Powering sustainability objectives with data

In this guest post, Julie Kae, executive director and vice president of sustainability and diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) at business applications firm Qlik.org, sets out why data has such an important role to play in helping enterprises achieve their sustainability goals

Environmental non-profits around the world have been banging the sustainability drum for years. Names like Greenpeace, WWF and Rainforest Alliance are now household names thanks to their efforts. As a global society, we’ve relied on these organisations to lead and drive the sustainability movement.

But that is changing. In recent years, sustainability has become an important part of the business world to the point that 80 percent of N100 companies worldwide now report on sustainability . Patrick Flynn, global head of sustainability at Salesforce, believes businesses can drive impact for change by “increasing investment in sustainability research, development, and infrastructure,” and where they can support “ecopreneurs — purpose-driven entrepreneurs who are driving and scaling meaningful climate action.”

That said, Loannis Loannou, a professor of sustainable investment at London Business School, and a visiting professor at Miami Herbert University, reminded us that this increased focus on impact “creates pressure on companies to disclose more about what they’re doing”.

And there lies one of the most consistent issues for businesses. Many don’t have a good enough grasp of their data to efficiently track and therefore accurately report on their sustainability efforts. In fact, a lot of sustainability teams’ data capabilities often don’t extend beyond Microsoft Excel, which in today’s data-driven society, is not enough.

How can businesses change how they collect, use and work with data to help put their sustainability frameworks into action?

Ditch Excel in the name of sustainability

One of the biggest changes must of course be reducing reliance on Excel. The speed at which business moves today requires real-time insight into what is happening in the company, in the business moment. Businesses need to modernise their data approach to achieve a state of continuous intelligence from real-time, up-to-date information designed to trigger immediate action. This active intelligence model gives executives and their organisations in-the-moment awareness about every aspect of their business.

Not only does this mean more accurate data to include in quarterly or yearly sustainability and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting, but data that can be accessed to provide insights when it is needed by anyone who is interested in it or who’s role could be enhanced by it.

And this is where data literacy – the ability to read, work with, analyse and communicate with data – is so important. There have already been accusations of greenwashing and businesses using ESG metrics to tick the sustainability box rather than make a genuine difference.

By upskilling or bringing in data literacy skills, businesses can empower their sustainability teams and others across the business to properly work with and understand the data and deliver it back to the business and external parties in a transparent, comprehensible way.

Furthering environmental impact insight with SodaStream

It’s an approach that has helped household brand SodaStream further its environmentally conscious impact by aligning its operational and business goals with sustainable solutions and products.

By working with Qlik to introduce more advanced analytic capabilities, the company has been able to monitor and track data in real-time, providing everyone at SodaStream with access to a single, up-to-date, and accurate version of the truth regarding performance and inventory levels, providing clarity from the manufacturing floor to the boardroom. It has also empowered teams with knowledge of consumer habits to drastically reduce the distance between products and consumers and better educate the public when it comes to single-use plastics waste.

“Say we have 50 million contacts, but perhaps I only want to communicate with those that have purchased our flavored products in the past two weeks to remind them these are recyclable. Here, we are using Qlik to dynamically create audiences which feed further intelligence into our marketing automation platform,” said Yoed Negri, global head of digital transformation at SodaStream International. “This is something that we could only learn from using our own data, and it’s amazing. One of the many ways we use Qlik is for real-time audience management purposes. This is where we use this data to understand our consumers’ habits and get a better look at how we can help them to reduce their environmental footprint”.

Technological and cultural change

While sustainability reporting may still be in its infancy – with a lack of standardised frameworks, metrics and requirements that is set to change in the near future if the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed rules changes are approved – there is growing expectation from consumers, investors and governments for businesses to be more transparent about their sustainability impact.

Data sits at the heart of setting frameworks, measuring progress and delivering results. But only if it is freed, accessed, understood and actioned upon. This is not just about technology change but creating a cultural shift that puts the planet we call home at the forefront of business impact.

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