Driven by consumer demands, and greater concern for resource scarcity and productivity, more companies are tracking and reporting performance in an effort to meet corporate sustainability goals. But once the low-hanging fruit is picked, further improvements can require sophisticated tools, such as emerging big data and geospatial analytics, to help companies make more informed decisions about sustainability goals, according to a new report from Lux Research.
“Eventually, the need to track, report and optimize resource utilization will become core to every business, moving sustainability from a ‘nice to have‘ to being central to the assessment of financial performance and resilience strategy,” said Ryan Dolen, Lux Research Data Scientist, and co-author of the report, A Data-driven Approach to Sustainability Benchmarking. “Whether applied to emissions for concrete and cement companies or water for food and beverage companies, gathering and acting on better geospatial and temporal data will be a corporate differentiator.”
The new Lux Grid Networks Analytics (GNA) tool improves on the U.S. EPA’s existing Emissions & Generation Resource Database (eGRID), by assimilating and analyzing public grid-based electricity generation and exchange datasets that have previously been disconnected and underutilized. Lux analysts also examined the evolution of sustainability reporting and its impact on industries such as cement and food and beverage. Among their findings:
- Reporting is on the rise, but not yet thorough. The number of companies reporting to the CDP has boomed from just 253 in 2003 to over 5,000 in 2014. However, while 90 percent of reporting firms had complete data on electricity and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, only 10 percent reported well on water. Consistent measurement is the first step towards benchmarking and improving, and the gap between leaders and laggards is wide.
- Improved impact analysis. Better analytical tools enable more cost-effective decisions. For example, geospatial analysis enables a more precise measurement of CO2 impact. An emissions impact analysis using Lux GNA of a solar project installation decision for U.S. cement production facilities revealed that Holcim could have reduced emissions more than 50 percent further had it chosen its Ste. Genevieve, MO, location, rather than Fountain, CO, for its 156 MWh/year solar PV installation.
- The energy-water nexus is moving from rhetoric to action. Manufacturing operations thrive and survive on the basis of consistent, resilient and cost-effective energy and water availability. Companies such as Carlsberg are now as low as 633 kgal of water per million dollars in revenue or 3.3 hl of water per hl of beer through deployment of appropriate technology in their operations. Moving forward, Lux says the energy footprint of water used will also come into focus, a metric that will vary greatly by location.