Sustainable Business Playbook: Stop Just Collecting Data and Start Acting On It

For those of you intent on tracking and reducing CO2 emissions, whatever you do, don’t put all your data in a big lake.

This was one of the nuggets Gavin Starks, founder of Icebreaker One, shared during a recent Climate 21 podcast, hosted by Tom Raftery, global vice president, futurist, and innovation evangelist at SAP. Read on to find out what Starks thinks companies should do to deliver on their net-zero commitments.

Decentralize Data, but Maintain Control

Icebreaker One had its genesis in the Open Banking Standard that Starks helped develop in the UK, allowing financial institutions, government regulators, startups, and others to share data easily. He envisioned bringing the same large-scale data interoperability to sectors involved with achieving net-zero commitments.

“We spent a couple of years talking to hundreds of people and, whether it was someone from a hedge fund, insurance company, engineering firm, or elsewhere, the conclusion was that we just need all the data,” said Starks. “However, the natural response from countries, big organizations, or multinationals is to build a Big Data portal and put all the data in one place. That doesn’t work.”

Instead, Starks launched Icebreaker One as a decentralized, secure way to share net-zero data across markets and the public and private sector, supporting benchmarking, progress metrics, and compliance reporting.

“The blueprint we got from open banking is to leave the data where it is. Then when it’s needed, provide consent within a tightly controlled process so that your risks and controls are managed,” said Starks. “We want to bring together the legal components, the business units, the regulators, and so on. If we construct this in a way that’s very repeatable, we can connect people rather than collecting all the data.”

Define Relevant Data: Is This Decision-Worthy?

Starks was the first to admit that measuring and reducing CO2 emissions requires sharing data across vastly diverse, distributed, and decentralized networks of information. He said that Icebreaker One is building out use cases, incorporating the entire data value chain, including customers and supply chain partners. Working out details such as liability, dispute resolution, and inter-organizational relationships will be painstaking, but worthwhile.

“Rather than talking about real-time data, we talk about relevant time data, meaning what’s decision-relevant data. As we layer this together with other information, we’re looking at the full scope of data required for material impact,” he said. “We’re trying to unlock a web of net-zero data. And that connects financial information, engineering information, and environmental data to help inform net-zero decisions.”

Measure the Impact to Realize the Net-Zero Vision

Starks advocates a multi-dimensional approach that brings government and industries together, sharing actionable information. In other words, let the data show how you’ll deliver a low carbon future.

“We’d love to see information flows about the demonstrable net zero at the design stage, the construction stage, the operational stage, and the decommissioning stage of infrastructure projects so the information can flow to people who need it,” he said. “This includes people in the financial community who need to make investment decisions, the engineers who need to know what works, and the policymakers who need to help unblock things that are in the way and amplify things that will accelerate that change.”

Three Net-Zero Questions to Ask

After attending COP26 last year, Starks was concerned but fired up to move ahead with the next climate change strategies.

“The levers of change have to be a combination of government and policy, large companies, and the investment community driving that change,” he said. “The action for consumers and for citizens is to ask your pension provider, your bank, your insurance company, what is their net-zero strategy? And how are they going to prove it? The third question is how your chief executive’s remuneration is tied to delivering that target.”

Trusted Data Strategy of the Future: Connect, Don’t Collect

As net-zero demands grow, Starks advised people to resist “natural corporate antibodies” against data sharing and open up the exchange of information. He also called for systemic yet realistic thinking to transform risk modeling and business behaviors for short- and long-term progress aligned with net-zero commitments.

“The richest companies on earth have made their money by connecting data. And through those connections, their data increases in value,” he said. “You need a dose of realism…There are structural changes that will happen, but you also have to demonstrate the business value along the way.”

No doubt one of the major challenges for sustainable business will be cultural, replacing age-old competitive conventions with practices grounded in the collective good. With the right policies and technology, we can surface and share the data that will help save our future.


Follow me @smgaler
This also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.