Establishing Sustainability in the Age of Data

By now, most companies have accepted the necessity of digital transformation – moving their processes, data, and archiving onto digital media. However, amid the rush to put in place resilient, strong systems, few take the time to think about the ecological impact of their business.

This is a shame, and not just for the planet. Data storage and processing infrastructure now use a significant percentage of the energy we produce, and the politics of storage mean that companies who provide storage infrastructure are driven to use more and more resources in order to make data as available as possible — either by duplicating data across multiple sites, or using energy-intensive forms of digital memory.

Reducing the environmental impact of your IT infrastructure will have a positive impact on the planet, but also on your business. For the average business, energy usage is an excellent proxy measure of resource usage more generally. 

This means that by analyzing your energy requirements, you will begin to build a more holistic, realistic view of your business. And thankfully, recent advances in data tools have made this easier than ever. In this article,we’ll look at how big data is helping companies reach their sustainability goals, and how you can learn from their example.

Also read: 7 Essential Compliance Regulations for Data Storage Systems

Big Data and Sustainability

There are many reasons why companies should look to Green IT as part of their digital transformation journey. One is simply the moral argument. Multiple Global Risks Reports have found that climate action failure is the most significant threat to our society, second only to infectious diseases. 

There are some more imminent reasons why you should consider your environmental impact, however. Studies have shown that companies that invest financial resources in sustainability generally find that super operational performance and and resilience will follow. This finding also appears to have held up even during the chaos of the last year.

And, even more surprisingly, the Business Resiliency During Covid-19 Survey conducted by Freshbooks indicates that this is true even in industries that  were among the hardest hit during social distancing regulations.

We are also at a critical juncture when it comes to tracking and improving the sustainability of our systems. For much of the past century, the true impact of the systems we rely on, from manufacturing to the electricity used by computers, was difficult to assess. Now, the world’s data is opening up, and it’s possible for even small companies to use data to get an accurate measure of their environmental impact.

Digital Transformation for Sustainability

In short, building sustainability into your digital transformation is likely to improve your business processes, the way that your customers see your brand, and ultimately your profitability. And it need not be hard. Here are three key areas to look at.

Embrace Product-as-a-Service

One of the biggest impacts of the big data revolution has been on the way in which products, both digital and physical, are sold to consumers. Now, with adaptive supply chains and transparent data on consumer demand, more companies are embracing product-as-a-service models.

Not only do such models close the green storage gap by reducing the amount of data that companies need to store — they can improve margins by making sure that you are not paying for storage (both digital and physical) that you don’t immediately need.

Re-thinking the Supply Chain

A related process is to look at the way that your supply chain works. Today, advances in cloud storage and data processing make it possible for companies across the supply chain to share data. By building such a system, or by negotiating access to the system used by your suppliers, you can begin to map your supply chain in a much more holistic way.

The use of tracking platforms and open data offers superior, real-time accountability to limit environmental impacts before they become worse. It can also allow you to see where resources are being wasted in your systems, and reduce this before it starts to affect your margins.

Defining Core Values

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that your customers are likely to respond positively to a move toward sustainability. There is now a widespread appreciation of the impact of business on the environment, and companies that take steps to bolster their green credentials are likely to see rewards in the form of enhanced consumer loyalty.

A green commitment of this type can be signaled in many ways. Even if your business is predominantly digital, for instance, you can begin to swap to green energy sources to power your servers. Alternatively, you can use your expertise to get involved in programs that seek positive social outcomes, such as the initiatives on preserving digital history.

A Green Future

Sustainability is far more than a buzzword. Though it’s undoubtedly important to reduce the impact of your business on the environment, you should also recognize that there is a good business case to use the data available to you to assess this impact holistically. Doing so isn’t only good for the environment — it could also be great for your business. 

Read next: Managing Unstructured Data Across Hybrid Architectures

Nahla Davies
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

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