Sustainability Sustainability & ESG

The Role of IT in Sustainability

IT professionals are an overlooked resource for sustainability. Given the immense importance of data for sustainability impact tracking, monitoring and reporting, IT professionals can support processes like sustainability data collection, automation and analysis.

The role of information technology (IT) in implementing sustainability reporting and management systems cannot be overstated. Business sustainability depends on accessing high-quality data and assessing it to create strategic plans to improve environmental performance. IT experts have the right knowledge and analytic frameworks for working with data of all kinds. Training them on the ins and outs of sustainability data and systems can amplify your business sustainability efforts. 

IT professionals have skills and knowledge useful for a wide range of sustainability issues: 

  • comparing and choosing software solutions
  • ensuring high-quality data collection processes across departments and among key stakeholders like suppliers and customers
  • linking hardware and software to automate business activity data collection
  • analyzing large quantities of sustainability data points from a variety of data sources.

IT-informed sustainability management practices can not only save time and costs but also help organizations more effectively achieve their sustainability goals.

Overlap between IT skills and sustainability management skills

Sustainability managers align their reporting to specific KPIs and metrics that require applying specific data collection methodologies to achieve accurate results. While sustainability managers may be more familiar with these KPIs, IT professionals often have the appropriate analytical frameworks for ensuring high-quality data collection across a range of data types. Their knowledge of digital infrastructure excels in identifying data management solutions. 

In other words, IT professionals can be trained on sustainability data requirements to identify, assess, and implement appropriate cloud computing as well as the data requirements needed to track sustainability goals.

With the scale and complexity of today’s businesses and the diverse types of sustainability data to collect, IT professionals are essential to avoiding quantitative data errors and oversights. They can also analyze data to more effectively communicate the impact of using estimations, confidence margins and other technical details linked to sustainability data analysis. 

In order for sustainability teams and IT teams to collaborate, it’s important to share the overarching sustainability strategy and its significance to stakeholders, so IT professionals are aware of how their work fits into the bigger picture. 

Common types of sustainability data to collect

Sustainability data includes GHG emissions, water consumption, energy consumption, and waste diversion and recycling rates. Effectively measuring business performance and activity data linked to these topics requires consistently applying a measurement methodology aligned with the business model. 

For GHG emissions, the GHG Protocol is the most widely used approach to determining how to report Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions for operational, purchased, and value chain business activities. The protocol also shares techniques for defining the operational boundaries, calculating energy intensity versus absolute emissions, translating business activity data into appropriate carbon emissions estimates using emissions factors, and more. 

Companies may choose to define their KPIs and metrics for other topics, such as water consumption and waste, based on the approaches outlined in voluntary frameworks like GRI, TCFD, or SASB or mandatory frameworks like the EU’s CSRD or other countries with ISSB requirements. 

Ways to get IT involved in Sustainability

Whereas sustainability managers may identify the precise list of metrics and KPIs to track and monitor, IT professionals can help set up data collection systems and the digital infrastructure to maintain secure and effective data management processes. Here are some specific ways IT professionals can lend their expertise to sustainability teams. 

  • Choosing and setting up software and digital infrastructure

Companies should start by building a strong digital core: a continuous process that leverages cloud to incorporate new technologies across three interoperable layers: infrastructure and security, data and AI, applications, and platforms.

  • Third-party data collection and protection

Sustainability integration is increasingly extending beyond the scope of operational activities. To calculate the sustainability impacts of value chain activities, businesses need to access third-party data from suppliers, customers, and other key stakeholders. Establishing the proper data input portals, storage, management, and security infrastructure requires IT expertise. 

  • Data collection automation 

Connecting hardware such as IoT sensors and meters to software for automating business activity data collection can significantly reduce the burden of tracking and monitoring sustainability-related information. IT professionals can implement IoT solutions that align with your sustainability strategy. 

  • Product life cycle assessment

Product materials traceability is a major challenge for understanding emissions and other sustainability factors of products across their life cycle. IT professionals can help implement new digitally-enhanced innovations such as digital product passports to improve the transfer of information.  

  • Forecasting and modeling solutions 

Beyond collecting existing data, it helps to model and compare different sustainability solutions to estimate outcomes and factors like costs, sustainability performance improvements, and the time to impact. IT professionals can analyze both historical data and/or include predictive analytics using AI or machine learning to estimate how well a sustainability project will perform. 

IT professionals can work with other departments to improve processes

Sustainability is a cross-cutting endeavor that has the potential to impact all departments and divisions of a business. Using digitally enhanced solutions, information portals, or resource-sharing forums, diverse business departments can more effectively communicate and collaborate. IT professionals bring the technical know-how to streamline digital systems that promote these internal channels of communication effectively. 

Elevating the role of IT in sustainability

Given the high importance of data management to sustainability, sustainability software selection and set-up is a perfect time to involve IT. Looping in IT earlier rather than later will help reduce the hiccups related to data quality further down the road.

At Atrius, we often work with IT professionals within organizations to explain their unique system requirements that can impact how we set up our software. Oftentimes these IT professionals start with limited knowledge about sustainability but transform into sustainability champions over time. This reinforces our perspective that all businesses can benefit from effective cross-functional communication on sustainability. 

Our helpful customer success team can walk businesses through software set-up and raise questions related to IT configurations, but having a dedicated internal IT professional with sustainability knowledge can significantly speed up the set-up process.

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