Your Guide to Sustainability Data Management
“Going green” is critical to corporate strategy in more ways than one. More than 300 investors with over $33 trillion in assets have signed on to Climate Action 100+, committing to push the companies they invest in to minimize and disclose climate-related risks. The first thing they’re asking for? Better data. Here, we’ll share the most crucial aspects of sustainability data management to improve, some best practices to follow, and resources that can help.
Why sustainability data management matters
Effective data management holds the key to a sustainability program’s success. Without accurate and accessible data, you can’t track the impact of your initiatives, generate credible reports, or build a business case for future investments.
As Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp, Sustainability Manager at Jackson Family Wines, can attest: “Having access to good data lets you make the best decisions possible when there are so many things you are trying to manage at the same time.”
3 ways good data can help your program
What can sustainability data management accomplish when it’s done right? As it turns out, quite a bit:
Improving your bottom line – Accurate, comprehensive data enables you to pinpoint the most cost-effective and lucrative areas for resource efficiency and procurement. It also helps you prove and increase the ROI of your initiatives over time.
Maintaining transparency and accountability – In the ever-expanding world of global reporting standards (and acronyms), granular data can help you meet high standards. Investors have already rejected generic success stories in favor of “robust quantitative performance metrics.”
Engaging employees – One of the easiest and most effective ways to boost employee engagement in sustainability is to show the organization how they’re impacting your goals on a daily basis. With reliable, democratized data, you can give every employee the keys to generate new ideas, effortlessly expanding your team.
3 ways bad data can hurt your program
Without proper sustainability data management, your organization pays the opportunity cost of missing out on these benefits. But an even higher cost lies in the direct damage that inaccurate and incomplete data can wreak:
Poor decision-making – If your data is outdated or inaccurate, the decisions you make will be, too. Ovum Research found that poor quality data can cost businesses up to 30 percent of their revenues.
Oversights and blind spots – A lack of standardized data paints an incomplete picture of consumption and waste patterns, leading to costly oversights. For instance, after introducing energy data audits, a global cable provider found it was paying $3 million in energy bills every year – for a building it no longer owned.
Wasted time and resources – Once bad data is discovered, it can’t be ignored. Your team will need to spend time fixing errors in reporting as well as deduping the data itself: time they could otherwise use to perform research, analytics, and execution of initiatives that actually bring value.
How to improve your data management
As we can see, sustainability data management is pivotal to effective reporting and execution. You know you should prioritize it. But how can you tell if you’re doing it right? Let’s look at some common best practices to follow.
Audit your data
The first step is to check on the quality of the data you’re using today. In a conversation with Shorenstein sustainability program manager Jaxon Love, we identified five key steps:
Take humans out of the equation.
Have an auditing framework in place.
Utilize data analysis tools.
Gather data monthly, rather than annually.
Make sure your dataset is complete.
After Shorenstein put these steps into practice, the company was able to benchmark and report with confidence. They spot checked 20 buildings out of their portfolio to confirm whether the monthly energy and water data flowing into ENERGY STAR was accurate. Out of the few discrepancies they found, none had a material impact on data quality, giving them internal assurance to move forward.
Automate your data
You can remove many of your data quality issues by starting at the beginning: how your data is collected. As you track energy, water, and waste, for instance, you could manually collect enter utility bill data into spreadsheets, but in-house data entry produces an average error rate of one percent. With over 120 data points on every utility bill, that leads to at least one error per bill.
Sustainability data management is traditionally the most time-consuming and overlooked part of a sustainability program, according to Mitopro. It’s no wonder: approximately 50 percent of energy managers are still using manual data collection for part or all of their utility bills. Automating data collection can help these professionals save time, ensure accuracy, and boost transparency.
Visualize your data
If sustainability teams are struggling to collect the data they need, it’s no wonder that they could also use some help in making it actionable. According to a recent survey from Schneider Electric, 41 percent of sustainability and energy professionals feel they have insufficient tools to actually use the data they collect. Meanwhile, only 22 percent are sharing that data broadly across operations, procurement, and sustainability departments.
41% of sustainability professionals have insufficient tools to use the data they collect.
Simply having data at hand isn’t enough without translating it into a format that executives and shareholders can understand. That’s where data visualization tools come in. Visualization tools can help you organize the data you collect into easily digestible charts, normalized against factors like seasonality and filtered for the time periods and locations you need.
Sustainability data management software is here to help
Several portions of sustainability data management are possible to do on your own, with some elbow grease. But for accurate and effective visualization, you’ll need some extra help. Some industry-leading options for sustainability data management software include:
Goby’s ESG solutions empower sustainability managers to implement cost-effective and scalable strategies. With Goby’s technology, you can access predictive energy analytics, easily identify trends and opportunities, and simplify benchmarking compliance.
Lucid’s BuildingOS is a leading building energy management and analytics platform for commercial building portfolios. Lucid allows you to better identify performance issues, prioritize projects, and engage building occupants with seamless dashboards.
Measurabl offers sustainability data management software that is built to help you collect, report, and act upon non-financial data. Measurabl automatically collects data, checks for discrepancies, and generates investment-grade reports.
Build your own
You can also build your own dashboard or reporting system with a DIY tool like Tableau, Domo, or Power BI. This involves a couple of additional steps, like automating your data collection first and then integrating it into your custom dashboard. But if you have enough resources and time, it can produce just the right results for you.
Sustainability data management can make or break your program, especially under the scrutiny and urgency of the next few years. But if you audit, automate, and visualize your data – and have the right tools at hand to make it actionable – you can drive reliable, transparent, and sustainable success.
To dive deeper into optimizing your sustainability data management, get a copy of the complete Corporate Sustainability Professional’s Guide to Data Management.
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About Amy Hou
Amy Hou is a Marketing Manager at Urjanet, overseeing content and communications. She enjoys writing about the latest industry updates in sustainability, energy efficiency, and data innovation.