How businesses can roadmap responses to climate change

It's vital work, yet half of companies have no internal mandate to track emissions data
Peter Jackson

The magnifying glass hovering over COP26 these past few months is yet another reminder of the climate emergency. TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Photos of 2021 include flash flooding in South Sudan, wildfires in Greece, and record-breaking hurricanes in the United States. The plight of the planet is being laid bare.

Businesses are a major contributor of this. FullFact has verified that 100 companies alone are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A businesses’ carbon footprint is, in many ways, its most important metric of the 21st century.

This is a truth recognised by the lifeblood of any business: the consumer. The modern customer has the power and choice to ignore brands that fail to protect the environment and this philosophy is more mainstream than it has ever been.

Consequentially, stakeholders are – if you’ll pardon the pun – turning up the heat. Consumers, employees, and investors are more demanding than ever for climate change action.

People, Planet, Data

It’s business-critical for organisations of every stripe to A) quantify B) be transparent about and C) control their level of carbon emissions, if they’re going to drive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives worth a damn.

What’s extremely worrying, however, is that only 22% of decision-makers that undertake CSR,

ESG and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programmes within their company are able to use all of the data available to them. The research we’ve conducted suggests that, while 81% believe they could make better climate change decisions with access to data-led insights, almost half (49%) have no directive internally to pursue a data-driven approach to CSR, ESG or D&I challenges.

The gravity of this isn’t lost on them. More than half (54%) said that if their company fails to act on climate change initiatives, they won’t exist in a decade. But with many organisations flying blind with no access to data insights, how do businesses save themselves for now – and the planet for the future?

Gain visibility

The starting point isn’t the sexiest, but it’s a fact of business life that any data collected is only as good as the tools and methods used to do so.

The pandemic has been one of the biggest catalysts for digital transformation in history. Businesses have had to mature from a technological standpoint extremely quickly, which has inevitably led to a mishmash of different systems being used to collect different types of data. There’s no guarantee that these systems will share all this data, or even standardise their outputs.

Priority number one, therefore, is to establish a data infrastructure that allows you to collate every element of ESG data (which is critical for driving CSR decision making and policies) in one place, provide a consistent output, and keep it as up to date as possible.

For some organisations, that will demand the removal and consolidation of multiple systems into one, and the elimination of data silos. For others, it may be the start of their hyperautomation journey; the digital simulation of their existing equipment to better quantify how it operates in data terms.

Regardless, the key here is introspection. Businesses need to be honest with themselves, prioritising visibility and cohesion above all else.

Humanise data

Once you have the data, you have the insights required to draw a map of your route to making a positive impact on climate change through setting concrete ESG metrics. And once you’ve done that you then have to make the entire business care about it.

Data doesn’t lie, but it does require interpretation, curation and – often overlooked – humanisation. You need to give people a reason to care beyond a percentage, or it can leave them cold. What’s required here is a robust and healthy data culture across a business: the ability to understand, contextualise and respect the meaning of data as part of a wider story.

This requires a data champion. For some organisations, that’s the Chief Data Officer – the advocate for data within the C-Suite, ensuring that their philosophy trickles down to departments. For others, it’s a collective such as the Centre for Data Excellence, a group that takes responsibility for the standardisation and education of data internally.

Either way, these entities can weave datapoints into a compelling narrative. All they need is the wider organisation to have the tools to understand their story – which means training, training, training.

Make a difference

Businesses have the tools, scale and infrastructure to damage the climate faster than any individual consumer. If they’re going to avoid doing so, they need a plan based on the truth about their impact.

Technological infrastructure is fundamental to success, but so is internal ideology. Data holds the key to change for the better.

Written by
Peter Jackson
Written by
January 13, 2022