Sustainability-as-a-Service: Advancing digital servitization for industrial sustainability

Abstract: The expectations and requirements of companies in today’s world are higher than ever. With the increased urgency of achieving long-term sustainability, companies are increasingly exploring new business models that combine increasing digital capabilities with reaching sustainability objectives. And they are doing so from an economic, environmental and social perspective. Digital servitization is an excellent alternative with which to explore and expand offerings portfolios and connect entire value chains. Furthermore, sustainability can be conceptualised as a main source of value. Therefore, this thesis proposes the advancement of the term “Sustainability-as-a-Service”. This thesis presents six studies, mostly based on data from case studies conducted in different industrial sectors and exploring the challenges faced in adopting digital servitization models. The challenges presented cover economic, technical, organisational, contextual and support-related factors, which were identified across the theoretical and empirical findings. From an economic perspective, they reflect concerns about shifting responsibilities when servitizing and a lack of understanding of the value of data. From a technical perspective, recurrent challenges included varying levels of digital maturity across value chains and technology adoption in companies whose products have long lifecycles. From an organisational perspective, the risk-aversion perceived in some industries seems to hinder openness towards data sharing. Regarding contextual factors, existing regulations and a lack of standardisation limit the interoperability of systems required for digital servitization. Lastly, there is an apparent lack of support (such as frameworks and methods) that successfully integrates sustainability at the core of the value proposition for digital servitization.   This research also generates a list of requirements for Sustainability-as-a-Service. These requirements are categorised in a proposed framework, which includes: (i) value chain, (ii) company, (iii) overarching elements, including external factors, technology enablers and organisational skills and (iv) considered stakeholders. These dimensions include the actions proposed for industrial transitions towards Sustainability-as-a-Service. Finally, the proposed framework is evaluated empirically to establish the validity of its theoretical and practical contributions. The outcomes of this research advance theory by identifying the challenges and requirements at the intersection of sustainability, servitization and digitalization. Furthermore, it can support industrial practitioners as they advance towards Sustainability-as-a-Service and move towards the vision of a sustainable industry in which value is decoupled from tangible assets.

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