The need for businesses to implement effective sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs has never been greater. The booming demand – driven not only by emissions regulations but also by increasingly environmentally aware and ethically motivated customers and investors – means the concept is no longer the prevail of PR conscious firms looking for that coveted green stamp of approval.
But the benefits of driving CSR and improving sustainability practices go far beyond regulation and client perceptions. Many big businesses have started to see beyond the box-ticking headaches of sustainability compliance, and are using sustainability data-gathering to add value to their enterprises and create efficiencies with trackable ROI.
In the reams of raw sustainability data, and the challenges it presents, these businesses are seeing opportunities to develop more streamlined, efficient processes, save on materials and transport costs, boost customer relations and even drive new product development, all of which are driving increased profitability.
You might stop short of setting your sights on the Global 100 most sustainable corporations in the world but, ultimately, if your business rivals are willing to rise to these challenges, getting to grips with your own data will prove essential if you are to maintain your competitive edge.
Effective data analysis is key to developing a working sustainability program, but it’s only half the battle. Before you can begin to harness the power of an ocean of information, you need to learn how to gather it.
There is no single one-size-fits-all solution to big data gathering and in large corporations it can prove a bewilderingly big challenge. In addition, sustainability is not always straightforward to measure; requiring complex calculations to wrestle meaningful information from a disparate range of inputs and outputs.
Consider what data you need to collect, how often and in what format, then think about who needs to see this information, and how to present it in a manner that is meaningful.
Breaking down your processes into smaller parts can make measurements more manageable. For example, measure energy or raw material use over a single production run then look at how reassigning your production resources and equipment might save you money. On a single batch run, the benefits might be small – but over a year and across multiple sites, the savings will soon mount up.
It’s also essential to evaluate your data resources from existing business systems, and examine how they can be integrated in your sustainability program. The chances are, a lot of the data you need to implement is already being collated for other uses. In an ideal world, it would stream seamlessly from departments and process into your sustainability management system, but the reality is a lot more complex. Sustainability software packages can go a long way in helping to automate the process and produce regular reports, but make sure you select one that is versatile and scalable.
Finally, think of ways to engage staff members in data gathering and communicate how the figures relate to their role and the business’s performance as a whole. Encouraging competition on sustainability key performance indicators within your organisation is one way to do this. Comparing the figures to industry standards as well as your own sustainability goals will also create a strong sense of ownership and pride in what your business is doing. Your staff are important stakeholders in your sustainability, so don’t disregard them in favour of business partners and customers.
To become an organisation which people are proud to work for and buy from means embedding sustainability in your organisation from the ground up, and then communicating your sustainability successes to every stakeholder possible in a way that addresses the environmental and social issues that matter to them.
As a starting point, do some research and work out what successful measures your business peers have implemented to operate sustainably. Doing so will help you avoid any future pitfalls and identify best practices.
Pick something that is easy to do, such as setting predefined limits for raw material and energy use, benchmarking against industry standards or your own ideals. You can track performance against these profiles as you tweak your production strategies, adapting existing procedures to save money and resources, and build on this new information by feeding it into the development of new products.
Above all, look for initiatives which are visible to your workforce and to your customers, or which show tangible results that you can easily communicate. Working towards certification from an organisation like the Carbon Trust would be one example. Check out their suite of downloadable tools to help you kick start your sustainability drive.
About the Author: Joe Jones is a sustainability expert at SustainIt Solutions, and has many years of experience talking about data driven systems and strategies to drive cultural change and engagement throughout the corporate world. SustainIt are a global sustainability, EHS and risk data consultancy based in Bristol and providers of the free and independent sustainability software comparison service, GoMarketWise. You can connect with SustainIt on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.