Blending Big Data and Sustainability Business Goals to Improve Your Positive Impact
Big data is heralded as the next frontier for discovery, innovation, competition, and productivity. As sustainability experts, we can learn from that to use sustainability data to (co-)create shared value with new products and business models.
Big data is heralded as the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. It’s a priority for many CEOs, who also have sustainability high on their agenda But where big data is used to create new insights and innovate, sustainability data, so far, is mostly used for reporting. Instead, we should be learning from big data’s approach and build on the potential of sustainability in business to use performance metrics to (co-)create shared value, new products and innovative business models.
Performance Metrics – Essential for Informed Decision-Making
Goals for sustainability in business are often derived from general concepts like the circular economy or cradle-to-cradle. However, decisions made on the basis of these concepts need to be substantiated by the underlying data to result in the best sustainable innovation or Eco design. Decisions that look like common sense may still be wrong if they’re based on the wrong performance metrics. For example, it seems logical that online video rental would have less environmental impact than driving to the video store. Data analysis shows, however, that browsing Netflix’s website for 30 minutes is roughly equivalent to driving a hybrid car to a store half a mile away, exceeding the energy spend delivering the DVDs.
To Have Impact, You Must Measure Impact
There is a lot of data at hand to help you get the performance metrics right and make better decisions: from general databases like ecoinvent to company-specific data from production facilities and suppliers. More and more companies are using these data for Eco designing products, packaging or buildings. And instead of having this done in isolation by a specialised department without involvement of the business and your value chain, the most effective way to add value with your services is to collaborate more closely.
Being Transparent Opens Up New Potential
What if you could be more transparent about your business’ sustainability data and share your performance metrics with important users? Or even broader? Then you would tap into the new potential for innovation through people who use your data to help co-create your products. Nike, for example, is already doing this in a limited way: the Nike Materials Sustainability Index allows you to check the impact of materials used for their products.
Using a Social Business Platform to Activate Your Business Ecosystem
Sharing data alone isn’t sufficient for people to want to help you develop better products. To engage with suppliers and clients, whether internal or external, you need to go one step further. Provide a social business platform where people can share knowledge, collaborate and co-create. There are numerous examples, like Open IDEO or Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop By linking platforms like these to your business’ sustainability data and scenarios, you provide a driving force to create innovative new products and business models. Your own social business platform could also be used to share knowledge or collaborate on projects. If you don’t have a solution in-house, platforms such as Igloo, Yammer or Tibbr can be configured for social sharing.
So if you want to engage with suppliers and (internal) clients around sustainability, and fully reap the benefits of using the big data approach for your own sustainability data, don’t start with telling them what you want them to do. Share your impact data and actively engage with your business ecosystem, so they can see where they can contribute and where you can make a difference together.
Sustainability is all about impact. Positive impact makes you meaningful. But first you have to know where you are making an impact and where you can create shared value. That’s where PRé comes in. Pinpointing your impact is an essential starting point for taking joint action with people and organisations in your ecosystem. The combination of sustainability and social business can make a real change in the way we do business.