In the media

What is the ‘twin transition’ – and why is it key to sustainable growth?

Mikel Santos

By Mikel Santos, Kim McCann, Ruud Brink

World Economic Forum

22 November 2022

This article was first published in World Economic Forum

A twin transition approach recognizes that there is a huge and largely untapped opportunity for technology and data to drive sustainability goals. Rather than treating digital and sustainability in isolation, a twin transition strategy combines these critical functions to unlock huge benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity. The twin transition can make a positive impact by ‘greening’ technology, data assets and infrastructures while accelerating sustainability across the organization.

Many people often think of digital as being inherently sustainable – a recent example to support this is the replacement of daily commutes with remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although digitization has brought significant benefits, it continues to carry a significant carbon cost. By optimizing digital assets and infrastructures to reduce environmental impact, organizations can harness the power of digital to make a positive impact on the environment.

While organizations understand the urgency of the twin transition, many struggle to put it into practice. Contributing factors include the lack of a consistent approach, inertia caused by perceived and real complexities, and conflicting strategic priorities. A further factor is accountability. Despite the opportunity for collaboration, digital teams and sustainability teams are not natural playmates. With these considerations in mind, how can organizations overcome these barriers and embark on a transformational twin transition journey?

The twin transition – getting started

To encourage the adoption of sustainable digitization, Royal Schiphol Group and PA Consulting have partnered to co-produce the Twin Transition Playbook. The playbook provides business leaders with the guidance and tools needed to build a successful twin transition strategy. Broken down into three major phases and seven bitesize steps, the playbook is a living document that will be iteratively improved based on adopters’ feedback.

Here, we set out each key phase and provide an overview of the associated steps to prepare business leaders for their twin transition journey.

Phase 1 – Set your ambition

Before undertaking any project or strategic initiative, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve. Are your goals realistic? Do they make sense in the context of your wider organizational strategy?

To ensure leaders have a firm understanding of their ambitions, the first two steps of the playbook focus on identifying ‘hotspots’ – high impact areas – and the scope for change. In this phase, leaders set principles to guide prioritization and ultimately the placement of items on their dedicated twin transition roadmap. This physical ‘canvas’ provides a highly visual plan that evolves throughout the twin transition journey.

Phase 2 – Select opportunities

Steps three to five of the playbook focus on building the content of your roadmap, filling it with priority items (opportunities) to ensure you achieve your twin transition goals. Assess the sustainability impact of your current digital asset portfolio, including capital and operational expenditure. Make sure this information is reflected in your roadmap, as it could alter your priorities. Consider external use cases and stimulate internal ideas to uncover additional roadmap items that may have been missed during initial scoping exercises.

Crucially, identify key stakeholders both within and outside of your organization who can support the acceleration of your twin transition goals. This could include suppliers or external partners. Talk to key players and find out how you can support one another. Use your principles and priorities to select the most impactful and achievable

Phase 3 – Prepare execution

The third and final phase of the playbook brings together key outputs from phases one and two, culminating in a relevant and robust twin transition roadmap. In step six, validate your roadmap against your priorities. Step seven guides the preparation needed to ensure effective implementation. This includes assigning ownership for each task to provide clarity of responsibility.

Gaining buy-in from the board is key – this can be done by presenting your completed roadmap and clearly explaining the benefits it will achieve. Finally, use your high-level implementation plan to begin addressing your priority items.

Digital and sustainable strategies can, and should, be developed in tandem. By following a defined twin transition roadmap, organizations can reduce their environmental impact, enhance their digital offering, and meet their moral obligation to future generations by contributing to a more sustainable world.

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