Powering change: Putting data at the heart of sustainability
Sustainability is becoming ever more important for all sectors, with a recent Gartner survey showing that sustainability was now a top 10 business priority for the first time ever. According to projections by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced by “nearly 50% by 2030 and the world must reach Net Zero by 2050”, in order to prevent irreversible climate change and potentially catastrophic consequences.
It’s down to all businesses to take responsibility for their impact on the planet, and this starts with devising a sustainability programme to help them track their efforts and plan for the future. Most successful sustainability programmes have one thing in common: they’re driven by data. Embracing data to assess sustainability goals and devise targets offers a clear pathway to success for organisations, in a space where missteps can lead to accusations of greenwashing.
Companies with mature sustainability programmes have the luxury of years of historical data with which to measure progress and plan future efforts. For younger businesses or those which more recently engaged with sustainability, the picture is a little more complex. Using data wisely can make that picture clearer. Data-sharing ecosystems in the cloud can help businesses make sense of third-party and internal emissions data – and plan effectively for the future.
Tackling the details
When creating a sustainability programme, companies shouldn’t overlook the details. The first step a business can take is to assess its current position and identify where it might be falling short. Assessments tend to take in both direct emissions such as burning fossil fuels for heating, as well as indirect emissions, stemming from appliances, lighting and air conditioning. Buildings are responsible for 59% of the electricity consumption in the UK, equal to 31 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, along with 85 million tonnes of CO2 indirect emissions, according to the Climate Change Committee. In the UK, the total energy consumption of non-domestic buildings is 293 Terawatt hours, with factories accounting for 34% and offices 10%.
Tackling and reporting such data is often seen as a complex task – and this is where modern cloud data platforms can play a key role. Using a cloud-based data-sharing ecosystem can help bring together key data in near-real time, aggregating internal, third-party, and market data and offering a single source of truth across the whole business. By enabling organisations to incorporate sustainability metrics into their workflows and accelerate their sustainability data strategy, companies can examine sustainability data whenever needed or receive reports at regular intervals.
With data marketplaces, businesses can leverage and collaborate on environmental data sets, and produce quantifiable results that can be shared within their organisation, with customers, or with third parties. Such environments provide data scientists with an opportunity to uncover hidden insights on how various technologies are impacting sustainability initiatives, and the trends or patterns in environmental and business data sets that merit exploration. Businesses such as NatWest are also seeing the value in using third-party data, with such access being “a real breakthrough to accelerate our climate and ESG strategy,” said Kaushik GD, head of ESG Cloud Solutions at NatWest.
Understanding GHG emissions
A key component of any sustainability effort is GHG emissions data. Managing this requires a clear understanding of an organisation’s current position, as well as being able to collect data on how it is performing.
Companies that aim to develop new sustainability programmes centered around their GHG emissions typically spend some months conducting a materiality assessment. A materiality assessment allows different company departments and sometimes external partners to identify the key sustainability issues and areas with the highest potential to improve performance. Central to this assessment is developing a GHG emissions inventory, which aims to collect data on the company’s total energy consumption, including everything from electricity to fuel for vehicles.
For example, technology companies may find that data centres account for a major part of their carbon footprint. Traditional on-premises storage is designed for peak capacity, which means that most of the time, it’s not being fully used but is still consuming power. To reduce emissions, companies could explore various approaches, such as changing to renewable energy, upgrading their infrastructure and cooling systems, or switching to a cloud solution.
Aside from GHG emissions, there are also areas such as water conservation and waste management that businesses can analyse. To identify potential sustainability improvements over the long and short term, companies can use reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to find sector-specific standards.
Whatever areas are identified, it’s key to continuously gather, measure and assess data – how have changes affected performance? Understanding GHG emissions and making baseline assessments are two important first steps on a long journey, and proactively engaging with internal and third-party data via data marketplaces can help companies formulate a winning sustainability strategy.
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