5 tips for easier sustainability data management
Now it’s that time of the year again when many sustainability professionals focus on data management and quality or more bluntly getting the figures right into the report. Traditionally the data management process has been both the most overlooked and time consuming part of the sustainability reporting. I have personally spent a good proportion of my last 10 working years helping companies and sustainability professionals to make the sustainability data management as easy as possible. From this experience I have gathered 5 tips below for making data management as easy as possible. Enjoy and next year it does not have to be that difficult!
1. Focus on what matters
Reporting guidelines as well as the common sense highlighting the importance for companies to focus on material sustainability impacts this tip is a no brainer. The principles of materiality can and should also be applied to measuring and managing sustainability data. The most important data from the sustainability impact and company performance point of view requires the most attention and systems. The documentation of the definition process for materiality is required by the current reporting guidelines. This documentation can be expanded to the data management process and individual indicator and detailed data item level. This way you have control over situations where personnel responsible for data management change in your organisation, you have a reference point when the definitions need to be changed and these definitions serve also also as a basis for automating the data management processes, Tip 4.
2. Make the numbers valuable
Through working with numerous corporations with sustainability data management I’ve noticed that the single most important thing affecting the data quality and the process efficiency is the fact how relevant the data is to the person gathering and supplying it. With relevance I mean first the financial impact. Related to the first tip, when focusing on material issues you are bound to work also with data that has material financial meaning to your organisation. The more bottom line impact the data has the likeliness that people get interested on the results increases. Secondly people in general enjoy getting feedback, this applies to sustainability data as well. When you get the numbers from someone do provide feedback in form of benchmarks on corporate and industry averages. Applying a positive competition on sustainability KPI’s within the organisation improves not only the performance but also the data quality.
3. Use your existing internal expertise
Many sustainability departments (if not all) are relatively small. Gathering data can then get to be all that department does during the year. Finance departments have years of experience of gathering, consolidating and assuring data for the internal and external reporting purposes. Some organisations have successfully integrated their internal processes and leveraged their existing expertise. Keep in mind that this works both ways so definitely a lot of selling, engagement and training is needed. Luckily sustainability as a corporate theme tends to draw enthusiastic people from different departments, so finding your internal champion from the finance department should not be impossible. There are also wider organisational and also sustainability management benefits in integrating sustainability closer to the finance department’s processes and systems regarding the Integrated Reporting and overall acceptance and success of sustainability programs.
In a perfect world all sustainability management and reporting data would flow to sustainability department from existing business systems. In reality still much of the data is outside the everyday management systems and needs to be separately gathered. This is highly sector and company dependent, but in almost every case you are able to find some data in the format required from your existing systems. Do evaluate your existing data resources and try to automate as much as possible of the data management tasks as possible. This definitely is the way of the future when advanced integration and communication technologies such as the XBRL continue to evolve also to the sustainability data management domain.
Today there are number of good dedicated IT solutions helping to facilitate and automate the sustainability data gathering, consolidation, storage and reporting processes and analysis. These software providers come with different expertise and focus areas some providing point solutions to specific management issues and some with more integrated approaches towards the sustainability management and of course with different budgetary requirements. Certification systems for software providers have emerged such as the GRI Certified Software Provider and CDP Service Partner programs. Also analysts firms such as Verdantix and Gartner include sustainability software providers into the analyses.. The most important question is what you are going to be doing with the system, so a thorough internal requirements specification is needed, keeping in mind the Tip 1. Once your functional and content requirements are clear there are number of other things to consider when selecting a software solution, again, you have in-house knowledge on those issues in your IT department, so do you use their support.
5. Don’t do it all yourself
During the last 10 years we have witnessed an exponential growth in sustainability data supply. Various service providers are now able to deliver you relevant data. When also the reporting focus is shifting more and more towards material issues in the value chain it is virtually impossible to manage all the data from the suppliers down to the source yourself. So do utilize the work done by your business partners!
Here you go! Do not hesitate to contact us if you want more insight into any points above!