Set goals with intention

“What can you do today? Your first goal is understanding where you are. Pick something specific like, ‘What are my carbon emissions today?’” —Kareem Yusuf, Ph.D., general manager of IBM Sustainability Software

To embed a sustainability mission into your business strategy, you should align your business objectives with improved ESG outcomes. You’ll need buy-in and support from executives and a suite of intelligent tools to plan, track and improve your performance.

“Sustainability is not just a concept or a department in an organization anymore. It is integral to your culture and a way of life. When you want to be two steps ahead, you need the conviction of everyone in the organization.” —Suraj Bahirwani, president and global sales head of Grasim Industries Limited

There is an array of initiatives your organization can pursue. The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (link resides outside of IBM.com) over 17 areas with supporting targets; ranging from clean energy and infrastructure improvement to reducing pollution and gender equality. 

But you won’t be able to accomplish every ambition out of the gate. We’ve created a checklist representing some of frequently cited sustainability goals among nearly 2,000 executives from around the world. Which are relevant to your business? Which are you ready to take on today versus three years from now? Which might you already be doing? And what’s missing?

Choose your approach

Which sustainability goals are right for you?

Download this checklist (PDF, 126 KB) to identify which sustainability opportunities you’re ready to take on, which require more data and insights, and which might benefit from engaging an expert partner.

a train, a cargo ship, a warehouse and icons of leaves, tree, sun, in green, white and gray, representing nature and supply chain

Establish your baseline

You need to establish a metrics foundation for the ESG data that will underpin every goal — and, admittedly, this can be difficult. 

“Where do most businesses trip up? It’s in establishing a baseline for sustainability success,” Dr. Yusuf says. “You want to make this verifiable, valid, auditable. It’s about making sure you’ve got that right foundation. Start with data and always come back to that baseline of data. Understand where you are, and then focus on how you correlate that data to goals.”

To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, global GHG emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Key insight

Collect, correlate, visualize and analyze relevant data so you can deliver transparent and verifiable information and more easily identify where improvements are most needed. 

Take action

To learn about managing environmental performance data, download IBM’s guide to GHG emissions accounting and ESG data management (PDF, 5.9 MB).

Center culture in the conversation

Every stakeholder should recognize how new initiatives, from embracing supply chain circularity to building more resilient operations, represent an opportunity for growth. This means ensuring that the people who stand up your operations and global networks are represented in how you show up in the world. 

“Businesses cannot succeed in pursuing profit at the expense of clean water, healthy oceans, life on land and basic needs such as a living wage,” says Sheri Hinish, IBM Consulting global leader for sustainability services, alliances and strategy. When it comes to what Hinish calls a business’s “social license to operate,” it’s critical to lean into partners and ecosystems as well, to support the people in your organization tasked with making your sustainability strategy a reality.

Case study: Iberdrola

A new take on supply and demand

Iberdrola, a leading global energy supplier, is helping its core suppliers implement better sustainable development policies and standards. Using a third-party solution with API connectivity, Iberdrola can score suppliers on how well they’re upholding their commitments. For those that don’t initially meet Iberdrola’s criteria, the tool is used to suggest improvements.

“We’ve designated a task force spanning all departments…. We’ve looked at products with more sustainable eyes. We’ve taken a look at how we’re building our buildings. We have to approach the entire supply chain.” —Janet Hayes, CEO of Crate & Barrel

Questions to determine whether your strategy is embraced

Key insight

Transformational CEOs are using compensation incentives to drive accountability deeper into their organizations. Almost 40% are already linking non-executive compensation to specific sustainability measures.³

Become a champion of data discipline

Whether it’s reducing environmental impact and improving supply chain circularity by updating antiquated apps or using AI to optimize resource consumption, a company’s data strategy can both contextualize sustainability progress and boost the bottom line. More than 4 in 10 companies view advanced analytics, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and artificial intelligence (AI) as essential in any sustainability strategy.¹

“Without software, we would have to collect data from all around the world, in different units, and compile it manually. Now, individuals at each of our sites can input data into a performance management suite and have it compiled and transformed into usable outputs. It’s easy to make mistakes on your own, so data management software helps alleviate some of those errors.” —Jessica Peixoto, Celestica sustainability manager

A doctrine for data

Here are five ways to promote data discipline.

Establish an enterprise data warehouse or lake

Align and socialize a consistent definition of sustainability metrics and common data sourcing

Define enterprise-wide information standards for sustainability

Create governance for sharing data

Promote access and openness through a hybrid cloud approach

Take action

Use IBM’s “The Data Differentiator” guide to improve and refine responses to environmental problems with better algorithms, advanced analytics, connected communities and digital assistants, on everything from robotic process automation to managed cloud services.

A graphic illustration representing bits of data

Thinking ahead: Data bridges

Let’s face it: Your sustainability strategy starts and ends with data. Establishing rigorous data discipline today can help organizations innovate for the future.

Consider Envirosuite, a global environmental intelligence leader based in Australia. Envirosuite uses its analytics to help companies (PDF, 356 KB) — including airports, wastewater plants, mining operations and industrial facilities — pinpoint potential problems related to noise, water and air quality, odor, dust and vibration.

Now, imagine if a company like Envirosuite made its environmental data accessible to its surrounding community. The community can now see what’s happening in real time, from the impact of new construction to traffic building a data bridge between the facility and nearby residents could create, made possible by rigorous data discipline.

Operationalize your strategy

Sustainability trailblazers connect their goals to daily operations with data, automation and intelligent infrastructure. Once your strategic roadmap is in place, you can begin taking action on your plans and accelerating progress toward your goals.

¹ Sustainability as a transformation catalyst. IBM Institute for Business Value. 10 January 2022.
² Supply Chain Guidance (link resides outside ibm.com), EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency, 4 February 2022.
³ CEO Study: Own your impact. IBM Institute for Business Value. 10 May 2022.