The ultimate guide to sustainability data


Written by: Shuchi Nijhawan, Chief HR Officer & Chief Sustainability Officer

Despite there being a considerable movement worldwide on what Sustainability entails, the idea of Sustainability, even less so sustainability reporting, is still ambiguous for most working professionals.

Data here lends the much-needed credibility and transparency. It makes understanding parameters that make up the concept of Sustainability relatable and intelligible and provides an empirical basis for the reports replete with marketing-oriented qualitative information and statements.

As with any data, sustainability data has four components that make up the value of the data:

Depends on the number of sustainability parameters and velocity of data collection chosen to collect data on.

Frequency of data collection.

Refers to the different kinds of sustainability data collected, whether Environmental, Social, Economic, and further categories.

Refers to the accuracy of the data collected and depends on the systems in place to collect such data and how honest the company managing it is.

If your company’s Sustainability programs are genuinely geared to contribute positively to global issues like climate change, pollution, human rights violations among many others on a long-term basis, you certainly cannot ignore accurate, detailed, consistent, and comparable data collection.

Classification of Data
Accurate data gives the company the knowledge and therefore, the power to make the transition to a Sustainable business – without enough information, the companies are doomed to be ineffective.

Sustainability Data Type 1

1. Recorded Data
Financial data, Environmental parameters like recycled materials used, Economic performance, amounts of Waste in different categories, Effluent discharged etc.

2. Calculated Data
Environmental parameters such as Emissions, Social parameters like gender and age ratios of the workforce, Economic performance parameters like taxes etc.

3. Qualitative Data
Non-numeric data such as indirect economic impacts, Biodiversity related information Supplier Social and Environmental Assessments, Trainings, Community programs, Policies, Principles, Organisation description, Locations of a company at risk of unethical practices, etc.

Sustainability Data Type 2 – By Sustainability pillars

Environmental Data
This includes the numerous environmental parameters related to air, water, soil, noise, climate change, biodiversity, etc.

Social/Stakeholder related Data
Refers to information on employees, employee benefits, community, programs for their betterment, gender and diversity within the organization, measures to prevent unethical practices like child labour, corruption, customer privacy breaches, anti-bribery, human rights violations, among numerous others.

Governance/Corporate Data
For example, organisation information, employee data, organization structure and composition by age, gender, management principles for various departments and programs in the organization, etc.
If your company’s Sustainability programs are genuinely geared to contribute positively to global issues like climate change, pollution, human rights violations among many others on a long-term basis, you certainly cannot ignore accurate, detailed, consistent, and comparable data collection.

Data by nature can also be minutely calibrated and collected from a wide number of sources, as mentioned earlier. The challenge to companies is then recording and consolidating the data that already exists with it. Such information is scattered among various departments, perhaps incomparably and inconsistently recorded, while also their significance not well-understood, and the depth of data collection may be poor.

In the absence of digitized systems, extensive training of employees to appreciate parameters and data collection may be required.

Sustainability Data Type 3 – By source

  • Digital devices – Environmental parameters – air, water, soil, noise, emissions, etc.
  • HR Department – Employee information, Policies, Programs, organizational information, etc.
  • Existing collaterals of the company – Annual Reports, Financial Reports, CSR reports, etc.
  • Generated information – Sources of information as in the case of surveys for materiality analysis, stakeholders’ inputs, statements by community members, grievances, news reports, etc.
  • Reference material by external organizations – such as landscape surveys, biodiversity reports, community demographics, natural resource reserves, government bodies’ communications etc.

What does it mean to the Stakeholders?

Data speaks to everybody, and that includes all the company’s stakeholders. One of the most crucial stakeholders for companies are perhaps investors both current and potential. Data to investors primarily means transparency which in the sustainability context helps them keep an eye out for stability, future-proofness and trends in return on investment of the investee company.

Accurate data is conducive to regulatory compliance and self-correction where necessary. The local governments need appropriate data to chart a progression towards greater and greater Sustainability and possibly net-zero goals for companies under its jurisdiction and monitor them periodically for their adherence to applicable regulations.

Customers favour companies that are transparent (about their data too), ethical, and conservationist. Their data available readily to them elicits this trust.

Similarly, the community(ies) impacted by a company’s operations would trust them to take actions to better their impacts or ameliorate the negative impacts of their operations if they can see an adequate amount of relevant information on the company’s operations available publicly.

The news media is always looking for the next sensational story and with its realization that numbers (read data) give their story a punch, they are the public whistle-blowers or “trumpet-blowers” for anything a company does. The company is then answerable to the news media too.

The best way to tackle sustainability data

As is evident by now, the expectations of Sustainability reporting range extensively in breadth and granularity. The several reporting standards give you the knowledge and the guidance to “get your act together,” but the onus still lies on you to act and report on Sustainability.

Especially if you are a large, mature company, can you afford to rely on human recording and collection of data, along with biases in reporting when your reputation, investment, customer trust and compliance are at stake?

Having stated the significance of data and the need for it to be appropriately classified and accurately recorded, it becomes apparent how well you must know all the data you need on your company’s sustainability parameters and actions. But does your company have the resources and know-how to accurately and consistently capture and report on them?

It might come as a relief for you to know that the whole process can easily be digitized and save you from the overwhelming undertaking of recording data over the entire reporting period and producing a report. Not only does it drastically slash human effort but also ensures greater accuracy – a win-win!


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