PM+: Digital transformation key to delivering EU sustainability targets

Written by Martin Hurley on 24 June 2014 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Going green is no longer a jump into the unknown, but a smart step towards a sustainable and profitable future for Europe's business, argues Martin Hurley

With energy sustainability a top-three priority for the European Union’s Europe 2020 strategy, a series of clear-cut targets have been set out: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the share of renewables and improving energy efficiency – all by 20 per cent.

Translating these ambitious goals into tangible realities requires concerted efforts from all sectors of society and, as the engine of Europe’s economy, businesses have an important role to play.

Companies can contribute to a more sustainable Europe in a number of ways. Developing environmentally responsible products and services, reducing the carbon footprint of daily operations and cutting resource consumption can all have a positive impact.

Businesses can also foster environmental awareness among their employees and partners, encouraging them to incorporate sustainability into their daily work.

Digital transformation is another measure that can help to mitigate negative environmental impacts, improve productivity and cuts costs. Even a simple change, such as switching from paper to electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) can bring significant savings.

Research commissioned by Ricoh revealed that companies pay 2.6 times less for receiving an electronic invoice than for its paper equivalent. In the long-term, the switchover from paper invoicing to e-invoicing could drive cost savings of €24bn for businesses across Europe.

"Digital transformation is another measure that can help to mitigate negative environmental impacts, improve productivity and cuts costs. Even a simple change, such as switching from paper to electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) can bring significant savings"

Companies which have already launched a digital revolution in the office will be better prepared for a future shaped by “intelligent workers” (iWorkers). This new breed of skilled employees thrive in a digitally connected workspace where they have 24/7 access to all the necessary information to meet the needs of the business and its clients.

While another Ricoh commissioned study found that only four per cent of business leaders considered the majority of their workforce to align with the iWorker definition, they expect this number to rise to 37 per cent by 2018.
The European commission is encouraging companies to exploit the great economic potential of a sustainable economy. The global market for environmental goods and services is already worth around €1 trillion per year and this is expected to double by 2020.

Forward-thinking business leaders are now preparing their organisations for the upcoming era of green growth. They have realised that sustainability is not a burden but a chance to improve a company’s overall performance, build consumers’ trust and drive profits.

Our long-term commitment to reducing our environmental footprint has resulted in efficiencies that boosted profits by over €1bn between 2000 and 2008. Moreover, since 2007 we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 45,000 tonnes, through a variety of initiatives mobilising our employees and partners.

Beginning a green transformation may seem daunting. Audits conducted by a specialised partner can create a tailor-made sustainability roadmap for each organisation. Experts can highlight inefficiencies and propose adequate solutions for identified challenges.

Setting up such a plan is the first step in exploring eco-improvements across the whole business model. Progress monitoring and periodical overhauls of agreed tactics are necessary to make sure a company stays on target with its green commitments.

As we have found with many enterprises across Europe – multinationals and SMEs alike – a systematic approach can bring significant results. This includes a considerable reduction in paper and electricity consumption, along with renewed motivation for employees to contribute to their company’s green goals.

"Now is the time for those lagging behind on green goals to join the sustainability revolution. Inspiring examples of environmental champions and encouragement from policymakers can position green growth as a compelling target for businesses across Europe"

A company’s journey towards a sustainable strategy often follows three phases. It starts with passive compliance and environmental regulation, where all the legal boxes are checked but there is no ambition to drive positive change.

Next, the company’s leaders define their own environmental goals and proactively implement green practices, setting the bar above basic regulatory requirements. It is usually at the end of this phase that sustainability efforts start to pay off, boosting profits and performance.

The ultimate destination of this journey is what we define as “the responsible stage” – a rewarding turning point where ecological solutions and business strategy complement each other to drive economic benefits for the company, consumers, the environment and the wider economy.

All businesses have the potential to move from the passive to the responsible stage. This transition is imperative in turning the Europe 2020 sustainability targets from a grand vision into reality. With the upcoming arrival of the new European parliament and the next commission, business leaders who are keen on setting up their own sustainability blueprints will look for smart regulatory incentives which support their green aspirations.

Now is the time for those lagging behind on green goals to join the sustainability revolution. Inspiring examples of environmental champions and encouragement from policymakers can position green growth as a compelling target for businesses across Europe.

Going green is no longer a jump into the unknown, but a smart step towards a sustainable and profitable future.

About the author

Martin Hurley is vice president and general manager, outsourcing services  at Ricoh Europe

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