We Agree With Google Cloud: Sustainability Is Facing A Data Crisis

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We Agree With Google Cloud: Sustainability Is Facing A Data Crisis

Google Cloud recently sponsored its second annual sustainability survey conducted by The Harris Poll, and it is notable for its size – surveying 1,476 executives in 16 countries. The attention-grabbing headline of the analysis starts by focusing on the fact that executives are finding it challenging to maintain sustainable practices while navigating economic headwinds. The survey’s timing – January 2023 – certainly shapes these negative attitudes, and the biggest decrease in initiatives is in donating services or funds to green initiatives. But Justin Keeble, Google Cloud’s Managing Director for Global Sustainability, nails the most important point in his subheading: sustainability is facing a data crisis.

It's a story we see repeated over and over – firms desperately need more and better data, with regulations looming as a driving factor. If you’ve been around in IT for a while, you’ve heard many fruitless arguments for an uber data quality project. Most don’t get funded, and many fail. Now, the major problem with this patchwork of poor-quality sustainability data is that, thanks to the CSRD, we are just months away from many EU firms needing to provide investor-grade sustainability data alongside financial information in management reports. Guess what that means… it's time to really pay attention to your data quality.

Regulation is highly motivating. But there are more reasons to produce investor-grade data, aside from compliance. We continue to see voluntary reporting efforts increase, influenced heavily by stakeholder requests (see the Verdantix Global Corporate Survey 2022: ESG & Sustainability Budgets, Priorities And Tech Preferences). In fact, 85% of executives in Google’s survey are noticing that consumers or clients are becoming more vocal about their preference for engaging with sustainable brands. We agree that the pressure to voluntarily report will not decrease, and also with findings that indicate the resulting increase in transparency is putting some firms at risk. The Google survey found that 72% of executives believe most organizations in their industry would be caught greenwashing if investigated thoroughly. The implication is that greenwashing accusations would not necessarily result from deliberate intent to deceive stakeholders but from insufficient or inaccurate data.

The survey highlights some other key themes we’ve been researching, including the many organizational challenges to collecting good-quality data, such as the fact that ESG is – as we often say – a team sport and the need for more central governance accountability and skillsets internally (see Verdantix Strategic Focus: Organizations And The Rise Of ESG). Another big theme is the difficulty of operationalizing sustainability and “turning ambition into action”, with 72% of the Google respondents saying they want to advance sustainability but lack the knowhow to move forward.

This is another point where investor-grade sustainability data comes in – allowing firms to make intelligent decisions, especially when they must make choices about where to invest first. The shift from strategy to implementation is an important challenge we must tackle together. Let me leave you with some good news. Millennials, the largest generation in the workforce right now, show a level of enthusiasm that is an incredibly important element for success, with the survey finding that 89% of millennials “feel empowered to make the change” that evolves their organization’s climate posture, a number much higher than Boomers, who come in at 68%. I say bring it on, millennials!

Research Director, ESG & Sustainability

Kimberly Knickle is Research Director of the ESG & Sustainability practice at Verdantix. Her research areas encompass ESG regulations and reporting, ESG risk, supply chain sustainability, circular economy, social impact, and sustainable finance. Kim has worked for more than 20 years in the IT industry, providing research and analysis to help companies invest wisely in new technologies. Before joining the analyst industry, she held various roles in IT services, engineering and product safety testing, beginning her career at Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. Kim holds an MBA from Boston University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Cornell.