Data: The ‘Golden Opportunity’ to UK sustainability Net Zero Challenge

The ambitious vision adopted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) was adopted by all members in 2015. The UK is one of those nations that signed up to commit to these goals. Part 1 looks at the current state of affairs with UK Businesses and local authorities taking on the mammoth task of […]

The ambitious vision adopted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) was adopted by all members in 2015. The UK is one of those nations that signed up to commit to these goals. Part 1 looks at the current state of affairs with UK Businesses and local authorities taking on the mammoth task of meeting Sustainability goals from a data perspective.

The current state of UK sustainability goals

According to an HSBC Bank survey, the UK business community welcomes the UNSDG targets. The survey found 75% percent of British firms stated they ‘must play their part’. This is significantly higher than their EU counterparts, with 58% in Spain, Netherlands, and France. It is also reassuring that British firms recognize the importance of meeting these goals and their responsibility to the world.

If anyone looks at any UK businesses or local authorities it is not difficult to see, they all have strategies in place for the ambitious goals, with many pouring a lot of money in technology and innovation. According to the Office of National Statistics, UK businesses spent an estimated £2.5 billion on environmental protection in 2017, compared with £2.1 billion in 2016. UK businesses spent 25.5 billion pounds in 2018 on innovation and technology. Yet according to the UN, these sustainability initiatives are not moving fast enough to meet the goals agreed in 2015.

Whilst businesses have shown sentiment to have sustainability on the business agenda. They have found it difficult to advance their sustainability strategy at the speed and scale required to meet the UN’s targets. The key challenge appears to be data available on the impact of any sustainability strategy. Local authorities are struggling to show the outcome of their strategy and where to concentrate their focus. With such a broad goal and large challenge data play an important role in achieving sustainability goals. There are however 3 data challenges that catalyze this problem.

Top 3 Data Challenges slowing business sustainability strategies

It is understood data is one of the missing links to this problem. The top 3 reasons data is a challenge:

  1. Not enough data available

One of the key challenges is not having enough data to measure the success or failures of sustainability. There appears to be a mismatch between the business sustainability strategy and the infrastructure in place to monitor the impact of the strategy. This is a wider problem in general, with businesses reporting the UK government reporting mechanism being unclear and difficulties in monitoring the widescale sustainability initiatives. With data being stored in silos, it means businesses are stuck with very limited scope and not enough data to have a full view of what’s happening.

  • Data is not scrutinised

A closer look at the monitoring tools also brings a lot of challenges with them. It is clear businesses rely on off-the-shelf analytical tools to measure their sustainability efforts. How much insight these tools can provide is subjective but the information available is not really able to provide the necessary insights.

According to the co-founder of the big data consultancy, Digital Bucket Company “this situation is proving to be widespread, partly due to the lack of understanding of what data is and how it works.  Analytics works on data that is given, and this is precisely the issue. Relying on off-the-shelf analytics tool the data is not scrutinized nor is the algorithms that are being used by the analytic tool for the result.” Says Kwame Dublin, from the Digital Bucket Company.  

  • Buying data from third party

Many businesses and public sector organizations spend millions of pounds a year buying data from third-party companies or organizations. This is normal practice and it is by far the biggest gamble. First, the data has been collected in a different context to another business. The data is unlikely to be as accurate and this, in turn, increases the risk of bad decision making.

Kwame from Digital Bucket Company added “organizations relying on data from the third party really risk the ability to shift directions as a business. Most of the data that is being purchased is for operational purposes, so if they stop buying the data they become stuck. It’s a real smoking gun situation. They are stuck and dependant on the third party.”

Data is becoming increasingly important and central to any business or local authority to be able to get a much better understanding of sustainability developments.