How data can save the planet: Sustainability and the business plan

Alfaro Recoba

Why it matters

With real-time collection, automation and measurement of data using AI and sensor devices, corporations can operationalise their own data to make sustainability a core value of their organisation.

Takeaways

  • Data can help an organisation understand consumer and investor sentiment around what is important to it from an ESG perspective.
  • It builds brand loyalty and influences buying decisions, which then makes sustainability a commercially viable proposition.
  • Data has to be real-time and accurate, without out-of-date info and with continuous monitoring during the sustainability journey.

Data can save the planet, but how? There are efforts underway across the business world, in boardrooms and across supply chains to ensure the destructive impact of high carbon-emitting corporate activity is being reduced. 

At AdWeek APAC in Sydney recently, a panel of executives involved in the new ESG movement outlined how companies can make a start. The race to 2030 is underway and corporations know they have to get their organisations into shape in order to meet society demands for change and a greener world. The sustainability movement is now part of every business plan and that includes the advertising, digital and marketing sectors. 

The advent of AI and the proliferation of sensor devices will change data collection and new methods will emerge that enable corporations to operationalise their own data, enabling sustainability to become a core value in their organisation.

Where marketers and advertisers can start

Olivia Tyler, MD of Edge Environments, a global sustainability consultancy, predicts that ESG will become a staple of every company’s overall policymaking within the next decade. The challenge can be overwhelming but Tyler, who formerly worked for large corporations in Australia, said marketers and advertisers can play a part.

Tyler said there is an “endless raft of things to do”.

“There are gaps internally around roles and companies do need credibility around creating the narrative. The key is to focus on the most material impacts and what you can shift the dial on.”

She added:“Brand marketers and advertisers can bring such a refreshing dimension to what we might consider some of the staples of ESG data, like the quantum of greenhouse gas emissions, material recovery or recycling rates, as well as human rights risks identified in the supply chain or dollars invested in community initiatives.”

They can also gather attitudinal or behavioural insights from consumers and stakeholders about what they feel is important to them. 

Sustainability data needs to be accurate and streamlined

The global technology industry is leading the way in the corporate world, which is a natural evolution given its experience in managing large volumes of data. 

Data needs to be collected in a real-time manner, be 100% automated, and measured, while access to the right data is crucial, said Salesforce Regional VP of Business Value Services, David Vander. 

“Companies need to be on the same page in terms of data, definitions, actions and forecasts. There needs to be a single source of truth that informs and guides the entire company,” he said, adding that companies need to be able to make decisions about sustainable business practices based on the insights gathered from dashboards and be able to plan a future course of action using forecasting and “what if” analysis simulation modules. 

Salesforce has launched a Net Zero Cloud initiative, which enables companies to track progress to net zero and ensure data is auditable for investor and regulatory reports. The solution automates supplier emissions tracking, and provides carbon reduction recommendations and risk forecasting to achieve net zero targets. 

Vander said a key change has to be making data as real-time and accurate as possible, which means no more out-of-date information residing in spreadsheets and companies must continuously monitor where they are in the sustainability journey. 

“Companies need data to measure, track and take action on their carbon emissions. Often the data is static and mostly backward looking, and users can never be comfortable with the completeness or accuracy of data that comes from disparate sources and siloed systems.”

A tool for stakeholder engagement

Companies also need to communicate internally the success and requirements of an effective ESG strategy, and the marketing teams can often play a leadership role in the internal communications challenge. 

“Defining a strategy to effectively communicate a brand’s sustainability value proposition to its stakeholders is, in my eyes, the most effective thing marketing and advertising teams within organisations can achieve for the planet,” said Kathryn Sforcina, Global Head of Strategy at IV AI.

“Data can help these teams understand consumer and investor sentiment around what is important to them from an ESG perspective and can achieve the following: it builds brand loyalty and influences buying decisions, which then makes sustainability a commercially viable proposition.” 

She noted that by taking this approach, it’s easier to get internal stakeholders and decision makers on board to invest further in the ESG strategy, and ensure faster and greater progress towards ESG goals. 

Technology can lead, people must follow 

Of course, technology can only take you so far, Edge Environments’ Tyler said. There has to be a willingness for change within the organisation. 

“The growth in technology platforms to assist with sustainability measurement or reporting has been pretty phenomenal. These technologies can certainly assist in gathering the information and collating or visualising it to enable decisions and actions to be taken, way faster than in previous approaches.” 

She added: “A platform though, no matter how sophisticated it is, still only shows you what happened or is happening and it’s unlikely to make the decisions for you (at this stage anyway). This is where the organisation, which really is just a collection of people making decisions every day and the mindset of those people, is paramount.” 

For Salesforce’s Vander, sustainability is now part of his KPIs and he said companies need to act now because making the shift will be more expensive down the track. 

For data to truly help reduce carbon emissions, corporations need to make the shift to sustainability, enable their suppliers and partners to do the same, communicate and evangelise the benefits internally and externally, and deploy technology to enable data to be as real-time as possible. Tyler said it comes down to science, strategy and storytelling. 

“There will be a time when we don’t need to herald the advent or publication of a sustainability strategy. It will just be an outline of how a business plans to deliver on its purpose, across all of the dimensions that are impacted by it or important to it.”

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