More large companies are tracking, reporting, and striving to meet corporate sustainability goals. However, once the low-hanging fruit is picked, further improvements demand sophisticated tools, like emerging big data and geospatial analytics, to help companies make more informed decisions about sustainability goals, according to Lux Research.
Ryan Dolen, Lux Research data scientist and a co-author of the report, A Data-driven Approach to Sustainability Benchmarking, says the need to track, report and optimize resource utilization will soon become central to every business’ assessment of financial performance and resilience strategy.
The new Lux Grid Networks Analytics (GNA) tool improves on the EPA’s existing Emissions & Generation Resource Database (eGRID), by assimilating and analyzing public grid-based electricity generation and exchange datasets that have previously been disconnected and underutilized. Lux analysts also examined the evolution of sustainability reporting and its impact on industries like cement and food and beverage.
Among the findings:
- Reporting is on the rise, but not yet thorough. The number of companies reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project has boomed from just 253 in 2003 to more than 5,000 in 2014. However, while 90 percent of reporting firms had complete data on electricity and greenhouse gas emissions, only 10 percent reported well on water. Consistent measurement is the first step towards benchmarking and improving, and the gap between leaders and laggards is wide.
- Improved impact analysis. With better analytical tools, cost-effective decisions are enabled. Geospatial analysis enables a more precise measurement of CO2 impact. An emissions impact analysis using Lux GNA of a solar project installation decision for US cement production facilities revealed that Holcim could have reduced emissions more than 50 percent further had it chosen the Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, location, rather than Fountain, Colorado, for its 156 MWh/year solar PV installation.
- The energy-water nexus is moving from rhetoric to action. Manufacturing operations thrive and survive on the basis of consistent, resilient and cost-effective energy and water availability. Companies such as Carlsberg are now as low as 633 kgal of water per million dollars in revenue or 3.3 hl of water per hl of beer through deployment of appropriate technology in their operations. Moving forward, the energy footprint of water used will also come into focus, a metric that will vary greatly by location based on Lux’s geospatial analysis.
IBM is one company betting on big data to help firms advance their sustainability goals. The tech giant says it will invest $3 billion over the next four years to establish a new Internet of Things unit, and that it is building a cloud-based open platform designed to help clients and ecosystem partners build IoT systems.