One of my favorite movies of all times is “Imitation Game.” Based on the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing, who broke the famous “Enigma” Nazi codes during WWII saving so many lives. Turing later developed some of the earliest computer programs, before computers ever existed. He remains a hero motivated to solve some of the world´s biggest problems and who understood the use of science, and particularly technology, in the equation. He was also one of the first researchers of artificial intelligence.
I can only imagine how rewarding it must be for inventors and coders to create powerful software, to crack serious problems, or to stop bad actors from carrying out cyber-attacks. Still, I found a way to be a part of the exciting world of software – and I continue to do that as a sustainability consultant for technology companies.
To be sustainable means, on the one hand, to minimize the negative influence on the environment and society. On the other hand, it means maximizing the good things we do. We always seek to balance the two, as do organizations.
The Importance of Handprint
“Handprint” is a term used to complement the wider known “footprint” and focuses on the positive impact of organizations. Developed by the Center for Enviromental Education in India, handprint is “is a measure of what we can do individually, and together, to restore the balance between consumption and the planet’s carrying capacity.”
According to the portal klimafakten.de, handprint is a concept that may drive more optimism by making positive effects of climate protection visible and relatable. It brings inspiration instead of frustration, action instead of paralysis. In addition, communicating about the efforts and results to drive positive impact plays a central role.
Most software companies strive to maximize their positive impact by providing tools for their clients, businesses or end-users, to become more sustainable. Many people who work for these companies find purpose in being part of a larger mission – to transform the world. I know I do.
Sustainable Transformation: People, Processes and Technology
For any business to be successful, it needs to consider the triangle of People, Processes and Technology. Sustainable transformation touches on the same aspects:
- People: ESG is not the job of one person (sustainability director), it’s teamwork that transcends all departments and is led by executive management.
- Processes: Sustainability should be integrated across all operations. If it’s limited to a single department, it often remains corporate social responsibility.
- Technology: As with people and processes, software for sustainable operations should be integrated within all other enterprise management tools.
Take sustainability reporting for example: it is based on data from multiple departments and stored in different existing systems – from ERP to CRM; from HR to production.
Another example is circular economy. If the current enterprise planning software only supports the classical models of producing and selling equipment and machinery, while the company plans to move to a subscription-based model, renting instead of owning and repairing instead of replacing, the change will be hard. Nobody wants to rip and replace an entire ERP system.
Recycling products is another area that requires a fundamental digital transformation. The way companies accept used products, disassemble them, and re-use the components has to be reflected in bookkeeping, materials management and all other relevant systems.
The software and IT service providers play a critical role, as they can make or break that transformation.
Software Companies: Helping Users Become Sustainable
So, what’s the implication for software companies? They need to integrate sustainability in their technology landscape. If they offer niche solutions, like ESG reporting, or emissions measurement and management, they need to make sure the solution can be integrated with existing systems. Niche solutions can replace manual, excel-based reporting – but should not be a scope on their own or remain standalone and separate from core enterprise systems.
For sustainability to really work at the core, it needs to be integrated in all processes. That means, existing software solutions need to be agile enough to support dramatic changes in the organization.
The good news for software companies and their leaders is that your offering is a force multiplier for good, as it will help many of your clients become more sustainable. Software must be the backbone of sustainable business. It’s the new digital transformation. Your legacy as a software executive is your positive impact on users. Your handprint will contribute more to your legacy than your footprint.
Alan Turing probably did not foresee the hype that ChatGPT and other AI tools caused this year. But his early research and his famous “Turing test” that helps check if a computer is capable of thinking like a human being inspired generations.