Sustainability Data

What is Sustainability Data?

Big data has seen much use in a variety of organizations because it has proven to be useful in the measurement and assessment of business performance. In the case of sustainable development, this data includes how much energy or water is used, how much waste is produced, and how much time and money are spent and saved on sustainability efforts.

Collecting sustainability data helps organizations provide reports to investors and show the progress of projects to stakeholders. It also helps in understanding vulnerabilities in certain situations, predicting human behaviors during crises and natural calamities, and avoiding geopolitical conflict.

What is Sustainability Performance Data?

Sustainability performance data is a way for organizations to show that their business practices don’t negatively impact the environment and its natural resources. Companies determine metrics based on different parts of a business and provide reports aimed at different audiences, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, analysts, policymakers, investors, and even citizens and consumers.

Sustainability performance data in these reports may be general or country-specific, and often contain data about direct operations that may extend to the entire value chain, including data on product or service utility and consumption by consumers.

In presenting sustainability performance data, a company’s knowledge of the business, the markets where they operate, and the nature of their impact on these markets are considered.

Why is Data Important in Sustainability?

As with any business initiative, sustainability efforts should be measured in terms of relevant data and metrics. Sustainability data is important for investors because it can help inform the stages of the investment process, especially when it comes to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.

Known as sustainable investing, the method has been practiced since 2017, with assets managed through the approach increasing by 37% in the same year. Together with financial data, investors used ESG data to evaluate both the business performance and sustainability of investments.

In general, data helps sustainability initiatives by achieving the following:

  • Solving problems and providing supporting arguments
    Identifying the root cause of an issue is the first step in addressing any problem. Having the right data helps organizations gain a deeper understanding of the nature of their waste and effectively visualize the relationships between what occurs in different locations and parts of a business. Leveraging data also allows you to present solid arguments that support necessary systems changes.
  • Getting the results you want through data-driven decisions
    Having an effective strategy is key to successful projects and initiatives. In such cases where strategies are designed to address a specific problem, data collection will help determine whether or not your strategy is working and if some changes need to be made. Decisions informed by relevant data ensure that no resources are wasted and that actions taken have predictable results.
  • Helping strategize through proper tracking and metrics
    Data helps increase efficiency in business by setting goals based on established baselines and benchmarks. Setting a baseline allows you to measure how much impact an initiative has on certain aspects of a business and whether or not it’s the desired impact. It also helps measure performance metrics for the whole organization and its smaller business units, effectively helping prioritize initiatives and identifying proper resource allocations.

How Do You Collect Sustainability Data?

Sustainability data can be categorized into two main types: quantitative data and qualitative data.

  • Quantitative data
    This refers to data that includes numbers, figures, or computations. It primarily focuses on money spent and units used for each initiative. Collected in the form of bills and calculations of usage, it is more straightforward than qualitative data.
  • Qualitative data
    This refers to data that includes employee feedback, complaints, and interests. It focuses on input from employees and estimates of time spent on the completion of specific initiatives and other related tasks or projects. It is collected through customer suggestions, surveys, focus group discussions, and similar activities centered around feedback.

Sustainability Data Management

Sustainability data management should be a multi-faceted approach that focuses on opportunity capturing, compliance reporting, stakeholder communications, and reputation management.

The main challenge in the management of this data is that most of it is siloed in different platforms and systems that offer variances in accuracy, usability, and accessibility. Data in disparate systems can be very challenging to work with, to the point of being almost unusable. 

As such, many organizations have turned to technology adoption to address data-related issues. Enterprise software platforms provide business-wide benefits, which include the following:

  • Operational efficiency
    Having real-time visibility of energy costs and usage across the organization helps set benchmarks for energy efficiency programs. Enterprise software solutions feature real-time data management and analytics tools that help identify problem areas and opportunities for operational improvement.
  • Time and cost savings
    Modern software solutions provide the speed required and help simplify data management through visualization tools and electronic data transfers with other internal systems. This helps an organization save time and money on physical or manual data collection that can then be focused on more important matters like strategic sustainability management.
  • Verified ROI of sustainability initiatives
    Using enterprise software provides organizations financial-grade data on sustainability metrics. This helps them assess the impact and ROI of environmental initiatives.

An Example of Sustainability Data in Action

The Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI) is Amazon’s way of supporting researchers and innovators in the field of sustainability and environmental protection.

Through minimizing the time and cost required in the acquisition and analysis of large sustainability datasets, ASDI has helped researchers better understand and manage the oceans, create sustainable agricultural practices, address environmental challenges using cloud-based platforms, engage the youth, and more.

Additionally, ASDI provides the necessary tools, expertise, and data needed to move sustainability forward. Datasets are publicly available and are collected and hosted with the help of scientific organizations, including NASA, NOAA, the government of Queensland, and the UK Met Office.

How Sustainability Data is Connected to Digital Transformation

Sustainability data has transformed through the years from being a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.” Sustainability initiatives can be one of the greatest enablers of digital transformation—serving as a catalyst for several organizations because the integration of digital technologies like AI, machine learning, predictive analytics, the internet of things (IoT), and digital adoption platforms help achieve sustainability goals.

Today, sustainability initiatives are not only done to meet compliance standards but as a means to open up new business opportunities.

Updated: December 27, 2022

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