How to Leverage the Value of Sustainability into your Business Model

change_in_handCorporate social responsibility (CSR) policy has for many years been seen as a largely reactive business function, satisfying increasingly demanding international compliance and regulations, whilst paying lip service to an increasingly ethical consumer base.

But the advent of big data and the development of purpose designed sustainability data management and green oriented EPR software has opened up a huge opportunity for companies to make significant savings through more efficient supply chain management and informed decision making.

In this guest article for Ecopreneurist, I want to explore how CSR is about much more than compliance and greenwash and can actually be leveraged into your business model at a fundamental level helping to drive profitability, brand reputation and ultimately sustained growth long into the future.

The Power of Data

At its heart CSR is about understanding how sustainable your organisation is and the impact of its operations on the local and wider environment. The raw material that powers CSR is data. Any medium to large sized organisation will be creating an abundance of data on a daily basis. If it can be captured, interpreted and acted on in the right way, this data is gold dust to your business.

Big data and the proliferation of Internet of Things connected devices and sensor tech, is fuelling a quiet revolution in the manufacturing industry, helping savvy businesses realise huge efficiencies in the supply chain. It is through sophisticated software that this data is then standardised across datasets and then analysed and acted upon.

Working with Sustainability Data at a Business-Wide Level

According to Dan Rossler of Aspen Technology, any sustainability program can be broken down into four core components.

  • Performance management of key sustainability information
  • Energy usage reduction
  • Raw material usage reduction
  • Product innovation and development

Bringing these elements together under one unified program is a challenge for any business and requires a holistic approach that brings together CSOs and CIOs with various operational and R&D business functions. It then requires a policy in which change can be acted upon at a business wide level if need be.

CSR is an evolving process that involves constant measurement and testing to fine tune all the aspects of the supply chain or manufacturing process. Improvements in one area could have ramifications on other business functions so getting a joined up picture is crucial. This means understanding data topology and where your data is coming from. It also means working with all the data you have to get the clearest picture possible.

As my colleague Joe Jones points out it’s important to ‘ask people for the data they have, not just for the data you need.’ Understanding where your data is coming from, what sustainability data your organisation is already collecting and how robust and reliable that data is will help you put together a unified and effective CSR policy.

Working with Sustainability Software

As I’ve mentioned already, bringing disparate and often huge datasets together into one unified picture that can be interpreted and acted upon involves the use of sustainability management software.

Choosing the right sustainability software package for your organisation’s needs will depend on a huge number of factors, such as who will be using it and the types of compliance reporting legally required of your company. Many packages will also come with a variety of modules that can be bolted on and can also be integrated with existing business software.


Working with such a large volume of data presents a number of challenges. But success can only be achieved by a rejection of silo thinking and in understanding how every element of the supply chain affects every other part and how best to calibrate and optimise the whole thing. This high level analysis will take time and means implementing CSR into your entire business model, including your marketing and PR strategy.

Your company may have reduced its carbon footprint and implemented practices in the supply chain that are more energy efficient, but if you don’t have a marketing strategy in place that can communicate this effectively to your consumer base then you aren’t realising 100% of the benefits. CSR may drive profitability through raw material and energy usage reduction but at its heart it is what it is: corporate social responsibility.gmwbannerCommunicating CSR means looking beyond the numbers and data and creating a powerful brand narrative that your consumers can relate to. It’s vital that you understand your audience and give them real world examples that show the benefits to society and the environment of the policies you are implementing.

nicola-aingerAbout the Author: Nicola Ainger is Project Manager at Bristol based global sustainability, EHS and risk data consultancy, SustainIt. She is an expert on implementing data driven systems and strategies to drive cultural change and engagement throughout the corporate world. SustainIt also provide a free and independent sustainability software comparison service called GoMarketWise. You can connect with Nicola or SustainIt on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

This post has been supported by GoMarketWise

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