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Across the world, more and more companies are taking climate change and sustainability seriously — driven by investor, customer, and employee pressure, and as governments have introduced increasingly stringent regulations to limit the level of greenhouse gases that various industries can emit each year.
As a result, many companies have established initiatives to lessen their impact on the environment. Two of the largest initiatives include setting new environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, which are standards used by investors to evaluate risks associated with their investment, and enrolling in the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which provides companies with a path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals. To date, roughly 3,000 businesses have enrolled in the SBTi.
These are the first steps toward reducing emissions by helping companies measure how much they currently emit and set goals for how much they should reduce their emissions in one, five or 10 years down the road. However, they are less helpful in showing companies how they can or should reduce their emissions without negatively impacting their production or profits.
Increasingly, investors and advocates want to see not just emissions accounting and goals, but real, tangible strategies and activities that reduce emissions. This is ultimately an issue that comes down to business process and workflow optimization, which is primarily driven by data and expertise. Data enables companies to not only see what they’re producing, when and by how much, but to optimize what, when and how something is produced with sustainability top of mind.
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This could include everything from enabling structural designers to see which construction materials are less carbon-intensive during the design phase, to optimizing truck capacities and routes so that less fuel is used to transport goods. At scale, this can have an enormous environmental impact and is key to enabling organizations to make sustainable changes right away using data they likely already have.
The sustainability case for data
Regardless of the type or size of your business, data is likely a key part of how you manage your operations. Because even if you’re not particularly tech-savvy, data is still vital for managing things like billing and invoicing, measuring product output or coordinating transportation logistics.
While most companies have this data, it’s not aggregated in a way that’s usable for reaching ESG goals or reducing emissions, since it often doesn’t connect across the organization, update in real time or provide actionable insights. Instead, it’s locked away in disparate systems that don’t talk to each other, making it usable only to one subset of people or to a certain division.
Luckily, that’s changing as companies have begun connecting data from different software systems, as well as connecting data from their physical assets (like tractors, trucks or other machinery) with data from their software so it can be effectively aggregated and optimized, making it accessible, understandable and actionable.
For example, when data is connected, the information from operating an excavator, such as how long the operator ran the equipment and the amount of dirt that was moved as a result, can be aggregated and shared with the company’s CFO. That data can help the CFO see how all of the excavators were used across the company’s jobsites that day, week, month or year, providing insights into the productivity of the equipment and the profits it’s generating for the business.
But now, instead of just aggregating and analyzing data for the sake of productivity and cost controls — something that many companies do already — it can also be optimized with sustainability in mind, since producing more efficient workflows can translate to fewer emissions, whether through better supply chain management, less equipment idling and reduced fuel consumption, or more precise and accurate farming practices, just to name a few.
Sustainable data in action
Optimizing data is all the more necessary given the complexity of today’s industrial operations, from the modern farm that tries to maximize production while maintaining soil integrity, to the complicated construction jobsite that has a nearly endless array of moving parts and processes. Data is the thread that connects it all, providing the linkages and insights needed to make sense of it so that it can be analyzed, understood and optimized.
For example, data has been the leading driver in enabling UK-based P.X. Farms to harvest more food while using less fuel and fertilizer and minimizing damage to the land. The company uses Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF), an agriculture approach that involves using the same vehicle tracks consistently across all machinery. The system is supported by hardware and software solutions that connect the farm’s field specialists, giving them the tools to make the farm more profitable and sustainable in real time.
This includes software that can integrate, simplify and streamline disparate data streams into one main system, enabling operations to be managed with just a few clicks. The software also provides tools to capture and integrate vital operational data and analyze it to get the most value from every hectare.
To maximize yield and reduce fuel cost, every field is mapped with surveying technology and machines connected to guidance and mapping features that help ensure exact wheel placement, enabling P.X. Farms to operate the equipment within a tolerance of two centimeters. Precision drills and sprayers also target the right amount of product to the right place in the field, allowing P.X. Farms to improve distribution accuracy, making the most of fertilizer as a critical crop input.
As a result of implementing CTF, P.X. Farms has reduced soil compaction and damage to the land by 73%, fuel costs by 13% percent, and input expenses by 6%. These figures are a testament not only to the productivity and cost benefits that come with connecting data across hardware and software systems, but to the sustainability improvements that come from better soil and the use of less fuel and fertilizer — which ultimately means less greenhouse gas emissions.
Enabling businesses to feel emboldened
Companies and governments alike should be applauded for the steps that many of them have already taken to measure current emissions, which will provide the necessary baseline from which to reduce. However, actually reducing emissions is a function of production and workflow optimization, with data at its core.
When data is effectively connected, it can provide enormous benefits, not only through enhanced efficiencies and cost savings, but also sustainability improvements. Far from feeling powerless over how to make progress against such an overwhelming issue, companies should feel emboldened to maximize the resources already at their disposal, which includes data that’s just waiting to be tapped, connected and optimized for the benefit of businesses and the environment alike.
Dietmar Grimm is the VP of corporate strategy and sustainability solutions at Trimble, a global industrial technology leader that provides integrated hardware and software solutions that connect the physical and digital worlds in industries such as agriculture, automotive, construction, geospatial and transportation.