How to start defining your sustainability IT and data requirements 

Series: How to set up your ESG data, technology, and people for success 

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It’s easy to fixate on compliance, but organisations must also consider their own business objectives. Although ESG regulations apply uniformly, each business is different, so sustainability is an opportunity for differentiation, and the right choices could help attract investment, talent and customers. It’s also essential to map and prioritise the needs of different stakeholder groups, to ensure that, for instance, any legal or financial implications are identified early.

Make a capability map for the journey, by assessing your current capabilities in relation to your sustainability requirements and aims. Sustainability isn’t a siloed activity, and such a map can reveal capability gaps across the whole enterprise, including those that need leadership commitment. It also clarifies the work required, which might be a surprise, but helps inform realistic expectations and planning.

Even with a clear picture of what needs doing, you still have options for how and when to act, to stay distinctive and adaptable through changing circumstances. For instance, a major public commitment on modern slavery might suggest that developing the relevant KPIs should be a priority.

Transformation can offer greater long-term benefits, while incremental change could seem safer until the landscape settles. It’s not a binary choice, though, and each organisation should balance aspects of each to suit its priorities. Nonetheless, the optimal approach usually combines a clear destination (from the capability map), with flexibility and regular re-assessment en route.

Identifying and sourcing new data takes effort, but many reporting requirements draw on the same underlying data, so its value will endure. Reporting requirements might drive some data priorities, but your data is also your brand, and should support your public messages. To substantiate and monitor ethical sourcing claims, for instance, supply chain data should be a priority.

Be aware, too, that some new data might raise issues beyond data and technology functions. For instance, UK Equalities law prevents companies holding the employee information that could support diversity. More importantly, sustainability requires the whole organisation to work together, and not fall to a few key functions or individuals.

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