Corporations committed to climate action are rapidly embracing a holistic, sustainability-first approach to their resource-enabled business operations. Doing this effectively across a global portfolio of sites is a complex undertaking and often demands dynamic, data-driven insights to steer their actions and implement sustainability programs.
In addition, the increase in sustainability disclosure, ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) requirements and regulatory demands has organizations scrambling internally to provide transparent and verified reporting of their actions to all of their stakeholders. Navigating these complex challenges requires organizations to stretch their capabilities in comprehensive sustainability data collection while making estimates where gaps exist.
In both these situations, organizations are faced with a haystack of potential information and are tasked with finding the needle that will provide the best insight to optimize their sustainability actions and outcomes. At best, this can be overwhelming and tedious. At worst, it can lead to focusing on the wrong information. According to Varun Gowda, ENGIE Impact’s Chief Digital Officer, when it comes to sustainability, the answer to solving a company’s big data problem is to start small.
When considering how you are going to get control of your full Green House Gas (GHG) footprint, the most important information you can equip yourself with is site-level insights for each location. Some organizations try to start out with macro sustainability goals and high-level reporting – but, if your end goal is a fully sustainable outcome, you must dive into decarbonizing your operations and business activity at each site. To enable this, some of the key activities to address and track include:
These are just a few activities that can provide data points to help tell an organization’s full sustainability story. Gaining this insight can be further aided by machine learning and algorithms and serves as a great tool for finding similarities across sites. Finding these similarities helps with grouping locations together with similar needs and resource consumption. This type of grouping allows organizations to build out tailored strategies that can grow and change with a site’s unique needs.
GHG (greenhouse gas) inventories show a comprehensive picture of an organization’s GHG emissions that are produced across its entire supply chain. This data helps inform the organization’s sustainability strategies and functions as a benchmark for measuring emissions reduction over time.
In most cases, about 80% of a carbon footprint comes from 20% of the activities that an organization undertakes. This 80/20 breakdown helps illustrate the importance of gathering and understanding activity data for each site. Activity data includes any data that has an impact on scope 1 or scope 2 – meaning consumption of water, electricity, natural gas, fuel, or use of refrigerants. There's always a procurement or purchasing activity when you're paying for a utility or fuel as a service, and that data is essential. If you already have an operation in place, it makes sense to rely on existing data at the site level.
While this type of data provides significant value to an organization, gathering it comes with its own challenges. When first diving into their sustainability data, most companies want to know their real-time consumption. But when you're considering thousands of sites, that can be a huge expense and a limiting factor. There are also regulatory hurdles in some environments that prevent you from tapping into data that belongs to a utility as an asset – which makes bypassing the utility meters very complex. Though there are other IoT driven solutions that can be deployed behind the meter to overcome this hurdle.
Ultimately, optimizing activity data at the site level takes patience. Each site is a collection of accounts made up of multiple utility bills that you can aggregate to build a bird's-eye view. From there, you can view the data on multiple levels – a collection of facilities, a grouping of subsidiaries, and, in some cases, your portfolio from a regional-to-global scale. Focusing on data fundamentals such as monthly consumption data from utility invoices from each site across the portfolio is a solid first step toward building an effective sustainability action plan. Optimizing your data strategy to enable sustainability action is a pre-cursor to easing complex reporting challenges.
One of the main pitfalls companies face is trying to tackle too much with data collection without first having a sustainability or a decarbonization strategy in place. Organizations often want to have a complete asset-by-asset view of their site-level data, but it takes time to do that. This desire can often lead to a myopic approach that only focuses on achieving a perfect carbon footprint, and oftentimes becomes a barrier to scaling. When organizations are hyper-focused on the end goal they can neglect to ask if what they are doing at one site can be successfully applied across the entire portfolio.
To ensure that their site-level sustainability practices don’t become cost prohibitive when scaled, organizations must build their strategy on successful use cases and not blind ambition. Organizations may be able to install smart meters at one site, but if they don't understand how to monetize the value before it’s rolled out on a global scale, they're missing the point. This helps illustrate the necessity of building the right use case and getting your data fundamentals right before you try to complete your data equation. Not all sites are created equal, and understanding how site-level information fits into the greater data story can help organizations avoid neglecting the granular insights that help build complete data.
There is so much untapped potential in putting sustainability data to use. Sure, we'll use this data for reporting to CDP and other agencies, but the real value is understanding where the opportunities are for reducing your carbon footprint and putting together an action plan. The sustainability data market is quickly growing and changing, and that can bring confusion or hesitation on how to engage it well. But, when you realize how significant of an impact that data can help you make from a decarbonization standpoint, it’s quite exciting.
Let’s work together to acquire and understand your sustainability data.