Green Consumption: Big data holds the key to sustainability

, Green Consumption: Big data holds the key to sustainability

Chris Harris, Head of Project Delivery, Softwire, discusses the need for sustainability and how big data can help

Companies are becoming increasingly driven by sustainability. Two of the major drivers behind this are the consumer interest in ethical and eco-friendly practices, and global regulatory demands.

In 2016, the UN introduced its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While these goals were released to governments to enforce, a 2018 report by PwC highlighted that 72 per cent of the 729 companies analysed mention the SDGs in their annual corporate or sustainability reports. That’s 10 per cent more than in 2017, and experts suggest that 2019 will be the year that the SDGs start to shape business strategy.

There’s also the RE100 initiative, with a growing number of companies committed to moving to 100 per cent renewable energy, and The Paris Agreement, signed by the vast majority of governments worldwide all committed to ambitious efforts to combat climate change.

The pressure is on, and change is already in motion, but the challenge that is being discussed around all of these initiatives is a lack of reporting — meaningful key performance indicators — to pinpoint exactly how businesses are tracking in their endeavours.

Businesses and governments need the right data to accurately assess risk and impacts so they can then focus their resources effectively.

Big Data holds the key

To manage environmental impacts, they need to be measured, this means everything from the steps of the supply chain, to employee travel, customers use of products, waste management, investments, and all the other activities that go on through an organisation, both inside the walls of the office and outside.

When you have an organisation with a supply chain that stretches around the world, and a few hundred or more stakeholders involved, this data becomes complex and trying to get a meaningful figure on your environmental impact comes rife with data challenges and issues around consistency across the various data sources.

The challenges that businesses need to overcome are in identifying what needs to be collected, managing the sheer volume of that data, and figuring out how to compare data that comes from various departments and external sources which may come in a variety of structures. With so much to process, businesses should look for external help to manage their data effectively, this unbiased view is vital to culling through any hoards of data and helps organisations avoid becoming overwhelmed by irrelevant figures that fail to help them achieve their goals. Managing data is no easy task, so as soon as the data has been streamlined, businesses should be looking to implement a tailored data management solution that enables organisations to leverage their data to improve processes and educate customers about their initiatives.

Improving processes

Going green not only attracts sustainably conscious consumers, but it helps to reduce business costs. Reducing energy in the office will reduce energy bills. Implementing initiatives to reuse materials from old products, saves on having to purchase all new materials, and the list goes on.

Data can help to uncover what the current energy consumption looks like and how it can be improved. What the lifecycle of products look like and how it can be improved, and so on.

Technology allows for a greater gathering of data on these factors – measuring consumption, finding local sources, ways to re-sell, etc., and advancements in machine learning can help organisations to make smart choices.

These green initiatives need to be baked into the business logic. For example, businesses can avoid things having to be shipped from one country to another to get repaired by adding a flag in their algorithms which would ban that activity, and instead narrowing down its solutions based on more ethical practices.

Educating consumers

Once steps have been taken to improve processes, it’s time to educate consumers. Capturing data to support the businesses goals for sustainability is the most powerful way to educate.

Presenting results is far more impactful than a company just stating that they are green. Using their data, companies can showcase what they are doing, thus answering the questions their customers may have around where their products come from. They could also demonstrate how they’re changing their product development processes, or changing their suppliers to give jobs to people in need, or tracking how earnings are spent to positively impact worthwhile causes.

Another side to publicly announcing these results is that it is proven to keep companies committed to their goals. In a study conducted by Schneider Electric and Greenbiz Research surveying energy and sustainability professionals from large companies, they found that those who made public statements about their sustainability goals would use all available strategies and technologies to achieve these goals.

Furthermore, sharing these public sustainability commitments affects attitudes and actions, and leads to efficiency improvements and renewable energy being adopted en masse.

Conclusion

Research shows that consumers care about sustainability. There needs to be a drive around harnessing and using data effectively to educate consumers about how their products are made, the ways in which a brand is doing its part for the environment, and why certain decisions are made in favour of a more sustainable approach.

If organisations take part in the green revolution and demonstrate to consumers that they are an ethical company engaging in sustainable practices, it is not only going to boost consumer loyalty, but will inspire change in other organisations. This drive will lead to more innovation in this area, more technology, and more accessible solutions.

Businesses today have the choice, to lead sustainably from the front or get left at the back.