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5 Ways Data Can Help Save the Planet

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Read more about author Mathias Golombek.

A sustainable and equitable world is the holy grail – a world in which planet comes before profit; where equality, diversity, and inclusion are a prerequisite; and where ethics are baked into every aspect of our society and business.  

While this may seem like decades away from becoming a reality, there is hope. 

If the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) showed us anything, it was that the world’s governments, businesses, and institutions are coming together to take action. Yes, the negotiations were flawed. But the conversation has changed and we can expect a renewed energy to fight climate change and build a world that will provide for generations to come. 

But change needs direction. It needs insight. And it needs benchmarks to make a real difference and ensure everyone can be accountable moving forward. This begins and ends with data.

There is no time to delay – we need to act now. Here are the lessons we learned from our climate report on how we build a world that will be there to support generations to come.

1. Data can help close the perception gap 

More than three-quarters of corporate social responsibility (CSR) decision-makers around the world think that their customers believe they’re doing enough to combat climate change. This number rises to 81% in the U.K., and even further to 90% in China. But consumers themselves tell a different story – a disjunction that’s particularly stark in some regions. Only 59% of customers globally (60% in the U.K.) actually think businesses are doing enough, a number that drops to 47% in China. To ensure customer loyalty – and do their part – businesses must recognize the gap and take active steps to close it. 

2. Data can help apply pressure 

According to our research, almost half (45%) of consumers think pressure from them and brand reputation were the top motivators for companies to participate in CSR and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts. They’re right – to a degree. More than three-quarters (76%) of CSR decision-makers say it would be reputation- or business-destroying if it emerged that their company had the opportunity to make data-led climate-friendly business decisions but didn’t. A significantly smaller portion of CSR decision-makers (29%) cite ESG policies and laws as their top motivator. Disappointingly, only 27% said “being genuine about being a socially responsible company” motivated them.  

3. Data can enable accountability

The good news is businesses aren’t ignoring these consumer expectations. Many have started to implement CSR programs to meet the latest demand from customers and employees alike, and have a positive impact on the planet. In fact, four in five CSR professionals believe that their sustainability credentials influence consumer buying behaviors, demonstrating that CSR can have a profitable and sustainable outcome.  

But in order for this to make a measurable difference, businesses need to be able to prove that they are doing good – and crucially investing in the right data-driven initiatives. 

4. Data can help drive change

Data has the power to drive positive, equitable change. The problem is, not enough companies are embracing its capabilities. In fact, four in five CSR decision-makers agree that they could make better decisions around climate change, diversity and inclusion practices, and ethical and sustainable business practices if they had access to data-led insights. However, only 22% currently use all the data available to them and less than half strongly agree that their company has enough data on hand to prove their credentials in these three areas. 

What needs to change is business itself, and the view on the value of data. CSR professionals reveal that the primary reason for being unable to gain insights from data on climate change, diversity and inclusion, and ethical and sustainable business practices is the lack of a directive within the business or industry to pursue a data-driven approach. They need a strategy and a road map for change.  

5. Data can help measure road maps and KPIs

A road map for improving their sustainability credentials is one of the central ways businesses can address the business-consumer perception gap, while also creating a clear and measurable strategy for sustainability. However, to date, this has not been a priority for a large proportion of organizations, and worryingly some businesses have no plans to change this.  

The percentage of those with a comprehensive strategy is just 34% in the U.K., according to CSR leaders, while the number reaches a peak in China at 65%. In light of the significant difference in company and consumer perceptions in China, as well as its status as a large-scale industrial power, it’s encouraging that a significant proportion of Chinese companies have comprehensive plans. And, even better, CSR leaders reveal that 92% of businesses with a roadmap have communicated this to their customers – a vital step in changing views. 

Building a Sustainable Future 

These five trends demonstrate that climate change, diversity, and equality are front of mind for both consumers and businesses. But in order to make a markable impact, they need to work together to collectively look at behaviors, and use data and insights to make everyone accountable for the impact they have on our planet. Only then will we be able to build a sustainable future and come ever closer to that holy grail!

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