The world is about to see a fast acceleration in business sustainability initiatives and investments. In our recent study of 3,000 senior executives, we found spending levels will markedly increase between now and 2025, with a near-doubling in the number of respondents boosting sustainability spending by 10% or greater in that timeframe.
The question for business operations leaders is where to focus their sustainability efforts. It has long made sense that because process optimization and automation can greatly enhance efficiency, it will also reduce the environmental footprint of both internal operations and processes that extend into the value chain.
For instance, by incorporating basic automated building controls into the energy distribution system of smart buildings, businesses can realize 10% to 15% energy savings. More advanced functionality, such as demand-controlled ventilation, can yield an additional 5% to 10% energy savings.
Another intuitive example is in the supply chain, where process optimization and automation can help identify and eliminate inefficiencies, reduce production and transportation-related emissions, and support circular economy goals.
However, the challenges inherent to implementing automation technologies have often served as a deterrent. Automating and optimizing processes takes cross-enterprise collaboration and alignment among multiple functions, often using different tools and diverse systems. In our study, only 42% of respondents ranked robotic process automation and intelligent process automation (RPA/IPA)—which includes automation and AI technologies—among the top six technologies deployed to improve environmental sustainability (see Figure 1).