Sustainability and its tradeoffs: how your IT is key to finding the right balance

In our quest to live more sustainably, how do we decide what is best for the environment without losing sight of our original purpose?

Paula Ziehr Paula Ziehr

Tradeoffs have been a part of life for all of history. But in the age of sustainability, as we race to prevent climate catastrophe, we’re confronted with more of them than ever. Consider the case of my friend, Christopher, whose teenaged daughter is taking a “gap year” working on a farm in South America. When Christopher began making plans to visit, his daughter protested: the carbon footprint of his flight from Germany, she argued, was too high to justify the trip. For Christopher, though, the environmental cost was worth it – not only for the sake of keeping family connected, but also for the value of the journey itself. Travel, after all, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness,” as Mark Twain wrote in his 1869 book Innocents Abroad. “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things,” Twain adds, “cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one’s lifetime.”

Twain, of course, was writing in the early days of the industrial era, long before it was apparent that the fossil fuels powering our globetrotting were causing irreparable harm to the planet. Today, as the world strives to achieve net zero, a case can be made that Christopher, and the rest of us, should remain in our little corners more often. Yet the virtues of travel Twain celebrates are still very much present, and in some ways more important than ever. Tackling a problem of global scope like climate change requires us to act as one global community – by transcending economic, political, and geographic barriers. In our quest to live more sustainably, where should we draw the line? What should we prioritize?

The sustainability dilemma

In thinking about Christopher’s predicament, I came to realize that his story offers lessons for the world of business. On the one hand, companies today are under intense pressure to operate more sustainably – by reducing their emissions and pursuing ambitious goals related to environment, society, and corporate governance (ESG). Sustainability, once a buzzword that had little to do with a firm’s bottom line, is now a vital component of brand reputation, a driver of innovation, and a key determinant of business success.

“In our quest to live more sustainably, where should we draw the line? What should we prioritize?”

At the same time, sustainability isn’t everything. Cutting carbon and embracing ESG also comes with costs. No matter how green a company’s ambitions, it still must make prudent decisions that allow it to remain competitive and fulfill its primary role: creating jobs and delivering needed goods and services. The trick lies in finding the right balance. By ignoring sustainability completely, you risk damaging your reputation and losing out on new business opportunities. By pursuing it at all costs, you risk losing sight of your original purpose.

The importance of enterprise IT visibility

How can you best achieve this balance? At Software AG, we believe one key lies in embracing sustainability as a holistic endeavor between your IT and business. Only by gaining a cohesive view of how the IT portfolio relates to business strategy can you adequately weigh your tradeoffs – with the transparency and confidence to make the best move for your enterprise.

“By ignoring sustainability completely, you risk damaging your reputation and losing out on new business opportunities. By pursuing it at all costs, you risk losing sight of your original purpose.”

For many companies, though, this isn’t easy. Too often, firms lack the tools to provide the IT visibility that’s central to developing a sustainable IT framework. In this environment, IT managers struggle to find the data needed to make informed decisions. They’re prone to adopting quick-fix solutions that treat sustainability as a one-time exercise that rarely leads to lasting changes. They may also launch sustainability initiatives that fail to consider the impact on business – and ultimately do more harm than good.

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The EAM/SPM advantage

It is here where enterprise architecture and strategic portfolio management – EAM/SPM – are best positioned to help. An EAM/SPM solution gives your company access to the data, analysis, planning, and management tools needed to assess your IT’s current state, vet it against sustainability goals, examine the planned changes to the business and operating models, and identify necessary IT changes. It offers the transparency to track your IT’s carbon footprint – by using the energy consumption of your servers as a KPI for assessing applications and technologies and providing visibility into where those servers are running to understand the carbon emitted by your power providers. It helps you rationalize your IT to be more efficient, respond to regulators faster with needed numbers and answers, and bridge the gap between high-level sustainability commitments and a practical framework for their execution.

Best of all, when it comes to navigating tradeoffs, an EAM/SPM approach provides invaluable guidance: it helps your calculate the effort required, in cost and time, of a given initiative or policy. It then enables you to compare that to the expected business value of compliance – in terms of revenue, profit, and your reputation. In your quest to balance sustainability and business goals, it will help you answer the most important question of them all: “What can my company withstand?”

Aligning your IT and business

As an IT leader, do you find yourself grappling with tradeoffs? Is your enterprise caught between delivering on sustainability goals and fulfilling its primary mission as a business?

If so, it might be time for your IT to step up and help guide your company’s sustainability strategy with an EAM/SPM tool like Software AG’s Alfabet. With the richest EA repository covering business, technology, finance, and risk, Alfabet provides a wealth of insights into the makeup of your company’s IT portfolio and the change needed to drive sustainable innovation. By aligning sustainability goals throughout the enterprise, it brings IT and business together, out of Twain’s proverbial little corners. This greatly increases the likelihood your sustainability projects will result in success.

Are you ready to tackle sustainability and its tradeoffs with confidence? If so, we invite you to explore how Alfabet can help.

This blog post has been updated. It was originally published on September 27, 2022.