Sep 14, 2022

6 ways to ensure your sustainability efforts are data-driven

Close up of a technical component

You might’ve already heard of the term ‘data-driven’, and how many companies have been increasingly striving towards becoming more data-driven. So much so that 91% of companies today say that data-driven decision-making is essential to their business.

Every organization, regardless of their size, industry, and product and/or service offering, generates data, and organizations now have access to more data than ever before. But the real question is – what should an organization do with all that data? Well, as advocates of being data-driven, we say, definitely not let it go to waste!

So, why are businesses today becoming more data-driven? Because increasingly, they see that data can be a strategic asset that can create and deliver business value throughout the entire organization.

Still trying to decide if being more data-driven is for your business? In the spirit of being data-driven, here’s some quick numbers for you:

Your data can be a powerful, strategic asset, but only if the right strategies are being adopted in terms of data collection, processing, analysis, and visualization.

If you’re trying to find out more about what it means to be data-driven, and more specifically, how you can be more data-driven with your sustainability efforts for your business, you’re at the right place!

Read on to find out more about:

  • What does it mean to be data-driven?

  • What is data-driven sustainability?

  • 6 ways to ensure your sustainability efforts are data-driven

What does it mean to be data-driven?

So, what exactly does it mean to be data-driven? When an organization is data-driven, it means that the organization is taking decisions based on data, and doing this for every aspect of its operations – from sales, to product development, to marketing, to customer service, etc.

Data in an organization can be collected, processed and analyzed, and then used to: watch trends, track progress against goals and benchmarks, and then make decisions based on these insights.

The opposite of being data-driven would be to make business decisions based on: what you think is best, or based on anecdotes, observations, personal experiences, opinions, gut feeling (or sometimes, for some, even pure hope!).

As we like to say, data is the difference between making some changes and hoping for the best, and truly having an impact. And why take a shot in the dark with your business, when you could be taking statistically-supported moves?

What is data-driven sustainability?

Data-driven organizations can make use of their data to drive decisions throughout all operations and all departments of their business – sales teams can use data to better understand how to close more deals, product teams can use data to better understand which direction product development should go in, and marketing teams can use data to decide which channels to use to best connect with their target audience.

Similarly, businesses can use data to better drive their sustainability efforts, to create genuine, measurable impact – which leads us to data-driven sustainability.

So what is data-driven sustainability? Data-driven sustainability refers to taking sustainability-centric decisions guided by data collection, processing, and analysis, in order to achieve greater, measurable impact, and more responsible business practices.

Data-driven sustainability has a hand in improving several aspects of a business – including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Driving sustainability across the entire organization

  • Optimizing supply and value chains

  • Fostering equality, diversity, and inclusion

  • Cutting greenhouse gas emissions

  • Progress towards the organization’s sustainability goals

  • Staying ahead of the curve in terms of rapidly changing legislation and regulatory standards

Taking a step back, if you need convincing as to why you should incorporate sustainability into your business strategy, we have seven compelling reasons for you!

6 ways to ensure your sustainability efforts are data-driven

Now that you know the importance and benefits of being data-driven, and especially in your sustainability efforts, you might wonder, what are the next steps?

We’ve compiled 6 simple ways for you to ensure your sustainability efforts are data-driven:

  1. Conducting the right materiality assessment for your business

  2. Contextualize your data collection and measurement

  3. Ensure sustainability data can be quickly analyzed and understood

  4. Use sustainability data to guide supply chain improvements

  5. Use your data to reach your sustainability goals across the organization

  6. Use your data for sustainability communications and decision-making

Let’s discuss each of these in greater detail now:

1. Conducting the right materiality assessment for your business

To know what to measure and what to improve in your organization, you need to first understand the main impacts related to your business: where is your business creating or reducing value for society and the environment? These questions can be answered by carrying out a materiality assessment.

A materiality assessment is a great way to understand not just your main impacts, but also it will give you insight into your business risks and opportunities, and help you build a business case for senior executives, CXOs, and investors for sustainability.

Here’s how you can conduct a materiality assessment:

  1. Identify external and internal stakeholders – Whose opinions, insights, and operations are relevant to the business and its impact? Your stakeholders could include: managers, investors, board of directors, key customers, trade associations, etc.

  2. Identify what you want to include in your assessment – Think about the issues you want to measure, along the categories of: social, economic and/or environmental.

  3. Design your material survey – Make sure you define a structured data collection process which allows you to collect and analyze both quantitative or qualitative data sets.

  4. Launch your survey – Send your survey out to the relevant stakeholders, or hold relevant interviews to capture their insights.

  5. Analyze the collected data and insights – After gathering the information from your surveys and interviews, analyze the issues and plot them against a graph of importance to each stakeholder vs. impact on business.

By conducting a materiality assessment, you also gain deeper insight into which key performance indicators (KPIs) your business should be measuring and keeping track of. Afterall, you can’t manage what you can’t measure!

KPIs are the critical key indicators of progress towards an intended result. Understanding what KPIs you should track helps you direct attention to what is most important, and helps you focus on strategic and operational development. KPIs are also key (no pun intended) to helping you reach your goals – but we’ll talk about that in a while.

2. Contextualize your data collection and measurement

In order to maximize the power of your data, it needs to be collected, measured and processed in the right way. To help you with that, you need to first understand and define the context of your data.

This can mean finding answers to questions such as: what data do I need to collect? What is the purpose of the data I’m collecting? What will the data insights be used for? What are the challenges in measuring the data?

Need further help with contextualizing your data collection and measurement? The EU Taxonomy, a green classification system that translates the EU’s climate and environmental objectives into criteria for specific economic activities for investment (aka a classification system that could hint to you all the relevant data points you might want to be collecting and tracking), is in the process of being mandated and implemented for companies in the EU. To better guide your data collection and contextualization, you may want to read more about the EU taxonomy.

3. Ensure sustainability data can be quickly analyzed and understood

We’ve talked about how powerful data can be, but the data doesn’t speak for itself. In order to fully optimize your data and its potential, you need to consider the presentation of your final data insights – can they be easily understood by relevant stakeholders and decision-makers?

As we already understood from the materiality assessment, different stakeholders within an organization will have different needs and concerns. To really make sure you use your data most effectively in driving the right sustainability decisions, you need to present your data in a way that is easiest and quickest for each of them to understand.

One way to ensure your data is visualized and communicated properly is by digitizing your data management. We know, with the variety of sustainability management software available in the market, it can be overwhelming knowing which software is the best for your business.

An important criteria you might want to look out for, amongst other important criterion to consider when choosing a sustainability software, is to find a platform that not only automates the collecting, processing and analysis of data, but also allows you to turn your data into customizable graphs, visualizations, and dashboards, such that your insights can be understood more easily, with the convenience of bringing your data-driven insights to decision-making meetings.

One example of such software is SustainLab– with the help of some AI magic, the platform not only automates your data management, but also offers you with customizable visualizations and dashboards for you to best present your data output.

4. Use sustainability data to guide supply chain improvements

One business area which could really benefit from a more data-driven approach would be your supply chain.

Why is data-driven sustainability important for your supply chain? Because for most businesses, that’s where most of the emissions come from. According to CDP, supply chain emissions are, on average, 11.4 times higher than operational emissions, which equates to approximately 92% of an organization’s total greenhouse gas emissions!

To improve your supply chains using your sustainability data, you can take steps such as to evaluate and track your suppliers along relevant indicators of their sustainability performance.

But – keep in mind that to make improvements for your organization’s supply chain (and all operations to be honest,) it is necessary to be transparent about your business operations and sustainability reporting. Keeping track of your sustainability data with the help of a sustainability software can help you ensure data transparency and traceability.

5. Use sustainability data to drive sustainability goals

By now, your organization has probably already set some sustainability goals (or at least we hope so!) For example, most organizations typically take the first step in their sustainability journey by focusing on reducing their carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s say your goal is to cut your emissions by 50% by 2030 – how can you ensure steady progress towards your goal? How can you know whether the actions and decisions you’ve taken have had its intended results? With data of course!

Being data-driven helps you reach your goals by tracking your progress – and this is where KPIs are important. Which indicators are relevant to each of your goals? What counts as having successfully achieved a goal? It is important to set up the right KPIs that are aligned with your business goals.

Let’s say you’re a real estate company with some goals set towards offering the most sustainable residential apartments to your customers – some material KPIs you might want to keep track of and improve would be: your energy performance (heating, cooling, electricity), the amount of green areas you have (measured with a biodiversity indicator), and how sustainable your waste management is.

6. Use sustainability data to drive innovation

Lastly, a company's dedication to speaking honestly and genuinely about its sustainability strategy, goals, and initiatives is known as sustainability communication. It helps businesses engage stakeholders, build a competitive advantage, and enhance their reputation.

Here are a few ways to help you build sustainable communication for your business:

  1. Specific goals

  2. Science-based commitments

  3. Rational reasonings

  4. Open communication

  5. Accessible information

If you haven’t already noticed, a lot of the pointers above revolve around data! Not surprisingly, your sustainability data can be important for you in terms of strengthening your sustainability communications, especially when it comes to things like setting ambitious goals, tracking your progress, and communicating whether you’ve met or failed to meet goals.

And most of all, since being data-driven is about using data to drive decision-making, it is then important for you to take your sustainability data to important decision-making meetings. The goal is for sustainability data to be as important as any other business-critical data (such as profits and sales margins) when it comes to making decisions throughout the organization. Here are some other ways you can use data to ensure that sustainability is always a part of decision-making throughout the organization:

  1. Use your data to make the business case for sustainability

  2. Make sustainability a key part of your executive structure

  3. Be an internal activist for change within the organization

  4. Make bold statements–even though the path is still unclear

Bottom line

From identifying your business strengths and impact areas, to choosing the right KPIs, and then to collecting, processing, analyzing, and visualizing the data, we hope we’ve given you a good guide on how you can make use of your data as growth fuel, and how you can fully reap the benefits of being a data-driven business.

Automated data collection and analysis can empower enterprises in making strategic, real-time decisions – the kind needed to achieve sustainability goals. Advanced technologies can also uncover deep insights from data, opening a world of innovative ways to support sustainable practices across organizations.

If you want to take that first step to becoming data-driven, SustainLab is happy to help. To learn more about our platform, and how it can help you understand your sustainability impact better, and for your business to really accelerate change within your organization and externally (i.e. the planet!), contact us or book a free demo with us!

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Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.


SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.


SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.