By Lauren Scott
The effects of climate change are being felt everywhere, from extreme weather patterns and the looming potential for disrupted economies with crop failures, distribution route diversions and property damage. Forward-thinking companies are accelerating plans to adapt their operations with climate resiliency plans along with working to reduce their environmental impact. They are sharing their sustainability plans, too—most (96%) of the world’s top 250 companies report their sustainability data in some form to track and celebrate their initiatives.
Many of these reports feature well intentioned scenes of 100% renewable power and fully realized environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. While encouraging to see the efforts underway, these reports sometimes bypass the many incremental steps it can take to weave a solid sustainability ethos into an organization’s DNA. At worst, some companies claim environmental leadership when in fact they are supporting destructive carbon-intensive activity. With few industry standards in place or reporting templates available, many organizations find themselves wondering what metrics will be both practical for success and compliant with new proposed regulations.
Sustainability Starts With A Baseline Of Data
It is possible to turn these idealized versions of the future into action. Every step matters when stepping out of the starting gate toward ambitious net-zero goals that are more than 15 years out.
The commitment to sustainability starts with finding answers to the following:
● How are we tracking our resource usage?
● What are the toolsets we’re using to manage critical data?
● How will we show our progress in quantifiable terms?
● How will we innovate and build on successes to spur momentum?
● How can we share progress with our stakeholders?
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and this applies to an organization’s sustainability goals as well. And while energy management is only one part of sustainability, having a clear understanding of how energy is allocated throughout an organization is the first critical step. Having this foundational view of current conditions and historical trends, combined with continuous monitoring and machine learning technology, allows for optimal and efficient forecasting.
Those working on sustainability projects are finding that data quality issues can definitely impede innovation and progress. Atrius recently released a survey of sustainability professionals who reported that data quality issues have affected every stage of their journey. Organizations that identified as advanced (41%), in the middle (44%), and at the beginning (39%) all noted that they hit data-related barriers to successful implementation. Many still lack solutions to manage the large volume of data required to show progress, support resource allocation, and foster collaboration.
A 360-degree Approach Can Be A Powerful Differentiator
A 360-degree view is one that centralizes all relevant data for clear-eyed planning, executing, and reporting. This means looking deeply inward at operations on a cross-functional basis while also looking outward—understanding where one’s customers are on the sustainability journey, weighing supply chain costs with a carbon scale, and developing solutions that benefit all stakeholders.
Automated data collection and monitoring is the competitive edge. Whether a sustainability team is a one-person department or a group of dedicated professionals, they must move beyond spreadsheets and manual data gathering. These processes are error-prone and time intensive. Technology that compiles and tracks large amounts of data in real-time allows for easier trend visualization, progress sharing, and energy use analysis.
As carbon emission reporting requirements increase, factoring scopes 1, 2, and 3 can be unwieldy, especially when done manually. Measuring external sources and supply chain emissions is particularly time intensive. Technology with built-in certified libraries of these scope factors eases the process of calculating carbon emissions. Boosting technology investments will address problems in data quality as digital compilation replaces manual reporting processes.
Reaching Net-Zero: The Intersection Of Technology And Sustainability
Nearly 400 corporations from 34 countries have committed to net-zero carbon operations by 2040. As more companies gain a deeper understanding of what ESG is and the related reporting requirements, these documents will likely portray less vision and more practicality. Third-party certified standardizations and partnering with programs like the World Resources Institute’s Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the International Sustainability Standards Board will ensure quantifiable results that regulatory agencies and the public want to see.
Studies show that companies with defined ESG goals are not only doing what is right for the environment but also showing improved business outcomes—with higher profits, reduced costs, and increased productivity. Publicly committing to ambitious goals with detailed plans for reaching them helps companies stay on track, even through choppy economic waters, changes in leadership or political winds, and other business challenges loom. Investing in solutions that can consolidate all the data for long-term planning, short-term goals, strategic analysis, and industry-leading corporate vision is needed to keep projects moving.
A genuine commitment to the net-zero pledge must be preceded by the backend calculations of how to make it happen, including arranging for third-party certification and partnering with reputable technology vendors. Separating marketing hype from real progress and defining what sustainability means for day-to-day business is integral to building the firm foundation for long-term success.
Scott is Vice President of Marketing & Sustainability at Acuity Brands’ Intelligent Spaces Group. Scott specializes in translating climate initiatives into meaningful action to deliver on commitments to the building and renewables sectors.