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Social Innovation

3 reasons why sustainability will be a growth driver for 2023

By Lorena Dellagiovanna, Vice President and Executive Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer, Chief DEI Officer, Head of Global Environment Division, Hitachi, Ltd.

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023, held in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, comes at a pivotal moment for the planet. As the impact of the climate crisis intensifies, sustainability has become a necessary focus for most companies.

But acting sustainably should not be viewed as a business cost or a duty to be complied with, but as a value creator both for business and – more importantly – for the environment. Doing the right thing offers businesses an opportunity to grow at the same time as building a more resilient, sustainable and equitable future.

These ideas will form part of the discussion at the Chief Sustainability Leaders Lunch event at Davos, where I will be joining a panel of thought leaders to reflect on the potential to transform business by embracing new systems and practices that are in harmony with nature and the environment.

Here are three reasons why sustainability will be a key growth driver for forward-looking businesses in the year ahead.

Climate change is changing expectations

Attitudes and expectations regarding the need for sustainable, responsible and fair business practices are changing as awareness of the climate crisis increases.

In today’s business world, it is fast-becoming the norm that maximizing shareholder value requires not only competitive business performance, but also credibility, transparency and attention to a variety of environmental and social issues.

We understand the value of playing a leading role on decarbonization and have developed a two-fold approach to respecting planetary boundaries that permeates every facet of the business and beyond.

One pillar is aimed at decarbonizing our own operations and systems. This includes investing in energy-saving and renewable energy generation projects, and reducing CO2 emissions through efficiency gains in areas like value-chain management, product design and engagement with customers.

But that is only half of the challenge. We also aim to make our product portfolio greener and more efficient, spending 500 billion yen over three years on R&D technologies to help our customers reduce and avoid emissions.

Innovation and green tech are the future

It’s impossible to predict the future, but we can all work to develop ideas and innovations that help to address social challenges. For progressive companies, this presents an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to supporting people’s quality of life with data and technology that fosters a sustainable society.

Hitachi’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030 has been a catalyst for implementing energy saving and efficiency measures, including the adoption of renewable energy to help decarbonize core operations at many of our business sites1 and data centers.

Beyond renewables, research and development is underway of ‘green’ technologies that can help decarbonize society. These include investing in sustainable transport projects that reimagine the passenger journey; developing fossil fuel alternatives like clean forms of hydrogen.

Through our R&D teams, we are also exploring the potential of emerging energy transition technologies like direct air capture. While this research is still in its infancy, once developed it could help combat global warming by removing harmful CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

Embracing sustainable technologies, systems and practices can also give companies a competitive advantage that translates into more business. Aside from efficiency gains and the cost benefits that go with them, environmentally progressive firms often enjoy a reputational lift and find it easier to attract and retain talented staff.

But it’s important to understand that creating a long-term sustainability ecosystem requires a little help. Transforming operations across numerous sectors rests on the cooperation and collaboration of both employees and external partners.

People power is powerful

Empowering employees as sustainability ambassadors is an opportunity for companies to embrace diverse talent, boost collaboration and help to create innovation in data and technology. It’s a step toward realizing a sustainable society and supporting people's wellbeing.

For example, we have established a 'Voice of Youth' global employee network, to bring together collaboration across the breadth of Hitachi employees harnessing their passion, innovation and expertise to support and challenge our sustainability approach.

This is part of our group-wide drive to develop a diverse, inclusive work culture that enhances employee engagement and helps create an environment where everyone can contribute to resolving social issues. This is good for business and helps drive positive social change.

Climate change doesn’t recognize countries or regions, so it’s vital that we work together to resolve its greatest challenges. Employees, customers, suppliers, academics, policymakers, investors and more must all be involved in transforming what we do and how we do it, to embrace net-zero emissions.

The need to work together is echoed by the World Economic Forum’s Davos meeting theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”.

Companies that take positive action to transform their business, empower employees and embrace green technology can help make a difference. As part of the global community, we all have a part to play.

1 Forbes