Sustainability has become a business watchword in recent years. However, gathering the information and data required to generate meaningful policies and produce reliable reports can seem daunting. Fortunately, the explosion in sustainability software is revolutionising the way large organisations process and analyse non-financial data.
In this article I want to explore how sustainability data management software works and why they are so crucial to corporate social responsibility (CSR), benefiting businesses both large and small.
What is CSR Data Management Software?
Businesses are under increasing pressure from customers, regulators and stakeholders to demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) and demonstrate that they’re operating in a sustainable manner. This is happening partly due to regulation, but also as a result of increasing environmental awareness among customers. There are many direct commercial benefits to creating more sustainable practices as well, such as streamlining supply chain management and driving data-centric energy efficiency programs.
Being able to show that sustainability targets are being met means collecting and collating information. Sustainability can be hard to measure, involving as it does large volumes of information drawn from different sources across the organisation. Collecting this data can be relatively simple and is becoming easier thanks to a new generation of smart devices. Indeed, many businesses will find that they are generating more data than they know what to do with. The problem lies in making sense of it all and putting it at the heart of your CSR policy.
Sustainability software is designed to bring disparate non-financial datasets together under one system, allowing users to break down data from across the organisation and compare, contrast and analyse it. As well as this it will allow you to produce compliance ready reporting.
Understanding your Data
The first step towards managing your sustainability data is to understand from where it’s being gathered. It’s likely that data will already be collected somewhere in your organisation. Some of it may be being gathered for different purposes, but it will all have a bearing on sustainability.
In order to begin unlocking this information you need to perform an audit to discover what data you already have. You can compare this with what you need to produce sustainability reports and identify any gaps that need to be filled. It helps to think of this as creating a three dimensional data topology across your whole organisation. Only by charting data in this way can you understand what data you are creating and where it is coming from.
You may be surprised to find that you’re already collecting much of the information you need even if it may not be in quite the correct form. You almost certainly know about your energy use is, for example, even if that information isn’t being translated into carbon use.
Who will be using the Software?
Sustainability software gathers information from many different parts of the business. This means that it’s going to be used by lots of people, most of whom won’t be sustainability experts. You therefore need to think carefully about how the software will work for other departments and how it will integrate with and draw data from existing systems.
Training is important too; you need people to be able to make the best use of the software otherwise you won’t obtain maximum benefit from it. Because it impacts on and draws from many areas of the business you need someone at management level, such as a chief sustainability officer, who is able to drive the process forward for the whole organisation. The IT department needs to have an input at an early stage too, especially if data is being drawn from other systems.
Benefits after Implementation
Many people see CSR as a necessary evil or a box ticking exercise, but this is a short-sighted view given it can deliver huge commercial benefits to the organisation in both the short, medium and long term. It’s important not to think of this as just a software implementation though, but instead as a key tool in your ongoing corporate sustainability strategy that will inform future operational policy across the organisation, as well as areas like marketing and PR.
Of course it helps with compliance too. UK businesses have been obliged to provide information on carbon output since 2013 for example. This can prove to be a chore if you have to gather the information from individual sources and then manually migrate it and convert it into a compliant reporting format. With CSR software you’re able to continuously gather the information and produce mandatory automated reports, as and when they are required.
For manufacturing and distribution businesses, sustainability is a key concern. Energy input is a key operational cost and is directly related to output and therefore turnover. New Internet of Things (IoT) technologies with embedded sensors and GPS are making it easier to track energy usage and, combined with CSR software, can allow for real time monitoring and efficiency reporting. This applies not just to energy consumption but to water use, raw material input, waste generation, work and idle times and much more.
You might not realise it but sustainability data is probably abundant across your organisation, whether it’s being collected by an IoT connected sensor or old plant machinery computers. And if you can measure something you can see where the waste and inefficiency is occurring. By bringing all this data together, CSR software allows you to create meaningful insights by showing you how your entire organisation consumes energy and produces waste. By seeing the bigger picture you can then drive an informed and joined up CSR policy.