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How automation and AI enable companies to meet sustainability objectives

How automation and AI enable companies to meet sustainability objectives

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Margareta Mucibabici, Director – Public Affairs and Social Impact, UiPath, discusses how automation and AI can help support sustainability goals and ensure the journey to a more sustainable future is smooth and efficient.

During the last decade, sustainability has risen to the very top of the corporate agenda, driving change in how businesses operate in areas ranging from net-zero targets to initiatives to reduce waste and implement green procurement practices. According to McKinsey, sustainability is today one of the five top priorities for CEOs for the years to come.

Furthermore, companies are responding to the employee, consumer and investor sentiments by being more responsible and transparent in how they operate. To do so, organisations are starting to align profit with purpose goals while increasing investments in improving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

As businesses digitally transform all parts of their organisation, they should also look at the role of technology in helping them meet their sustainability objectives and improve ESG performance. But where should they start? Automation and AI aren’t the only solutions for accelerating Digital Transformation and boosting operational efficiencies. They can also be used for good, and — more specifically — to enable sustainability and social impact as part of the company’s ESG strategy. Here’s how.

1. Automation helps organisations manage ESG data and obtain insights

At the core of every ESG strategy lies data that needs to be identified, collected, processed, reported and monitored. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, more than half of senior executives thought that data availability and quality were their biggest challenges with respect to ESG reporting.

RPA can be easily deployed to:

  • Streamline auditing procedures
  • Collect data from various applications and systems
  • Support data management
  • Track and report on progress against specific environmental targets, such as carbon emissions

For example, energy providers could use RPA to automate the process of reading and extracting usage data. Likewise, organisations can leverage automation to extract data from utility bills to help with reporting, monitor energy usage and measure their carbon footprint. 

2. Automation speeds up green initiatives

According to a recent survey from IDC (AI and Automation Survey, December 2021), one in five European organisations using automation technologies are targeting them to address sustainability challenges.

One example is Helse Vest, a health authority based in Norway. It leveraged automation to lower the number of letters mailed to patients with a confirmed appointment. Instead, software robots intercepted each letter, preventing them from being printed and mailed. Helse Vest was able to minimise its environmental footprint by using less paper with an expected saving of more than £400,000 in postage alone.

Furthermore, every organisation has a duty to reduce waste and minimise environmental impacts. RPA can help meet such objectives by improving processes through innovation and enhanced efficiencies. To enable this potential, organisations should leverage automation to:

  • Optimise computing power
  • Digitise purchase orders and invoice processes
  • Save paper by restricting excessive printing
  • Streamline supply chain operations

Companies are also likely to start their automation journeys with process mining. With process mining, the software obtains available data about what is occurring in a process (and when) and then transforms the process data into visual workflows. From there, companies can accurately view where there are bottlenecks that can be streamlined and where waste can be eliminated.

3. Automation enables social impact

Organisations should not overlook the ways in which automation can help drive the social impact component of ESG. According to the IDC Future of Work Global Survey (2022), 37% of employees are shifting to higher-value tasks thanks to automation, while almost 30% of employees are reskilling for career development.

Companies should accelerate these outcomes by continuing to prioritise automation training and enable their workforce to utilise the technology’s full value. In doing that, employers should use automation as an opportunity to support better work-life integration, which is a key element of employees’ engagement and well-being.

At the same time, companies should leverage automation to get more insights and address metrics related to employee engagement and retention rates, inclusion and diversity, training course usage and skill levels.

Nevertheless, to maximise their impact, organisations should think strategically about embedding automation in their sustainability agendas and plan well in advance. For example, a structured and end-to-end approach to aligning automation with such goals should include the following steps:

  • Identify the organisations’ sustainability goals that need prioritisation
  • Map processes that can be automated through technologies like AI and RPA
  • Improve and redesign processes to minimise environmental impacts
  • Automate data collection, analysis and overall ESG reporting processes

Ultimately, sustainability is only going to become more critical for businesses. Automation and AI can help support these goals and ensure the journey to a more sustainable future is smooth and efficient.

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