Responding to the frequent (and increasing) number of requests for sustainability data can be a significant challenge for companies. Which data do you choose to gather? How rigorous of a review needs to be conducted to ensure usability? How should you communicate this data most effectively?
Answering these questions is no easy feat, but doing so is the foundation of a credible sustainability program. Moreover, you should be asking yourself and answering these questions on an ongoing basis to maximize utility of the sustainability program and dedicate resources to where they are most effective. Here are a few suggestions to help you meet the challenge of sustainability data management:
- Decide the importance and relevancy of the data: They key is to determine the materiality of the measures so you can focus on information that is meaningful to your stakeholders – not just shareholders, but your business managers as well. This step will help frame the priorities in data collection and better justify resource deployment.
- Establish a review process to ensure usable outputs: The review can be relatively simple – e.g. establishing a detailed baseline, then measuring against it – or more involved – e.g. internal audits. If this information impacts company management and business planning, you also need to ensure a rigorous process. In addition to an internal review, many disclosure requests now inquire if the data has been assured. Assurance is an investment in your data collection process and very helpful in determining collection gaps and continuous improvement opportunities. With scarce resources, determining when and how to utilize assurance is just as important as determining which data to collect because the assurance will show confidence in your results.
- Explain why you need the data: It’s important not to communicate effectively about your sustainability data gathering efforts. Oftentimes, internal engagement is overlooked in favor of external disclosure via survey responses and sustainability report preparation, simply because surveys and reports are requested frequently and have deadlines. Consider your stakeholders and think about how to best use this data. Sustainability data is also effective for internal communications, such as making the business case for further resources, new equipment, building employee engagement or process changes. Choosing your internal and external engagement strategy at the data collection’s outset will help you gather the right information to tell your sustainability stories to the proper audience with the level of detail that is most appropriate for their needs.
Resources will always be finite and requests for information will always increase. The better organized your sustainability program is, however, the better you’ll be able to respond to your stakeholders with the data they need and can trust.
Article by Anna Blitz of the Antea Group, appearing courtesy 3BL Media.