When it comes to sustainability data, most of it is useful, one way or another.
By Jordan Flagel
We live in an age where data is ubiquitous – more than 1.145 trillion MB of data is created each day, and this number is rising. With this almost unbelievably large amount of information being generated, most of it could be considered “junk,” of minimal importance, from throwaway photos to surveillance footage to trillions of spreadsheets.
But when it comes to sustainability data, most of it is useful, one way or another. The key is understanding how to get the most out of this data and using it to improve each company’s ESG metrics, particularly in the area of environmental performance. That doesn’t make the process easy: utilizing this vast amount of data can be overwhelming.
Below are the three of the most important areas to cover for environmental disclosures, with suggestions to ensure you get the most out of all that data accumulating throughout the year.
When it comes to ESG metrics, energy usage is perhaps the most important of all. It is also typically the most complete metric, as companies can reverse-engineer energy data through the corresponding amount of money spent on electricity and fuel. This in turn can be used to measure Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions.
21% of the world's 2,000 largest public companies have committed to meet net zero targets as of the end of 2021.
Emissions and energy data should always be available, whether companies expressly measure and monitor emissions directly or through reverse engineering. The ability to track these metrics should also be available always – and this presents a great opportunity for all companies.
Tracking energy use and the emissions that come along with it is not wasted data. In fact, it might be the most valuable data that any company collects, at least when it comes to organizational processes and environmental performance. This is because investors, regulators, and the general public want to see more than just reporting: they want to see improvement. Regardless of the initial level of energy intensity, positive progress in mitigating and reducing emissions is the key. Tracking uncovers areas requiring improvement, as well as helping your company to not underreport, a common problem.
Monitoring water usage is extremely important, especially in areas that are water scarce. Even in water-abundant areas, monitoring still matters for any company’s ESG performance. Many organizations measure and report their water usage from year-end utility bills, calculating the total amount without considering its impact. This is a missed opportunity to not only monitor water usage, to try and reduce it, but also to identify where water comes from – and how water sourcing can be improved.
Industry uses around 20% of the world's freshwater withdrawals – in the wealthiest nations, corporate water consumption can be as much as 40%.
Every company is different, and businesses in office buildings can do little to change water sourcing. However, for businesses that operate in the field, there is a tremendous opportunity to source and utilize recycled water to improve ESG metrics and reduce their overall environmental footprints. There are also opportunities to recycle water and put it back into the system, which is even more valuable. But none of this is possible without monitoring water to see where and how these changes could be implemented.
Measuring waste is perhaps the best and most impactful use of any environmental data. This is because companies can often reduce waste much more easily and much more significantly than energy or water – and often it is a lack of measurement that prevents this from happening. In some cases, the amount of waste that can be minimized by even small companies is astounding, contributing directly to high impact changes.
By 2050, worldwide municipal solid waste generation is expected to increase by roughly 70% to 3.4 billion metric tons.
One of the biggest issues with reducing GHG emissions is that they are invisible and quantified indirectly through energy use. With waste, it is easier to see the impact of reductions. Measuring this is essential.
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