The Green Digital Consultancy without a Green Website: Our Sustainability Journey

Navigating the complex world of impact transformation can be daunting, with pressures from stakeholders, the risk of greenwashing, and feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt. However, the journey is crucial and should be embraced. We’d like to let you peek behind the curtain to see the reality of our sustainability journey.

MING Labs
MING Labs

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At MING, the conversation around impact, ethics, and technology had been ongoing, but the events of 2020 — including the pandemic and growing climate concerns — propelled sustainability to the forefront of our business. This shift ignited a transformation agenda, leading us to develop services for clients to embrace sustainability in their digital touchpoints and products.

Along with providing sustainability services for our customers, we began transforming our own practices in 2021. After starting with easily achievable goals — and struggling with more high-profile ones — we hired an Impact Manager in 2022 to guide and champion our efforts. We’re still learning but we hope sharing our journey encourages others to take action, focusing on authenticity and transparency rather than perfection from the start.

Embracing Green Digital While Our Own Website Isn’t

As a professional services firm, our reputation is built on our expertise and the example we set for clients. We advocate for eco-friendly digital solutions (Green Digital) and collaborate with partners to implement sustainable, energy-efficient digital tools. However, our own website hasn’t yet embraced Green Digital, which creates a dilemma. How can we genuinely promote Green Digital without fully integrating it into our own platforms?

The challenge, like many firms face, is aligning priorities. We’ve been working on transforming our website into a green touchpoint for 8 months, but shifting focuses keep delaying progress. When every stakeholder is a digital product expert, and there’s no client-agency relationship to apply pressure, timelines suffer. None of that is an excuse for not having it yet, which is why in client conversations, we are transparent about that fact. Report card: Must do better.

Navigating Impact Transformation Amidst Business Demands

As a professional services agency, our core work revolves around selling our team’s time, which means utilization rate (the percentage of time spent on billable work) is crucial. Balancing sustainability initiatives with our core business needs presents tough decisions about prioritizing green efforts and keeping stakeholders content. Whenever we bring on someone who won’t be billable, like rebuilding our website or getting certified, it costs us in the core business.

We face challenging decisions as we strive to balance green and authentic priorities with meeting payroll and satisfying shareholders. With clients often demanding speedy results, focusing on less urgent internal work becomes difficult. However, we’re committed to making it work, ensuring everyone can contribute to our sustainability goals, even if it means reallocating time from billable tasks.

Another particular challenge is discerning which projects to accept, as most clients and requests occupy a grey area. For instance, we wouldn’t take on projects supporting oil extraction, but we’d happily work with environmentally conscious companies like Climeworks (a former client) or Patagonia. The tricky part lies in between these extremes. When working with a chemicals company, for example, we need to examine the nuances of the project. Supporting a shift toward recycling and increasing the use of recycled plastics is a positive endeavour, while helping them sell to companies using virgin plastics may not be. Ultimately, it’s all in the details and our commitment to making a difference.

The Carbon Impact: Behind the Scenes of Our Business

In our industry, most emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions falling under Scope 3 — occuring in our value chain, resulting from purchased goods and services, transportation, or waste disposal. Companies like ours may not have heavy production facilities, but that doesn’t mean our digital world is carbon-lightweight.

To get a first idea of our footprint, we used an online CO2 Calculator for SMEs. The results confirmed that our focus of our CO2 reductions strategy should be on Scope 3 emissions: For our German operations, a staggering 92% of our CO2e resulted from business travel (132 tonnes) and purchasing goods and services (48.8 tonnes). The other 8% relate to office spaces and commuting. As we continued to move our team into co-working locations with better CO2 performance throughout the last year, this trend towards Scope 3 will most likely continue.

Our operations model is relatively low-carbon. Closing physical offices and promoting hybrid work models helped us to lighten our footprint. However, working from home and using coworking spaces still produces carbon emissions. While we value the personal connections made through face-to-face meetings, staying connected in our global business set-up comes with a high carbon footprint. Addressing our extensive travel emissions is inevitable but also requires a mindshift. It means establishing smart guidelines for when flying is acceptable and when alternatives like virtual meetings or other travel methods should be considered.

For us, starting our journey with a simple expense-based calculation tool was helpful for understanding our current situation, highlighting the need for action, and the limitations of offsetting travel. However, expenses only tell part of the story. Hidden emissions from our supply & value chain, commuting or our team’s energy consumption in home offices are not properly reflected by this calculation method. Hence, our next goal is finding a software solution that reflects our global setup and helps us take responsibility for all our hidden emissions as well.

Small but Global: Aligning disparate teams

Though we’re not a large company, our global presence spans 5 locations in 3 countries, exposing us to diverse cultures and making the impact conversation both intriguing and challenging. Aligning on emotionally charged topics like environmentalism or social responsibility can be difficult in this set-up. So, to better understand our team’s perspectives on sustainability we initiated a global impact conversation round and found that awareness is a shared concern. Our team is also very critical about greenwashing and worries about addressing only the symptoms of environmental issues rather than driving true transformation.

The conversations led to a lengthy to-do list, forming the foundation for both our materiality analysis and global environmental policy.

Interestingly, we discovered that emotional connections to the topic, and consequently the sense of urgency for transformation, vary across our teams in Singapore, Germany, and China. Therefore, establishing common ground is crucial. So we took all our insights and shaped a set of globally aligned belief statements that shall guide us through our transformation. These belief statements make a great addition to our purpose, vision, and mission and will form the reasoning for our impact and transformation actions. We are optimistic that they will help us feel connected and collaborative throughout the process.

Every Journey Starts With The First Step

While we’re far from reaching our sustainability ambitions, we’ve learnt that authenticity, transparency, clear priorities, and goals are crucial in achieving them. Some key learnings for us include:

Lesson 1: Establish Ownership and Allocate Resources

In any organisation, internal tasks and topics vital for growth often take a back seat. Without strict deadlines or direct profit, they’re easily sidelined when client projects arise.

To address this, we hired an Impact Manager to take ownership of our sustainability initiatives. Their role involves aligning the team, creating a sense of urgency, managing projects and change, and ensuring accountability. Since their arrival, we’ve experienced significant improvements in the pace of progress and clarity of vision.

Lesson 2: Rethink Success and Foster Alignment Within the Organization

Traditionally, business success equates to profit — but it’s time for a change. Focusing solely on profit and efficiency has led to the depletion of natural resources and prioritising profit over the well-being of stakeholders. By adopting new KPIs that consider the health of our planet, employee well-being, and community, we can cultivate a more appreciative environment. This approach allows us to balance our focus on people and the planet while still achieving business success. After all, our team’s talent and time are too valuable to be invested in unsustainable ideas with negative consequences.

Lesson 3: Certifications Reflect the Journey, Not the Journey Itself

While surprising to many, the Internet has a substantial carbon footprint comparable to the aviation industry. As proponents of the digital economy, we take our responsibility to create a brighter, healthier, and happier future seriously. We understand the challenge of deciding where and how to begin, particularly when navigating the maze of certifications relevant to running a business.

While some certifications may seem too good to be true, others can genuinely motivate you to undertake the challenging work that change demands. Our values and beliefs guide our actions and the certifications we pursue. We may use holistic frameworks like the B-Corp movement, but ultimately, our actions will stem from our own meaningful internal source: our unique impact compass.

In Conclusion

Every organization, regardless of size, faces the same challenge today. Continuing business as usual is no longer viable. To survive and thrive, we must all transform our businesses in ways that prioritize social responsibility and care for the planet and the people. This is a daunting task, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

In our industry, recognizing and acting on our digital responsibility as designers and innovators can arguably lead to our best attempt to create a positive impact. We choose to see the opportunity in this challenge and are highly motivated to collaborate with our partners in creating the next generation of products, services, and ventures that support life on Earth and contribute to a kinder future for present and future generations.

But, we should not dismiss our own operations and internal activities in favor of developing impactful solutions for others. On this journey, where we aim to be a leader in thought and action, it’s crucial to lead with authenticity and transparency. While we initially pieced together unaligned initiatives, we’ve since charted a clear path forward. We don’t claim to be perfect or leading the way just yet, but we have the ambition, motivation, and drive to take action. And so can anyone, in any role within their organization.

Written by:

Julia Wunderlich, Impact Manager &

Will Marks, Growth Director at MING Labs

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MING Labs
MING Labs

We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com