How Data Drives Corporate Sustainability

The digital revolution is enabling a transformation of systems and processes, making organisations leaner, greener and more able to respond to market changes. Innovations such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile payment systems, and satellite imagery, have been widely adopted for good reason as companies across sectors aim to take advantage of new customer desires and demands.

The use of new technology has also brought with it ever more data. And that is good news for sustainable development. For example, the collection of data from physical components (such as fires, droughts, rain and earthquakes) and data on social components (such as light intensity per household, telephone calls, social networks activity, use of transport) can help private and public sector organisations work together to avoid geopolitical conflicts, and better understand human behaviour in the event of a natural catastrophe.

A proliferation of sustainability data – from energy consumption and worker habits, to waste creation and supplier audits – is also good news for investors. According to Boston Consulting Group, those asset managers likely to take advantage of data, machine learning, and AI are will more likely thrive in the future.

Portfolio managers much more interested in environmental, social and governance issues need better, more detailed and useful data on a company’s true impact. Take the disclosure platform CDP, for example. It is used by investors representing more than $100 trillion in assets, and continues to ask questions of companies and their suppliers alike. The results give a unique insight into both an organisation’s own internal operations, and its supplier companies, building up a picture of risk and opportunity for improvement.

Beyond keeping investors happy, there are plenty of good reasons why managing datasets, and monitoring and reporting against sustainability-based metrics makes good business sense.

Creating a dataset can help a company understand how it is performing against peers and competitors. By reporting year on year, progress can be tracked, pointing to which actions and initiatives have had the greatest impact. The 551 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions reductions that were logged by suppliers worldwide via CDP in 2017, led to cost savings of some $14 billion.

The publication of data can also help a business justify why it is bothering to take actions in sustainability in the first place.

While many companies continue to make use of simple Excel spreadsheets, a number of technology platforms have emerged to help collect, understand and manage data in a way that will boost decision making. Online platforms and software systems, such as UL EHS PURE Sustainability and PURE Supply Chain, can help organisations organise and collect their data in an efficient manner, even if the business has a complex structure with multiple subsidiaries and premises to be monitored.

This boost in accessing, collating, checking, analysing and correlating data means that companies will have to take into account the “potentially constant scrutiny of the consistency between their ethical values and actions,” as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) puts it. “This will also empower stakeholders, who will most likely play a new role in corporate governance and strategy definition.”

It is clear that data will be more integrated into products, services and business models in the future, whether companies are necessarily chasing improved sustainability performance or not. CDP environmental data is now powering financial products like the STOXX Low Carbon Indices, for example.

Further, the inclusion of ESG data into core financial reports, as recommended by the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures, will only foster a better connection between sustainability performance and economic returns and growth potential.

As this GRI 2025 reporting trends paper points out, “the reporting process has a role to play” in helping us transition to a more sustainable economy. “Information gathered during this process can lead to better companies and policy, provided it is properly focused and used to inform critical decisions.”