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How data can help companies achieve their sustainability goals?

When the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, was launched by the United Nations  it made clear how every organisation – regardless of size, industry or location – had the power and responsibility to act. The SDGs cover a wide range of areas from reduced inequalities to resilient infrastructure and responsible production. With the target deadline just eight years away, this presents a daunting challenge for businesses starting their sustainability journey. 

An impactful way for companies to integrate more social, cultural, environmental and economic practices into their operations is to activate data more efficiently toward sustainability and compliance. Not only is data crucial for a company to genuinely understand their current status, but the right analysis can help organisations improve their impact and transform the way they do business to become more relevant to their customers in a meaningful and credible manner.

Gather data and discover where the best sustainability opportunities lie.

With so much data generated within a company, the first step when investing in sustainability is to review the types of data available across the organisation, and to identify what data could be relevant to track sustainability for the business. This will then help determine the systems required to gather and aggregate the right information.

A bottling plant, for example, will generate large amounts of data on the factory floor, including water and energy consumption as well as general machine performance. Further, there will also be a lot of additional information within the company that might not currently be extracted but could be very relevant to cross-correlate. It is therefore important to know where to look, or to seek out expert advice on how to evaluate your company’s data potential, before you can establish what that information is telling you.

When it comes to responding constructively to sustainability pressures and adapting the business to SDG goals, the true value of this raw data lies in being able to translate the findings into meaningful metrics. In turn, this can be combined with a materiality analysis and associated materiality matrix, which identifies and helps prioritise the economic, social and environmental issues that are most important to the business and its stakeholders. This ensures companies are better placed to find opportunities to innovate, track progress and future-proof their business. 

Document your impact for real transparent communication

Governments and financial institutions are introducing stricter sustainability requirements on businesses. Simultaneously stakeholders are becoming more demanding about the sustainability credentials of those they work with. This is increasing the need to transparently communicate sustainability performance and becomes another priority to consider.

For a company to demonstrate sincere commitment to prioritising clear, sustainable actions across every area of the organisation, it’s essential to set smart targets and put in place strong governance processes.

Drive innovation while trying to reach sustainability objectives

In a 2020 Devoteam study half of the companies that were surveyed revealed that their sustainability policy is a “key element of its strategy and success,” indicating the importance sustainability performance has to their future. And data is one of the digital tools that enables a company to identify sustainable changes to their business model that could help them mitigate, impact and evolve.  

This helps explain the thinking behind Swedish furniture giant IKEA’s decision in 2019 to trial subscription-based leasing options as part of its push towards developing a circular business model and reducing its environmental footprint by encouraging product reuse.

IKEA has now opened second life stores in selected countries, reselling old customers’ furniture. This is an alternative way to extend the products’ life and reduce the environmental impact of production. For many years IKEA furniture has been a well known brand that resells on local online marketplaces. The data IKEA gets from bringing its products into a second life can generate information regarding Scope 3 (GHG protocol) emissions, an important element to help the business get to net-zero emission.

Apple is another company that is using data to improve its product design to make it last longer and lower its environmental cost of production. This is also an example of how to reduce Scope 3 emissions in the Carbon footprint of the company. They have been recycling used mobile devices from customers for years. This allows Apply to share data proving that their devices last longer than those of their competitors. Their competitors do not have the same data on the life-cycle of their goods that would allow their customers to get a better set of data on the CO2 emission of the products that they buy. 

If companies do not succeed in having innovation and sustainability go hand in hand, they will lose competitiveness, and also resilience in the years to come.

Sustainability and Resilience

If companies are not able to have innovation and sustainability go hand in hand, they will lose competitiveness, and also resilience in the years to come.

During the pandemic we all understood the value of being a highly digitalized company and being able to keep the business running during several local and global lock-downs. The next challenge might not be a lock-down, but a tsunami of sustainability requirements and the need to document and certify your processes at a speed that is only possible to meet if you have your data collection in place and are able to move quickly on new demands from the market.

What’s more, with resilience being a key for long-term business success, and ample evidence showing how it is closely connected with sustainability, those who delay embracing sustainable practices could risk being left behind. As many businesses found during the Covid-19 pandemic, resilience is essential to be able to focus energy away from short-term needs to long-term development, and a more sustainable future.

Having the right tools and support in place is crucial for companies to understand their true global impact and put in place the right sustainable practices for their business. Find out how Devoteam can help turn your company data into sustainable insights.