Point of View

Master your data to excel in sustainability

June 2, 2021

Become an ecosystem leader by conquering your data, road-mapping toward sustainability goals, and pulling others along with you.

Providers of technology and business services are increasingly developing solutions for the data challenges in making “sustainability transitions”; these same providers are also tying in their broader services portfolios to help clients make sustainability native.

At a high level, we know what we need to do to tackle climate change and move toward all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which cover all aspects of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) sustainability. On climate change, for example, we need to reduce our worldwide emissions to net-zero by 2050 at the absolute latest to have a chance at staying below a 1.5-degree global temperature rise (since pre-industrial times) and avoid further, more catastrophic, and irreversible ecosystem breakdown and extreme events. “Roadmaps” or “pathways” are frequently used to plan this journey, but equally frequently, they come unstuck because of data. Measuring the current ESG footprint of a business, region, or country is tough enough—but add on continuously monitoring progress, optimizing performance, and reporting in line with varying global standards… and it’s an even tougher problem.

The need for enterprises to make rapid, sustainable transitions is an opportunity—and a responsibility—for service providers

The “pull” for sustainability services from providers’ new and existing enterprise clients is accelerating. Many enterprises, however, still need a push—especially in the case of providers trying to embed sustainability in their existing engagements. There’s an increasingly clear relationship between sustainability and business performance, but despite that, most enterprises remain nascent in their sustainability journeys, creating an opportunity for service providers to be driving forces throughout entire ecosystems.

More and more businesses approach service providers with sustainability demands driven by their C-Suites—while also incorporating metrics in their procurement processes (albeit these metrics have highly-variable weightings!). Providers increasingly cite deals they’re winning because of their sustainability capabilities. Chief sustainability officer (CSO) budgets within enterprises are still not where they need to be, but this is shifting after years of the CSO being a coordinating role (not that that’s a bad thing in and of itself!).

Eventually, regulation will force businesses to act—waiting for governments to catch up is no longer an excuse

There’s currently much uncertainty around the lead-up to and aftermath of COP26 (the flagship UN climate summit) this November, delayed from last November due to the pandemic. COP26 now comes six years after the famous Paris Agreement, and there’s widespread agreement that not enough has been done. The uncertainty around what agreements and regulation will happen in Glasgow (UK) this November is not conducive to planning—but quite frankly, we’re past the point where government and regulatory inaction is a good-enough excuse.

Businesses need to get ahead of regulation—regardless of its timing and form—and drag governments and their ecosystem peers along with them. In the US, for example, the new Biden administration has made a promising start and seems to be spurring enthusiasm through the provider and enterprise communities; time will tell whether there can be enough consensus between world and industry leaders to force the global shift we need.

There’s still an opportunity for businesses and service providers to lead their ecosystems in transitioning to sustainability. The opportunity, responsibility, and need are so vast that leaders can drag their ecosystems along. If you’re not ahead of the sustainability curve, then regulation will happen to you. But in that desperation to act, there’s also a chance to be instrumental in setting regulations.

Once your starting point is measured and your data is in place and in form—you can move along a roadmap and embed sustainability in all your processes. Mastering data will allow you to move past short-term token actions that look good on press releases and put together the plan you need for long-term sustainability—and making sustainability native.

There’s a growing ecosystem of service provider solutions for sustainability measuring, monitoring, reporting, and improvement

We’ve identified some headline examples of platforms and solutions addressing the data, measuring, monitoring, reporting, and optimization aspects of a sustainability transition, and the ongoing demands:

  • Salesforce Sustainability Cloud platform is positioning as a “one-stop-shop” for business leaders and auditors to assess enterprise emissions from the shop floor (via internet of things [IoT] sensors, for example) through to supply chain emissions (collated via company-wide processes and ERP systems).
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP) combines its technology and services to drive sustainability internally and for its customers. GCP’s operations and innovation work with implementation partners and enterprise leaders is a massive opportunity to build blueprints that align sustainability with improving IT and business processes. The blueprints can then be replicated throughout industries that all need to make sustainable transitions. GCP has developed a roadmap to meet execs’ sustainability demands for projects; see our separate report for more.
  • KPMG Climate Accounting Infrastructure (CAI) covers the measuring, monitoring, and reporting of sustainability, and KMPG adds further road-mapping and strategy services. Like GCP above, CAI brings in multiple data sources for benchmarking against industry peers. Automated reporting to different entities under different regulations combines with key metrics, and it gives users the ability to drill down into detail. KPMG has patented CAI as a system, but not the software, so as not to reinvent the wheel when others, including cloud and instrumentation companies, have cracked the code.
  • Infosys Cobalt cloud platform uses technology and services in combination for sustainability. Infosys is improving the sustainability of those offerings, which improves the sustainability of its enterprise customers. Infosys can alternate the source of Cobalt’s computing power based on “load balancing” to reduce the emissions footprints of cloud storage and operations.
  • Accenture Sustainability Hub acts as a warehouse for its own procurement team’s sustainability appraisals of suppliers, reducing the need for excessively manual RFP submissions and sustainability assessments. Accenture’s suppliers can simply update their status and maintain it “live” in the warehouse. Third-party data also links in for predictive analysis and objective scoring of potential suppliers’ sustainability against predefined metrics and weighting and to predict any undesirable future events. See our more detailed take on Accenture’s broader sustainability services play.
  • TCS Clever Energy is an enterprise-level energy and emission management system, which we cover separately, to aid evidence-informed decision making without compromising their business needs to drive energy conservation initiatives and recognize cost-savings in the broader shift toward decarbonization.

The Bottom Line: Measure your starting point to begin making sustainability native. You know the ultimate target. Partners can help with interim targets—and with data.

Customers, employees, and partners won’t accept businesses that wait for government regulation and fail to act now on sustainability.

Exhibit 1 is the HFS Data Cycle that all enterprises are grappling with in their transformations. The data challenge is true, whether it’s digital, diversity, or sustainability transformation… or all of the above. Keep an eye on HFS Research as we continue to develop the sustainability, technology, services, and data narrative throughout 2021.

Exhibit 1: Data platforms and service provider partnerships have a strategic role to play in sustainability transformations

Source: HFS Research, 2021


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