Sustainability's data divide

Published on
February 14, 2024

Anyone directly involved in sustainability will recognise the key importance of having accurate, timely, and complete information: data takes centre stage in sustainability strategy. Stimulated by regulations like CSRD, companies are mapping out their negative impacts across the Environmental, Social, and Governance aspects of their business. To properly map out the negative impacts of their business, sustainability managers find themselves reaching out to all corners of the business. Their challenge is to set up standards and processes that enable employees and suppliers to regularly update data on things like carbon emissions, water usage, waste generation.

Contrasting Reporting on Negative and Positive Impacts

But this meticulous reporting on adverse impacts stands in stark contrast to the tracking of positive impacts; companies tend to fly blind in their support of positive outcomes. This starts in the selection of the parties they support; for many companies, their due diligence tends to rely mostly on personal affiliations or a well-established brand. Trust tends to be the key factor here, and although it’s important to establish relations, it currently overshadows effectiveness. Secondly, when the partner gets to work on creating the intended positive outcomes, the supporting company can mostly refer to general, aggregated impact reports. At best, they receive a digital certificate, a receipt if you will, showcasing their financial contribution is well-received. But very few companies actually track if their financial contribution is well-spent.

Identifying the Sustainability Data Divide

Coming back to how this would play out for supplier’s negative impact, it’s almost unthinkable that the process would work the same. This disparity in the presence of data between negative and positive impact is what we’re calling sustainability’s data divide. This gap in data isn’t just interesting to observe; it has profound implications. Without a robust approach, companies are likely to jeopardise the effectiveness of their investments. And especially if companies support more than one project, it’s easy to end up with a cherry-picked portfolio of initiatives that scatters the value of their efforts.

The Carbon Credit Cautionary Tale

One practical example of this is the ‘carbon credit bandwagon’ that many companies have hopped on. Many companies that felt responsible to give back to nature and society following their carbon emissions have resorted to buying offsets. Tempted by names like ‘Golden Standard’ and encouraged by the hosts of other businesses that were adopting this mechanism, companies have spent tons of money only to find the value of their investment, for the planet and their brand, had vaporised. If from the onset companies would have pushed to see the actual positive outcomes of these carbon credits themselves, they would not have ended up in this plight.

Strategies to Bridge the Data Divide

So how can companies cross the data divide? The answer is quite simple: by embedding data in their positive impact programmes as deeply as they do in their negative impacts. Let’s break that down into 3 key tactics that can be applied in harmony;

Data: The Cornerstone of Effective Partnerships

The first realisation is that data is key in both due diligence of their partners and in ongoing reporting. Companies should at least vet the organisation’s track record, methodology for environmental impact, and approach to social impact. Similar to how an organisation judges negative impact, this isn’t a one-time exercise but instead becomes part of an ongoing impact reporting cadence.

Creating Accountability through Clear Agreements

Secondly, it’s recommended to structure contractual agreements clearly along the positive outcomes they seek to achieve, to create accountability and drive a more result-based partnership. Clearly specify the transaction, and ask for a detailed breakdown of the process and cost involved.

Aligning Investments with Sustainable Development Goals

Thirdly, when it comes to goal setting and reporting we recommend aligning investments directly to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This internationally recognised framework allows companies to track and report how they’re creating benefits for the environment and society at large. Especially in nature restoration, these tend to go hand-in-hand!

Leveraging Sumthing to Overcome the Data Divide

The Sumthing platform helps companies to cross the sustainability data divide, by addressing all these three tactics. It aggregates a curated set of projects that perform work along clearly specified impact contracts, so companies can start making a tangible positive impact directly aligned to Sustainable Development goals. We're committed to not only tracking the environmental impact of our initiatives but also showcasing the tangible benefits they bring to communities and ecosystems worldwide. From the moment a donation is made, our 1:1 proof approach ensures transparency and accountability every step of the way.

If you and your organisation are ready to cross the sustainability data divide, reach out to us!

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