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Data Science Offers Sustainable Solutions for the Future, Experts Say

By 3p Contributor

By Roslyn Tate

Data science is the practice of turning information into a resource. And it can optimize business operations by simultaneously reducing waste and increasing efficiency for the betterment of both the planet and profits.

For example, UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, uses data science to calculate the optimal routes for its drivers, reducing the number of miles they travel by the millions. This optimization not only spares the environment unnecessary pollution, but it also saves the company millions on fuel costs and wages.

Data science has evolved by leaps and bounds since UPS began that project in the 1980s, and it will continue to progress in the future. But what are the benefits that data science has yet to deliver?

I gathered a few thoughts from leaders in the field and discovered that data science will advance to aid the planet and improve profits in three ways: ubiquity, precision and insight.


Craig Mundie, senior advisor at Microsoft, told me: “Data are becoming the new raw material of business,” describing the gathering of information as integral to business operations.

It is not enough to have production facilities, natural resources and labor. Businesses need to have the data necessary to ensure these components are working together optimally. Production must be streamlined through taking into account all relevant data. And that includes everything surrounding production, from design to marketing. They must then be willing to be informed by data again to ensure optimization.

Maximizing the potential of business operations in this way bodes well for the bottom line by preventing waste, which inherently squanders natural resources and creates pollution that the Earth can do without.


“My interest is not data; it’s the world,” said Hans Rosling, cofounder of the Gapminder Foundation, which supports sustainable global development. Rosling is referring the power of data to encapsulate to a laser focus aspects of reality which are difficult to describe.

To keep with Rosling’s example: The empowerment of women is a cause that organizations around the world are dedicated to. But its inherent challenges and the efficacy of approaches to overcome them are impossible to discern without the data. Information like figures on earning power, literacy rates and access to reproductive healthcare are critical to developing and delivering services.

Similarly, data science helps business owners understand more about who they serve and their own businesses by quantifying aspects that were once unaccounted for. This reveals strengths and weaknesses and brings to life consequences that were previously invisible -- particularly in terms of environmental degradation as a larger, more complete picture of the business and its place in the world.


“Hiding within these mounds of data is knowledge that could change the life of a patient, or change the world,” said Atul Butte, alluding to data science’s ability to improve research. Butte, the director of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences, is referring to how data science can advance healthcare efforts. By collecting and analyzing mounds of business information, data science reveals patterns and trends that savvy business leaders can take advantage of through product development, improving services and innovating processes.

Lyft, the ride-sharing service company, coordinates shared rides in cities around the world. This business model eases traffic congestion and maximizes gasoline consumption, thereby reducing pollution. And it creates a win-win for consumers, the business and the planet.

Data science is promising for profits and the planet, but it’s the third P in the triple bottom line that proves the trickiest: People. “As business leaders we need to understand that lack of data is not the issue,” Bernard Marr, author of "Big Data," explained.

The biggest challenge to achieving the benefits of data science is alleviating the dearth of skilled labor in the field. The data needed to optimize business is readily available – but we have to catch up workforce with the skills necessary to use it. We need more data scientists who can effectively and widely apply data science practices so that we, as business owners and as inhabitants of Earth, can benefit. To reap the rewards that have already been sown with the growth of data science, businesses will need to invest in their own teams.

As Susan Etlinger of the Altimeter Group says, “Data doesn’t create meaning. Humans do.”

For more on what industry experts are saying about data science, check out the infographic below:

Roslyn Tate is an editor on the 2U Inc. website. A recent Goddard College MFA she enjoys helping people achieve their goals through academics and art. 2U partners with leading colleges and universities to offer online master's degree programs to students around the world.

Image credit: Pixabay

Graphic was created by the author and previously posted on Sisense.com.

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