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Increased importance of social sustainability in business

Increased importance of social sustainability in business

A future of enterprise study, Issue #4.1

Understanding digitalization from a “triple bottom line” sustainability perspective

Sustainability remains high on decision-makers agenda, but this research indicate a shift in favor of social aspects such as employee safety, education and well-being. Digital tools such as AI, XR and haptic devices are set to augment human capabilitites, and further improve working conditions for employees.

Sustainability must be considered by enterprises to combat the ever-increasing climate and socio-economic challenges. Understanding digitalization and the role of ICT from a “triple bottom line” sustainability perspective (such as the three performance dimensions: social, environmental and economic) is thus very important.

From this research, it is clear that decision-maker and employee perceptions differ when it comes to sustainability. Decision-makers claim that a safer work environment for employees, related to social sustainability in business, is the number one sustainability driving force when it comes to asset monitoring. The same is also true for connected offerings, whereas for remote control, employee skills and competence development is the top sustainability benefit (see Figure 12).

This apparent focus on social sustainability amongst decision-makers could be linked to several different factors, such as regulations and the need to be compliant with work environment legislations.

On the other hand, when it comes to the employee point of view, the environmental aspects are rated higher for asset monitoring, with an environmentally positive brand and a reduction in waste being the two top factors. For remote control, employees rated reduced energy consumption as the top sustainability benefit. Employees only rate social sustainability highest when it comes to connected offerings, in the form of increased employee wellbeing, which could be linked to the benefits they perceive they get by using these connected offering solutions.

Digital tools such as AI-enhanced functions and XR will allow for faster response times in case of incidents, creating safer work environments, which can boost employee satisfaction.

It can be argued that the social aspect of sustainability will be driven by technological innovations. In fact, roughly 7 in 10 decision-makers expect their companies to use these employee-centric digital tools in the next 3–5 years.

Considering that IoT use cases are inherently remote, it would not have been unreasonable to expect to see higher levels of perceived environmental sustainability benefits, particularly when it comes to benefits associated with reduced travel and transport. However, the environmental aspects appear to be secondary to the social benefits (decreased commuting and traveling was the lowest ranked sustainability driver in five out of the six cases).

To conclude, the aim of this chapter was to discuss the potential enhanced social benefits attributed to digital transformations. These highlighted social sustainability benefits should not be seen as a sign that companies are neglecting the environmental benefits, only that they assign higher value to the social benefits.

To what extent this is also true for more human-centric use cases, is something to be covered in the upcoming, second deliverable of this study. Stay tuned!


Around 7 in 10 decision-makers expect their companies to enhance their IoT use cases with human-focused tools such as XR, haptic devices and AI-enhanced functions.

Figure 12: The highest and lowest rated sustainability benefits across the three IoT-centric use cases [self-reported]

The highest and lowest rated sustainability benefits across the three IoT-centric use cases [self-reported]

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