Whether you head up a consultancy firm or a consultant yourself, you have every reason to read this text. You will be investing a total of five minutes of your life, or thereabouts, but those few minutes could be critically important to the climate and our society. That, of course, depends on what you do with the insights you have gleaned at the end. Because it is going to take swift and powerful action from all social actors if we are going to fix this.
What I hope to do here is bring the business advantages of caring to light.
First, a little background. If we stay on our current path, the world is not going to be able to deliver the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development that the world has agreed on. https://www.globalamalen.se/
Our world is threatened by rising carbon emissions, social inequality seems entrenched, we are failing to give everyone access to basic welfare services and our economy is still encouraging the unsustainable consumption of natural resources.
Climate action is a critical prerequisite for successful delivery of the global sustainable development goals. That means the climate crisis goes beyond geography and local interests and is a challenge that the countries of the world have committed to overcoming - but one that will require truly integrated and innovative solutions.
“The digital tools are all extremely potent, but to claim they are inherently sustainable is a lie.”
Cybercom, where I work, is an IT/digitalisation consultancy where we are helping our clients seize the opportunities that arise as the world connects. We realised early on that the tools we manage that we are helping our clients implement are some of the most powerful that humankind has ever created. I’m talking about Ai/ML, IoT, AR/VR/XR, Blockchain and the rest. The digital tools are all extremely potent, but to claim they are inherently sustainable is a lie.
Instead, we should understand that they speed up processes, accelerate development and make what we use them for go faster and more efficiently. That means our tools are just as likely to hasten a negative development as a positive one. Unfortunately, the majority of the digitalisation we are seeing now is expediting linear, resource-intensive business models. This is why we need to understand how we can use digitalisation to meet the needs of society in entirely new, circular and resource-efficient ways.
The insight is immediate - if we are handling some of the most powerful tools ever created, then we also have a responsibility to make sure they are used to accelerate development in a positive direction and not the other way round. And if we, the consultants, do not know what we are doing, do not know what we are accelerating, and do not have a clear picture of how digitalisation can promote sustainable development, just who is supposed to
One thing is for sure, our clients do not know. Not yet. But when we ask them, “Once your entire value chain has been digitalised, what will that entail from the sustainability perspective?” and “What are the risks and opportunities, and who is responsible for this issue in your organisation?” it becomes obvious that they have a huge need for help.
In response, Cybercom took the initiative in May 2018 to rally our industry colleagues in the IT/digitalisation consultancy industry behind an innovation-driven Roadmap for Fossil Free Competitiveness and Global Sustainability. In practice, that meant that 35 digitalisation consultancies, who normally consider us competitors, were united for the first time in our ambition to help society become aware of and use the potential of digitalisation to reduce the climate burden in society and, in so doing, increase competitiveness and growth. The Roadmap was presented to the Swedish Government on 20 March 2019 and included both commitments by us consultants and calls to political action. If your consultancy firm was not among the original signers of the Roadmap, there is nothing stopping you from doing it now, of course. You are more than welcome!
If you have not already figured out why the climate and sustainable development are relevant to you as a consultancy, I will give you a few clues.
1. Clients need help, and this is where you can have the most impact.
As consultancies, our direct climate impact is marginal. We can influence the premises we work in, how and whether we travel and perhaps what our employees eat. In other words, we can reduce our negative impact, but since that impact is fairly small, our opportunities to contribute are too. But what we can achieve together with our clients through the expertise and the tools, methods and processes we sell is infinitely greater. Our clients are also facing huge challenges in combining digitalisation, innovation, growth and competitiveness with sustainable development. Clients’ challenges mean business for consultants, so this is where consultancies should put their energies, of course. Develop your offerings so that you can assist your clients in achieving the goal of a fossil-free future and global sustainability. That is what our clients are willing to pay for!
2. As an agent of solutions, you will enhance your firm’s relevance and attractiveness.
The new generation of employees value the opportunity to contribute to something “bigger”. Offering high pay and career opportunities is often not enough to be considered an attractive employer. Especially not if the people you want to attract are those who are driven, goal-oriented and deeply committed. I don’t believe there is a consultancy out there looking actively for the opposite.
As an agent of solutions, you have the opportunity to satisfy the deep-seated desire for meaningful work. Because just as Simon Sinek put it in his TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, we as consultancy firms need to get better at communicating why we exist and why we consultants get up every morning and go to work. https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare
Give individuals who want to contribute to the transition the scope to do it and make it clear how you as a consultancy can be an agent of solutions every day and in all aspects of your business. Prize and cultivate individual commitment. When you do, values-driven employees will seek you out. And thereafter you can reap the fruits of their commitment and success.
3. Consultants are powerful tools in the transition
It is easy for digitalisation consultants like us to understand that our tools are powerful and there is thus reason to handle them with care. But I hasten to add that, regardless of our specific areas of expertise, all of us consultants both are and carry powerful tools that can accelerate development in either a positive or a negative direction. In addition, our consultants are who generate our revenues, which makes them valuable resources. There is therefore every reason in the world to invest in our consultants’ skills and to understand how each individual consultant can optimally contribute in their area of expertise and their role. We who have signed the Digitalisation Consultancy Industry Roadmap agree that we need to agree a minimum level of knowledge among our employees regarding the impacts of digitalisation from a climate and sustainability perspective, and to carry out training initiatives to ensure that our employees meet that minimum level within one year after they are hired.
4. Climate action and sustainability open the doors to the client's strategy
Many consultancies are far too reactive. You respond to queries and requests for quotation when your clients have already decided what they want. That applies regardless of whether your business mainly comprises resource consultants or you take responsibility for specific deliverables. This is a challenge I believe many consultancies recognise, and that many are hungry to make an active contribution from the early stages of the client’s decision process. When you understand your clients’ strategic challenges in relation to climate action and sustainability, you have an opportunity to grasp a more proactive role and aim your value proposition higher up in the clients’ decision hierarchies.
I hope that with these words I have given you, as the head of a consulting organisation, a few more business-based reasons to care.
Ingemar Jansson is a Senior Advisor and Sustainable Innovation Strategist at Cybercom, where he is helping companies seize the opportunities that arise when the world connects. Ingemar is also a co-author and coordinator of the Digital Consultancy Industry’s Innovation-Driven Roadmap for a Fossil-free Future and Global Sustainability that was presented to the Swedish Government on 20 March 2019.