of remote and hybrid work environments, a large portion of these business assets is comprised of company-provided devices that employees have come to rely on to conduct their work from anywhere. 

On average, company-provided devices are upgraded every 30 months (2.5 years). Many of them are not returned to IT. With a relatively short enterprise device replacement cycle, ensuring these devices are disposed of properly can impact the environment in a big way. Up to 80% of a smartphone can be recycled and reused in new phones or products, including metals, plastics and batteries. This can significantly reduce the amount of raw materials mined and used to create new products over time. For example, for every million smart phones recycled, over 35,000 pounds of copper can be recovered.

In addition to its environmental benefits, device recycling can also be economically beneficial for companies. Legacy devices not returning to IT can be a costly oversight. In fact, the residual value of a company-owned device from Google, Samsung and Apple was approximately US$207. This added to a total residual value of more than US$4bn in 2020. Having a strategy in place to ensure legacy devices are returned and salvaged can make both an economical impact on the company and an environmental impact within the communities the company operates in.

Reducing vehicle emissions for business fleets and drivers 

While company-issued devices have become an increasingly popular option for equipping anywhere workforces with the technology required to conduct their job duties – and a greater influence on a company’s environmental impact – we cannot forget a major contributor to carbon footprints: vehicle emissions. 

Businesses whose operations leverage heavy vehicles can make a significant environmental impact based on the vehicle choices they make. The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Replacing delivery trucks with hybrid vehicles can also make a big impact in reducing carbon footprints, as hybrid vehicles use approximately 30% less fuel than the typical delivery truck. Coca-Cola is one organisation that realised the benefits of transforming its transportation operations to a hybrid fleet and was able to reduce emissions by 30%.

In addition to delivery fleets, employee driving is another factor that can significantly impact carbon emissions. A typical light-duty business vehicle emits 5.2 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Multiply this by the number of employees in the driving workforce and it’s clear this makes up a significant amount of carbon emissions. Business leaders who wish to reduce and eventually eliminate these emissions should consider new vehicle choices for their fleets and business drivers, such as hybrid or electric vehicles. 

While the purchase prices for electric vehicles are typically US$5,000 - US$10,000 higher than comparable gas-powered vehicles, businesses can take advantage of both federal and state tax credits and rebates to help offset acquisition costs. Electricity prices are also less volatile than gasoline. National average fuel prices have varied by as much as US$2.45 per gallon over the past decade, while the national average price of residential electricity has varied by only 1.4 cents over the same period. Long-term, this makes electric vehicle driving cost stability an attractive economic benefit.

However, even employees who do not drive frequently for their job still average 53 miles commuting every day to get to and from the office. For these employees, businesses should consider adopting a hybrid remote schedule. Companies establishing scheduled, in-person office days for teams to  collaborate and providing the option to work remote the rest of the work week can reduce vehicle emissions. Three remote days per work week can eliminate 3,600 pounds of carbon dioxide per employee per year in commute emissions savings alone.

The White House set an ambitious goal of halving economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Simultaneously, the SEC’s recent proposal on climate change requires public companies to disclose extensive climate-related risks, financial metrics and greenhouse gas emissions in their SEC filings. Considering both of these, there is greater urgency for businesses to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. Because business leaders are uniquely positioned to make a large-scale positive impact on energy reduction, the responsibility falls on them to make sustainability within their organisations a priority. The journey towards a greener, more environmentally-focused business world begins with a comprehensive assessment of emissions throughout the value chain. Fortunately, this is a step all businesses can take today.

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