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Meeting your sustainability goals will depend on your data

By Sanjay Tugnait | 5 minute read | October 26, 2021

Political, business and community leaders across the spectrum gathered at Glasgow’s COP26/SIF event from October 31 to November 10, 2021 to discuss and accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Challenges with natural resources may be extensive, but there is one abundant resource at hand to help – data. With collaboration and authentic leadership, data offers the greatest aid in meeting sustainability goals.

A clear call for sustainable change

The case for action is clear. There were 22 ‘billion dollar’ weather and climate disasters in the US alone in 2020, costing an estimated $95 billion in damages.

The World Economic Forum reported in January 2021 that business’ top five risks are related to the environment. 62% of CXOs said sustainability is essential to remain competitive.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ described the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group report as ‘Code Red for Humanity’ in August 2021.

Embedding sustainable practices will be key

Business and nations will need to embed sustainable practices into every area of their operations, products, services and policies if they are to have long term economic sustainability.

The UN has set a framework of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to help guide a path to a “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.” Those goals come with a dizzying 169 targets and 5,483 actions. Faced with a challenge of this scale and complexity business and governments are struggling to know how to effectively act.

Sustainable businesses will deliver environmental stability

Focusing on one SDG over another belies the interconnected nature of the targets and actions. Organizations need to address circular economy challenges and adopt green supply chains to achieve Goal 12 – responsible consumption.

Electrification of transportation and rapid movement to renewables will need to accelerate to achieve Goal 7 – affordable and clean energy.

Both areas will contribute positively toward achieving the net-zero targets necessary to keep climate increases below the 1.5 degree levels necessary to preserve a liveable climate, the focus of COP26.

Three supporting pillars to deliver net zero

We see three supporting pillars that must align to successfully to achieve our global net-zero ambitions:

  1. Corporations must see long-term value in adopting new business models and value chains informed by climate impact.

  2. Consumers and citizens must have transparent insights about their choices to encourage them to change their behaviors.

  3. Technology must deliver insights through digital platforms at a scale and speed not seen before.

The cornerstone of change is objective goals, trusted data and transparent reporting

IBM has been a committed leader in the environmental and sustainability space for over 50 years. In 1971 IBM published a prescient, forward-looking corporate policy for environmental protection. Since then, IBM has achieved sustained and demonstrable results. IBM took action long before it was popular or mandatory and the experiences have proven that the cornerstones of change are data, transparent reporting and objective goal setting.

Data is at the heart of helping all organizations make progress on their net zero goals. Available data around the use of carbon and the degree of carbon richness in our value chains is needed to see the progress on our carbon reduction. This is very hard to observe and act on without accurate data.

Sustainability solutions for immediate adoption

IBM’s work with clients has shown that presented with the right insights at the right time, businesses and consumers will act.

Atea, an IBM partner and Nova Sea, a Scandinavian seafood producer, are adopting the IBM Food Trust platform to improve traceability, sustainability and integrity in the seafood industry. IBM Food Trust is an AI and blockchain based food traceability solution that unlocks supply chain efficiencies, minimizes waste, and enhances a brand’s reputation with consumers. Food Trust can contribute directly to companies’ bottom lines.

Weather, operational resilience and climate risk are inextricably linked. IBM’s Environmental Intelligence Suite (EIS) helps organizations plan for and respond to disruptive weather and climate events using AI. Cajamar is using EIS right now, helping Spanish farmers improve yields and reduce environmental impact with its digital Plataforma Tierra tool.

Environmental goals and profitable businesses together

Helping companies streamline and automate the management of environmental risks and operationalize underlying processes, including carbon accounting and reduction, makes it possible to meet environmental goals and build more resilient and profitable businesses.

IBM is working with Energinet in Denmark on a new way of providing citizens with increasing levels of green electric power resilience and security of supply. Using the IBM Garage, a proven framework for transformation that combines people, processes and technology, we co-created a “virtual operator” that estimates risks to the grid based on large simulation data. We deployed a solution built on a hybrid cloud platform that uses AI to handle fluctuations in renewable energy and manage the grid better.

Data – the golden thread in the solutions

All these engagements share a common thread. Data at significant scale is critical for delivering these solutions. Data not held by any one area or in any one format. To achieve meaningful change, organizational silos that control data must be broken down and built on open and secure platforms to allow insights to be delivered at speed to consumers and business alike. New ways of thinking and operating must be uncovered.

IBM Garage for Sustainability methodology helps companies design and accelerate their sustainability transformations. It helps enterprises refine and focus their ideas, quantify the value of their initiatives using business and sustainability measures, and delivers results in weeks — not months or years. Given the state of the world today, time is not on our side.

Hera, an Italian waste management company fully adopting the circular economy, worked with the IBM Garage team to develop minimum viable products (MVPs) in just eight weeks, which is helping them accelerate their sustainability goals.

Using today’s most plentiful resource to save the most scarce

Achieving net zero targets starts and ends with data. Data, today’s most plentiful resource, needs to be used to save the scarcest. Working together across new value chains and ecosystems, technology helps accelerate progress toward a sustainable future for all.

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