The role of automation in driving sustainability objectives

By embracing software automation to tackle problem areas, companies can make their ambitious sustainability goals a reality.

Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) struggles are all too apparent across the business world, with many companies failing to reach the goals they have promised to achieve.

Some critics are going so far as to say that constant ‘greenwashing’ has rendered the term ‘ESG’ redundant. It’s clear that businesses aren’t doing enough to reach their sustainability objectives, but these goals are often challenging to accomplish in a volatile market with external issues affecting business.

To ensure a green output, sustainability needs to be at the heart of business operations and, by introducing automation, it can come as second nature.

Automation can be used in a variety of areas within an organisation to help drive sustainability and improve ESG performance, from optimising the supply chain to decreasing energy usage, saving paper with paperless reporting, and giving companies the data they need to measure their environmental strategy.

With this technology at their disposal, companies can ensure their green goals do not fall flat and that they can make a real and demonstrable impact on the environment for the better.

A data-driven approach to sustainability objectives

Many of the current sustainability goals are often vague, meaning it can be hard to know where to begin. To truly make an impact, organisations need to pinpoint exactly where they can be more sustainable and identify specific steps they need to take in order to tackle the problem. Finding these pain points can start with process mining, a task that can be enhanced with the use of automation.

Process mining collects and manages data from various applications and systems. Putting this data in context is also incredibly important, as companies need to be able to see where they exceed against their sustainability objectives and where they need to make improvements as easily as possible. Automation can contextualise this data while it is being collected, allowing businesses to track and report on the progress of their specific environmental targets.

This data-first approach to becoming a more environmentally friendly organisation is particularly useful in the manufacturing industry, where data can be taken at each stage of a production line to find where processes need to be made more efficient. Replacing or optimising a single part of the process is more sustainable and accessible than struggling to tackle the whole thing at once, and automated process mining can ensure every issue can be pinpointed and dealt with.

At the same time, automation can unite the many systems and applications businesses use to gather, track, and report ESG data.

Robotic process automation (RPA) integrates seamlessly with old, legacy applications, as well as other types of technologies that allow the use of chatbots and natural language processing (NLP), an integration that can solve the challenge of dealing with fragmented ESG data pools.

According to a survey from Deloitte, “a strong majority (92 per cent of survey respondents) believe that their organisation needs to invest more in technology to address demand for consistent and reliable measurement, reporting, and disclosures.”

Furthermore, more than half of the survey respondents consider data availability and quality to be the biggest obstacle to disclosing ESG data.

Accelerating green initiatives with automation

Every organisation has a duty to reduce waste and minimise environmental impacts. RPA can help companies integrate their sustainability objectives directly into their workflow and create efficiencies that will allow them to cut down on energy usage and waste. This is a simple step businesses can make to reduce the impact of their everyday operations.

According to McKinsey, having a strong (ESG) proposition also helps reduce costs substantially and leads to value creation. Furthermore, according to research from the consulting company, there seems to be a “significant correlation between resource efficiency and financial performance”.

An example of where this has worked is Helse Vest, a health authority based in Norway. Helse Vest leveraged automation to lower the number of letters mailed to patients with a confirmed appointment. Instead, software robots intercepted each letter, preventing them from being printed and mailed. Helse Vest was able to minimise its environmental footprint by using less paper with an expected saving of more than 400,000 UK pounds in postage alone.

That said, in addition to embracing a more sustainable practice, Helse Vest managed to optimize its expenses – resources that the organisations can repurpose to fund ESG-related initiatives.

Along with physical waste, energy use is another important factor that many companies are focusing on cutting down on. This is another area where automation can help businesses achieve tangible savings.

For example, software automation can be used to shut down networked devices when they are not in use. By creating robots that switch off these nodes, companies can effectively cut down on their energy consumption. Being able to cut down on energy usage will not only improve sustainability, but at a time where energy bills are soaring to record highs, this will also bring about significant cost savings.

Ending greenwashing with sustainable transparency

Automation can be a powerful tool in helping companies be more transparent about how they are working to meet their sustainability goals.

The phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ – where businesses overinflate their sustainability work – is being scrutinised now more than ever by employees, consumers, and investors, with vague promises no longer enough to gain trust. In fact, a recent study showed that 67 per cent of people are more willing to apply for jobs at companies they know are sustainable.

ESG auditing is easily automatable, and the rich insights gained through optimised data collection make audits more accurate and detailed – letting companies easily show progress towards their goals. This helps make a business more attractive to investors, customers, and employees as well.  

Sustainability will only become more important as time goes on, and businesses must be willing to take action if they are to retain customers and employees.

By embracing software automation to tackle problem areas, companies can make their ambitious sustainability goals a reality while at the same time saving time and money on everyday business operations.

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