Dr James Robey, Global Head of Environmental Sustainability, leads the Capgemini’s sustainability programme across 40 countries and is responsible for the delivery of a new ambition to help Capgemini’s clients save 10 million carbon tonnes through leveraging technology. In this column, he gives his perspective on the criticality of good data for driving change and engagement.
Data really matters.
I can already feel your eyes glazing over at the thought of such a statement, but before you switch off please bear with me.
Data has brought us the internet, founded on constantly expanding data, 90% of which was generated in the last two years, which has led to the biggest transformation of society, education, our economy and the largest transformation in communications since the printing press and the phone. Data is now also enabling us to push the boundaries on sustainability.
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Before going further, an admission – with a background in maths and economics, I have always had a fascination with numbers. More recently, in 2016, my research with Henley Business School culminated in modelling responses from sustainability leaders in 200 of the world’s largest companies to understand the business case drivers for their investment in sustainability. And the organisation I work for, Capgemini, is a major technology and consulting house, which continuously provides analytics and data insights to help clients across the globe transform their businesses. So, I know that data matters – and it is because of this that I am such proponent of data for sustainability.
One powerful sustainability dataset is curated by the Global Footprint Network [ https://www.footprintnetwork.org ]. Based in California, it collates a vast array of sustainability trends from around the world to provide instructive insights into the combined environment impacts of humanity at the global and country level. Ultimately, this extensive data set can be represented in the following graph:
The graph illustrates in a simple yet effective way, that since the 1970s humanity has been living a collective lifestyle beyond its means. This is graphically conceptualised above as the number of planets like Earth that would be required to support humanity’s current consumption patterns. Today that is 1.7 planets and based on current business-as-usual trends it will hit two planets in the next few years. Good data tells a story, and the Global Footprint Network’s dataset tells a story while issuing a very clear warning.
At the organisational level, data can also provide valuable insights on which a robust sustainability strategy can be constructed. My team continually mines data relating to our main environmental impacts (for us energy and travel), in order to increase the effectiveness of our response. But before sharing some examples, it is useful to reflect on the qualities of a useful dataset.
First, you need to have ‘good’ data. Having spent over a decade now building and refining our approach to sustainability measurement and reporting, we have identified four crucial facets of insightful data:
Then, you need to convert your data into useful insights. Since the beginning of our sustainability programme over a decade ago, we have been employing data driven insights to shape our sustainability strategy. These insights from our robust dataset has allowed us to accurately predict potential future scenarios, enabling us to set an appropriate and ambitious direction. This included, in 2016, setting science-based targets which give us the confidence to know that our ambitions are in line with the level of action demanded by climate science.
One specific aspect of our dataset, its granularity, has proved particularly critical in engaging our stakeholders. This granularity enables us to communicate with different stakeholders in different languages most accessible to them. It’s fair to say, for most people carbon is not an easy currency to understand – many times I have been asked, so what is a tonne of carbon? For our global real estate team, measuring energy consumption in mega-watt hours is both more logical and relevant, and consequently we set energy targets in mega-watt hours. For other groups, cost is key, and combining carbon targets with the potential hard cost savings available from energy efficiency or travel reductions provides a more powerful motivation than solely talking about carbon.
These insights must be used to drive targeted action. Specific data driven insights have also enabled many practical actions to be completed. For example:
A data visualisation of our business travel
Data analytics is also something that we are increasing employing to address our clients’ environmental impacts. Three recent examples include:
Mobilising our data for sustainability and change
In a world that has access to more and more data we need to ensure we are using it to drive change. This means making sure we are gathering good and relevant data – and using it to apply the insights which will led to action. In this way we will drive the change needed to address global challenges.