Written by Madeline Demo and Amber Cicotte, CHMM who work in BBJ Group's Chicago office
In Part One of this series, we discussed the various global standards driving corporate sustainability reporting. Public pressure to produce data-driven reports has increased over the last several years, and these various standards include guidelines for selecting data to report.
Aggregating and analyzing enormous datasets into an entirely new format and context may sound like a significant burden. And yet, it’s likely that the data you’re already collecting and reporting to regulators can perform a double-duty when you go to generate your organization’s Sustainability Report. From emissions reporting and employee health & safety data tracking, to meeting certain sustainable reporting goals, a data-driven approach can bring a competitive edge to your sustainability assessments, plans, and published reports.
In this post, we will review the existing tools in your toolbox as a baseline for gathering meaningful data in establishing your company’s sustainability objectives and demonstrating progress in meeting them.
As we discussed in Part Two of this series, before you can compile a data-driven sustainability report, your organization must define what sustainability means in the context of your operations, establish clear and achievable sustainability goals, analyze and collect data regularly to monitor progress, and revise goals and programs accordingly. Hard data, whether collected to meet USEPA and OSHA requirements or to further your sustainability programs, can be used to tell a technical but approachable story about programming, progress, and prioritization of sustainability within your organization.
Using Data You Already Collect in a New Way
Regulated activities and reporting requirements can directly contribute to presentation and discussion of data collected related to air, water, waste, health & safety, and more. A few examples of activities, reports, and plans submitted to regulators that involve production of real, usable data are:
- Annual Air Emissions Reports
- Tier II and Form R Submittals
- Employee Safety Training
- Injury and Illness Reports
- Compliance Audits and Corrective Action/Preventive Action (CAPA) Tracking Data
- Annual Stormwater Compliance Reports
- Inspections and Tank Monitoring under Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans
You probably routinely use this data to document compliance to state and federal agencies, and you have likely collected this data over the past several years. Looking at this data with fresh eyes, you can see that it shows proactive management of the elements in your environmental, health & safety (EHS) compliance programs. Using this perspective, these metrics can be used to inform your data-driven sustainability report, giving stakeholders and shareholders alike a stronger picture of your sustainability and compliance priorities in the context of what is material to your organization’s operations and success.
Process improvement, risk management, and operational excellence are common discussion points that relay company values and opportunities for growth. If your role involves consideration of budget, supply chain, product quality, data analysis, or employee engagement, using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can aid in quantifying and communicating your organization’s progress in meeting your EHS values and goals. KPIs measure the outcomes of EHS-related activities, practices, and programs and can help ensure you and your team are continually driving toward meeting your sustainability targets. It’s best to have a of KPIs that are considered leading indicators – data that can be used to predict trends – and those that are considered lagging indicators – data that documents progressive positive growth.
For many companies, sustainability objectives are not just internally focused. External partnerships and stakeholder support are also imperative to your organization’s success. Part of being an engaged and responsive community partner is to use data that is meaningful to external interested and that provide technical support to your sustainability message. By ensuring the data used in your sustainability report shows progress in meeting tangible EHS compliance and performance improvement, you are better able to show the community that you are working to be a compliant and sustainable partner.
Regardless of the size of your organization, using meaningful data in your report – that follows internationally recognized guidelines and standards – allows you to achieve alignment with global expectations. By leveraging the EHS tools you already use in compliance management in a forward-looking manner, that data takes on a new and more meaningful metric for demonstrating your commitment to being a sustainable organization.