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3 Software Cornerstones for Successful Sustainability Initiatives

3p Contributor | Friday August 31st, 2012 | 1 Comment

EarthBy Michael Koploy

For the past three years, the Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review have put together a survey to gauge the state of sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives within companies throughout the world. According to the latest version of the Global Executive Survey on Sustainability, sustainability is gaining measurable traction throughout the enterprise.

Of those surveyed, 70 percent reported that sustainability has become a formal and permanent goal on corporate agendas. Additionally, two-out-of-three reported that sustainability was a necessary component of a competitive business in today’s marketplace.

However, saying that sustainability is a company-wide initiative and proving that it’s a cornerstone of one’s strategy are two very different things. David Schatsky, founder of sustainable business consultancy Green Research, states the importance of benchmarking sustainability goals and setting targets that are public, quantitative, aggressive and future-minded.

In order to impact the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, profit – executives must ensure that they have focused on improving the following:

  • Data collection and automation
  • Analysis of sustainability data
  • Sustainability leadership that is data-driven and accountable

Automating data collection and integrating disparate enterprise systems
Achieving sustainability is difficult for many large corporations because they lack the visibility into their complicated, distanced centers of business. Tracking success and improving operations is important to most organizations, but it first requires a complete picture. Dealing with an incomplete picture is something that many corporations struggle with, according to SAP’s Senior Sustainability Solution Manager, Kevin Ramm.

“Data collection continues to be a major challenge,” says Ramm. “But sustainability benefits from good data–information that is timely, pertinent, relevant and has the right degree of robustness.”

By automating data collection with enterprise systems (e.g. Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] systems or sustainability-specific tracking applications), organizations are able to collect data with little latency, as well as provide contextual information (e.g. location) so that it can be better analyzed down the road.

Analyzing large data sets with business analytics applications
Once data is collected on sustainability initiatives, the next step is to analyze said information discover ways to improve. This data is useful, but holds little intrinsic value without establishing cause and effect – or at the very least, correlation.

Here, Business Intelligence (BI) tools are extremely helpful in evaluating sustainability progress. These applications allow users to effectively analyze large data sets. And while BI tools have been utilized (in some form) for decades, the “consumerization” of these applications has led to them becoming more accessible to the average business user.

Specifically, there are three trends within BI tools helping them becoming more accessible to sustainability leads analyzing performance:

  1. Increased in-memory processing
  2. Improved data visualization functionality
  3. Enhanced collaboration features

These features allow sustainability analysts to analyze data more quickly, more accurately and more intensely to ensure they’re investing in programs that are the most effective.

Building sustainability teams that are data-driven and accountable
Finally, executives must ask sustainability leadership to become as accountable as the financial teams. By establishing metrics and setting benchmarks, these leaders hold themselves accountable and ensure they continuously find new opportunities to improve the organization as a whole.

The end result will be more accountable sustainability teams, more accountable businesses and a competitive landscape where conservation is prevalent and preservation is commonplace. If you have any other strategies to share, please take a moment to drop by my website and leave a comment at: Data Collection + Business Intelligence = Successful Sustainability Initiatives.

[Image source: stef3d, Flickr]


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  • Valerie

    Good article about the importance of data collection in advancing sustainability initiatives. It’s encouraging to hear that a full two thirds of companies are making sustainability an integral part of their bottom lines. The company I work for, earthbongo, provides businesses with sustainability and CSR metrics reporting that not only facilitates data collection, but offers a social networking platform that unites employees across departments and allows them to tell their CSR story in their own words, pictures, and videos. You can find a collection of other great resources on our site: https://earthbongo.com/csr/resources