// This article originally appeared in Business Review 2021 May Edition. You can read it here //
The volume of digital information stored in data centres is growing, accounting for 2 percent of global electricity consumption, and that figure could quadruple to 8 percent by 2030, according to figures cited by Bloomberg and presented in Wunderman Thomson’s “Future 100 2021” report.
Every email sent and every Google search performed, whether on a computer or a mobile phone, has an environmental cost. In an increasingly online world, that burden mounts up like waste in a landfill. According to a March 2019 report by the Shift Project think tank, digital technologies are responsible for 3.7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions—a similar amount to those generated by the airline industry. Moreover, according to the study, console waste is a related issue, due to the minerals used in the manufacturing of gaming systems and the difficulties around safe and eco-friendly disposal.
A 2020 study by researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom forecast that a large-scale switch to streaming games rather than using consoles could prompt a 30 per cent increase in gaming-related carbon emissions by 2030. Microsoft and Google are addressing this issue, both claiming that their data centres are carbon-neutral. Microsoft is working towards renewable energy solutions in its Azure data centres, citing a 2018 in-house study that showed cloud computing could be “up to 98 per cent more carbon-efficient than on-premise solutions.”
Big Data is also expected to play a key role in sustainable development in the public and institutional sphere, in what can be described as the transformation of Big Data into Sustainable Data.
”The ‘data revolution’ has been around for almost a decade and will keep accelerating. The amount of data that can be collected will impact every single activity on this planet, in both public institutions and corporations. We have to be aware that until the pandemic hit and before the 2030 Sustainability Agenda was introduced, most sustainability actions were PR/image-driven,” says Adrian Enache, CEO at Omniperform.
However, with the emergence of standards, reports, and more importantly, tools that could bring transparency to sustain-ability efforts, Big Data sheds light on the future. “More and more funds and investors are bringing attention to financial rating by taking it through the filter of sustainability and fulfilled objectives. And luckily, technology and the data revolution are here to make it easy to confirm whether it is happening. So, positive pressure will come from sources of funding or access to capital as well, and that is something that keeps the world spinning,” Adrian Enache adds.
In turn, public sustainability policy expert Titus Lipovan confirms that the radical innovative breakthroughs we have experienced in the past decade and the openness to change that our societies have shown in recent years lead us to believe that Big Data can become Sustainable Data. “But only as long as the process of collecting, analysing, and disclosing data is carried out under the principles of good democratic governance, especially in terms of sustainability and a long-term orientation, the rule of law, ethical conduct, openness and transparency, and last but not least, accountability”, Lipovan argues.
As environmental issues become real for many countries, both the private and public sectors need to find solutions for sustainable development. At the moment, companies are at the forefront when it comes to utilizing huge amounts of data and turning them into value. “And if we look at existing solutions for social and environmental issues that cause concern in the public sector, we can easily understand how using Big Data can also have a beneficial impact with visible results for governments. However, implementing a data-driven system requires specialized professionals, a change of mindset, new data protection regulations, and time, all of which make the process more difficult and complex. Hence, even if the benefits are undeniable, the implementation may be arduous and we cannot expect immediate changes,” explains Anca Muraru, founder of Gaiance.com
Big data can assist a business owner in understanding the end-to-end impact of their operations. They can now look at their raw material sourcing, product disposal, and even employee travel, then determine the most effective way to reduce waste throughout the value chain. Companies and conservationists alike can employ big data to improve their practices. If we consider the fact that 2015 alone had more data recorded than the entire history of mankind until 2014, there is no doubt that Big Data will become a powerful tool for monitoring sustainable development as interest in social, environmental, and economic global advances grow.
So, what measures should be taken in that regard?
According to Adrian Enache, almost half of the countries being tracked by the Global Sustainable Development Goals Indicators are yet to have Big Data systems which can deliver reliable data. So, the need for private-public partnerships to implement better strategies to acquire, interpret and standardize data are critical to these countries. And the pandemic has further affected data collection activities, especially in less-digitalized countries.
At the same time, Titus Lipovan believes that the most important measure that must be taken is shifting the current focus on the quantity of recorded data to the quality of the data – what we need to record and how to standardize the means of disclosing this data, most ethically and transparently, to all stakeholders.
Plus, another important measure is sustaining the technological transfer into practical strategic management tools, in both the public and private sectors. “Technological developments are already allowing sound and reliable data collection, which allows us to improve the analysis of unregulated information. For example, AI applications include machine-automated analysis and forecasting which can process
European Single Electronic Format (ESEF) already states that starting from 1 January 2020 all listed European companies are required to label their financial reports with XBRL (EXTENSIBLE BUSINESS REPORTING LANGUAGE) tags. XBRL is a reporting tool developed to improve the exchange of information among systems that can use predefined tags and can offer real-time transparency around the implementation status of SDG targets, as well as a holistic approach to integrated reporting by interweaving SDGs and financial data.
AWARENESS AND SOLUTIONS
So, how can companies be more aware of sustainability when it comes to the data they create and work with daily? According to Lipovan, in the next two years, many companies will be engaged in the first major update of their sustainability strategies. This represents a key opportunity for any businesses to make their first mature step into sustainability: that of identifying and integrating sustainability strategies, a standard framework for sustainability reporting like SDGs, GRI (GLOBAL REPORTING INITIATIVE) or Global Compact, for example. “This way, the data that will be created will help them in the process of monitoring their strategies, building their Sustainability Reporting, and positioning themselves as active and responsible players in the worldwide sustainability ecosystem,” he adds.
Solutions come as a response to a need – of reducing waste, increasing profits, improving the wellbeing of employees or minimising costs. Therefore, even companies that may not be interested in sustainability can become more aware of the environmental costs they produce while aiming to improve their image and respond to customers’ desires.
Within the company, by analysing the waste they produce and the energy they consume, among other factors, data analytics can help them reduce costs, improve productivity or reduce carbon emissions.
Solutions come as a response to a need – of reducing waste, increasing prof- its, improving the wellbeing of employees, or minimizing costs. Therefore, even companies that may not be interested in sustainability can become more aware of the environmental costs they produce while aiming to improve their image and respond to customers’ desires. Within the company, by analyzing the waste they produce and the energy they consume, among other factors, data analytics can help them reduce costs, improve productivity or reduce carbon emissions.
// This article appeared in Business Review 2021 May Edition. You can read it here //