How the data renaissance is forging a greener future

In this guest post from Cindi Howson, chief data strategy officer at business intelligence software supplier ThoughtSpot, shares her insights on the difference data is making in the fight against climate change

For the last three decades, rather than bringing data-driven ideas to life, people have been collecting massive amounts of data but locking it away in the hands of experts, and labouring over the minutiae of excessively formatted dashboards with too little insights. Generative artificial intelligence (AI) shines a new light on this paradigm, putting businesses, people, and their ideas back at the centre of data, sparking the rebirth of data and analytics as we know it.

This is the “data renaissance” – where people, experiences, and ideas are at the centre of data-driven decisions – not an afterthought. Just like other historical and cultural renaissances, it’s spurred on by new technology, shared knowledge, and the quest for more human agency in making decisions.

In the data renaissance, AI and machine learning (ML) promises to complement human intelligence by offering on-demand access to more information than we’ve ever had access to before, as well as proving how important human decision-making and trust is.

One urgent business objective that stands to benefit from the Data Renaissance is the climate crisis. For the first time, global temperatures surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the last 12 months, breaching a critical climate threshold that will force us to adapt in the years to come.

When it comes to taking action, data is critical. By ushering in access to accurate, reliable, secure, and actionable insights, the data renaissance is empowering businesses in all industries to understand their impact and translate this into strategies that benefit both their customers and the planet. From energy providers to consumer goods companies, here are several real-life examples of data’s pivotal role in addressing the climate crisis.

OVO Energy pioneers a data-driven culture

Green energy provider OVO Energy is on a mission to decarbonise their customers’ homes. To do so, the business needed a data transformation. By shifting their data to Google Cloud and leveraging a data mesh strategy, the energy provider has connected its data streams and can now access real-time insights, as well as the source data needed in both analytical and reporting-style formats. Through implementing Monte Carlo, a data observability tool, OVO Energy’s teams can get ahead of any changes or issues before they impact the business, and crucially, its customers. By democratising data via search and natural language processing with ThoughtSpot, OVO Energy’s teams have the data they need at their fingertips to improve customers’ and employees’ experiences, all while making the world a greener place.

OVO Energy has harnessed its data-driven culture into new tools, including a system that helps to take smart metre data and provide detailed, automated analysis on usage. Another tool employed by OVO Energy uses automation to decide the next best action for customers – whether that’s installing a smart metre, setting up a new direct debit payment method, or installing solar panels. These tools enable the OVO Energy team to give personalised advice to customers, adding value to the experience and helping consumers save money and the planet. The company is now looking to uplevel data-driven decisions with a conversational AI tool, built to understand intent, resolve queries, and automate the customer journey from end to end.

Zero Carbon Services optimises with analytics

Zero Carbon Services is the UK hospitality industry’s leading net-zero advisory, helping operators decarbonise and make more sustainable business decisions. Naturally, data-led insights are at the heart of its execution, given that renowned brands like Nando’s, Costa Coffee, and Wagamama rely on Zero Carbon’s real-time data to reduce emissions. To enhance its offering, Zero Carbon embraced embedded data, enabled by ThoughtSpot, to deliver actionable insights available at users fingertips, thereby improving decision making.

Zero Carbon’s ‘Save While You Sleep’ 10-minute shutdown programme is a great example that combines analytics from members’ energy smart metres to achieve substantial cost reductions, recover lost profits and cut carbon overnight. The programme, which is a two-stage ‘10-minute’ shutdown process for operators to implement across their outlets to prompt and sustain behavioural change, utilises AI carbon analytics to achieve energy savings worth up to £12,000 and avoided five tonnes of CO2, per outlet, being emitted: the same as 30,000 car miles.

Armed with live analytics on their cloud data, the business has access to granular, real-time insights that helped restaurants like Cote Brasserie reduce carbon emissions and build more comprehensive scope reporting and measurement to help control energy consumption and keep costs down.

Finding that the platform’s usability democratised access to data, Zero Carbon has also adopted ThoughtSpot’s analytics solutions at the board level, with finance teams and heads of sustainability using these insights to drive strategic initiatives and address wider industry challenges.

Unilever uses data for sustainable sourcing

Globally, the world deforests around ten million hectares of forest every year.  That’s an area the size of Portugal.

In actioning its mission to make sustainable living commonplace, consumer goods company Unilever, wanted to avoid sourcing materials from locations that are at risk of or suffering from deforestation. By partnering with a cloud services provider and using satellite data, Unilever monitors the impact of different ingredients sold from various locations. Combining this with AI, the business can access rich geospatial data that helps drive sourcing decisions, flagging both areas that are already affected by deforestation, and those that are at risk of future impact.

Modern Milkman inspires action with insights

A business that reinvented the milk round with a view to reducing food waste, lowering food miles, and preventing plastic pollution, Modern Milkman uses intelligent data and analytics to map out routes, assess demand, and reduce the use of plastics.

By using self-service analytics, the business increased speed, accuracy, and trust in the insights that frontline workers glean from customer data. With ThoughtSpot’s search and AI-powered experience platform bringing a democratised approach to data access and management for its users, Modern Milkman can reduce waste in the supply chain, make the customer experience as efficient as possible, forecast operational gaps, and quantify environmental impact. By using customer insights to identify how much plastic creation consumers have prevented through its service, Modern Milkman is inspiring continual positive action for the planet.

A greener future

AI has changed data and analytics forever. While these customers show how data can help reduce carbon emissions, generative AI risks increasing our carbon footprint, unnecessarily. The environmental cost to train large language models must be factored into right-sizing genAI models.  As the data renaissance puts business and people at the centre of data, organisations need to capitalise on the genAI opportunity and maximise its potential. This means ensuring all people – not just experts – can access data, while also focusing on upskilling and people change management, so that your business can channel its data-backed, human ingenuity into solving the world’s most pressing challenge – creating a greener future.

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