Getting Past Greenwashing: Measuring What Really Matters

The relationship between technology and sustainability is a precarious one

According to a report commissioned as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2030 Vision found that 70% of the 169 UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets can be directly supported by advanced technologies.

However, data is being generated at staggering rates across the globe and will only continue to grow. Statista forecasts a global datasphere of 180ZB by 2025. The environmental impact of massive data creation and the resources required to store, process, and analyze it can’t be overstated. The carbon footprint data creates is huge and companies must take direct, measurable action to decrease their carbon footprints and work toward building a more sustainable future.

And, while there are many metrics companies share in their sustainability marketing pushes, it’s not always clear what’s really being measured, or how those metrics compare to well, anything. It’s critical for companies to take seriously the gravity of their role in helping mitigate the climate crisis while avoiding greenwashing, which serves no purpose other than to create positive brand currency. This is the difference between looking sustainable and doing what is necessary to actually be sustainable.

So, how can your company ensure they’re not engaging in greenwashing? Consider these three best practices for streamlined measurement and third-party sustainability monitoring.

1. Establish science-based targets (SBT) for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) provides organizations with a realistic pathway to reduce Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Most corporate sustainability initiatives focus on Scopes 1 and 2 emissions – referring to the direct carbon output of an organization and an organization’s indirect emissions associated with the purchase and use of electricity.

What fewer organizations think about are Scope 3 emissions, which focus on the broader impact associated with a company’s upstream and downstream value chain. These are more difficult to affect and more difficult to measure, but fundamental to any purposeful and impactful drive to be more sustainable.

2. Quantify your carbon footprint to report Scope 3 emissions

Stakeholders today increasingly demand environmental accountability from the companies they engage with. In fact, according to a report by The Carbon Trust, 56% of people would be more loyal to a brand if they could see at a glance that it was taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. Accordingly, for business leaders, it will be imperative to offer a range of capabilities that allow stakeholders to collect environmental data about the technologies, products, and platforms you’re using – or risk suffering the consequences of your secrecy.

In the age of sustainable activism, gone are the days of plausible deniability. On the contrary, to remain in compliance with global environmental targets, companies must be vigilant about both the assets you control and the assets you use, but don’t own. Thankfully, through supply chain transparency, this is a possibility, allowing stakeholders to take a direct look at the environmental output of products across their entire lifecycle, from your components, to your manufacturing, to your end-of-life recycling or disposition.

3. Engage with trusted third-party players

Today, organizations must be prepared to show their work when they share impressive data points about their sustainability successes. How did they arrive at those numbers? How do they compare across the industry landscape? And perhaps most importantly, how did they measure in the first place? Lauding your environmental accomplishments is all well and good – but if nobody believes that your reporting is accurate, you can be at risk of losing the confidence of your stakeholders.

To bring trust into every stage of your environmental reporting, business leaders should consider engaging third parties in the space to validate data outputs and tie up any loose ends. The CDP, for instance, is a great example of a not-for-profit that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies and governments to manage their environmental impacts. By committing to independent sustainability assessments, companies can build trust and further elevate their role as an authentic leader in the environmental conservation.

Final thoughts:

In an era of digital transformation and cloud adoption, one fact remains abundantly clear: More data requires more energy. Accordingly, it’s imperative that organizations apply ESG commitments to their technology and data strategies in a way that’s measurable, achievable and transparent. We’ve moved past far-in-the-future dates of when a company will reach carbon neutrality – because stakeholders are demanding action right now.

In order to meet this urgent need, business leaders must ensure that there’s no difference between what they say, and what they do, when it comes their sustainability reporting. Admittedly, this is not going to happen overnight, nor is it a panacea. However, by setting attainable sustainability objectives, and partnering with third-party experts who can verify your progress, companies can lead the sustainability charge amid the digital age and build trust at every step of the way.

About the Author

Matt Watts is Chief Technology Evangelist at NetApp. In a world of generalists, we are the specialists. #NetApp

Featured image: ©Nmedia