5 next-generation technologies that can solve sustainability’s data nightmare
By Yogesh Hirdaramani
Sustainability reporting has become central to meeting ESG goals across public and private organisations. But poor data practices continue to hinder the process, say experts from DXC. Here are five technologies that promise to change that.
Sustainability data management continues to be a headache. Image: Canva
Earlier this year, Singapore’s first Government Chief Sustainability Officer announced that the Government will publish its first sustainability report by the end of the 2023 financial year.
In 2024, all statutory boards will have to publish their own sustainability reports as well, following the lead of agencies such as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation.
But today’s sustainability reporting practices are limited by poor data, according to experts from DXC in a recent report. Without real-time, analytical data, decision-makers will struggle to translate sustainability reports into meaningful action.
“We don’t have the right data collected at the right frequency to give the most meaningful representation of our environmental footprint,” says David Reid, Research Director of DXC Leading Edge, to GovInsider. He explains that traditional environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting fails to give a dynamic picture of impact and has little oversight over supply chain activities.
As such, the challenge is in how stakeholders can leverage new emerging technologies to bridge the ESG-business insights gap, “so that our leaders can make decisions based on the best possible data,” he says. Here are five key technologies that promise to do just that.
1. Sensors to collect and transfer real-time data
First, sensors will play a critical role in collecting and transferring real-time data so that organisations can optimise energy consumption in real time.
Reid highlights that communications equipment giant Ericsson uses Internet-of-Things sensors to track energy use – down to the individual device level – in its smart factory in Lewisville, Texas. This data helps in identifying opportunities for carbon reduction and optimising its energy footprint.
“Most organisations produce their carbon accounting inventory annually, which is far too [infrequent] to gain any actionable insights. The key lies between the formality of carbon accounting and real-time solutions (meters, sensors, etc.) that can provide immediate feedback on consumption patterns and give leaders the insights to drive change,” says Sue Ann Averitte, Vice President, ESG & Continuous Improvement, at DXC Technology.
Once organisations can report sustainability data in near-real time, they can move from reactive to proactive and predictive analysis, she says.
Digital-twin solutions can also help organisations model operations within their facilities, analyse resource consumption and identify opportunities for improvement, adds Reid.
2. Distributed ledger technologies to perform real-time verification
Next, organisations can use distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, to verify activities like supply chain transactions in real time and increase trust in sustainability reports, says Reid.
A challenge of sustainability reporting, especially in countries where sustainable procurement is a priority, such as Singapore, is the difficulty in monitoring and verifying supply chain activities.
The immutability of blockchain ledgers enables organisations to use blockchain to collect, record and share real-time environmental data in a trusted manner.
Organisations can also use geospatial data to verify ESG claims made by vendors and help decision-makers assess future climate risks, says Reid. In fact, the Singapore Land Authority estimates the impact of Singapore’s carbon capture efforts and monitors rises in the country’s sea level using such data.
3. Centralised data platforms
Third, data platforms that can automate the consistent collection and analysis of high-quality ESG data will be critical, says Reid.
“Until companies take that foundational step to establish that data architecture with the right amount of rigour around data structure, quality and lineage, it's very difficult for them to move up the value chain and adopt emerging technologies,” says Robyn Sweet, Vice President of Strategic Solutions at DXC Technology.
Sustainability reporting also tends to be “messy” with companies gathering data in spreadsheets, she explains. Automation can help agencies solve these process issues within the data pipeline early on.
DXC has adopted ServiceNow’s ESG platform, which can automatically aggregate data from dispersed ESG data records and validate these data against industry standards. With a complete picture of their ESG progress, organisations can then perform real-time analysis and course-correct if necessary, says Sweet.
“Integrating new digital technology into our IT Infrastructure such as automation and cloud technologies, as well as artificial intelligence … will improve energy efficiency and reduce resource consumption,” said Yuttana Jiamtragan, Vice President, Corporate Administration of SCG (Siam Cement Group), a DXC partner, in a recent press release.
In an interview with GovInsider, Jiamtragan added that DXC has supported SCG in replacing their old server technologies with solid-state drives, which use 70 per cent less energy in data centres. Improving data centre hardware infrastructure in this way is critical to SCG’s aim of achieving net zero by 2050, he explained.
4. Algorithms to extract insights from data
Fourth, agencies can tap on machine-learning algorithms to extract insights from data and make better decisions, says Reid. These algorithms also help to validate and benchmark externally reported ESG data.
For instance, Swiss-based company RepRisk uses machine-learning tools to identify the ESG risks of companies and infrastructure projects, to enable firms such as BlackRock, J.P. Morgan and UBS to perform better in ESG investing.
Organisations can also use these algorithms to weed out greenwashing, by extracting and analysing ESG data from unstructured data, before comparing this data against statements made by companies within press releases.
However, it is important to recognise that artificial intelligence platforms tend to be compute-intensive. Organisations should take into account the sustainability commitments made by the cloud computing providers that host AI tools – such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services – and make informed decisions when adopting these tools, says Reid.
Since setting up their ServiceNow ESG platform and establishing their ESG data architecture, DXC has begun integrating their own AI solutions within sustainability reporting.
5. Common data platforms
Finally, common data platforms can allow companies to share data across organisations and improve the quality of their ESG reporting within a whole ecosystem, the experts explain.
A key challenge right now is the difficulty of acquiring high-quality data from vendors, such as carbon emissions data (scope 3 emissions). Even though such emissions form the bulk of an organisation’s carbon footprint, scope 3 reporting is poor to nonexistent according to Forbes.
This is only made more complex by many organisations developing their own platforms to gather their data and measurement standards, says Averitte.
As standards emerge and companies converge on a common platform, this could alleviate some of the complexity around scope 3 emissions and supply chain activities, highlights Reid. This is where government agencies can take the lead in incentivising standardised data sharing and transparency, he adds.
This article was produced in partnership with DXC Technology.