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Data is the Key to a Sustainable Future

More data is getting generated than ever before. How it's used is key to sustainability.

  • Article
  • 5 MIN READ
  • June 29, 2021
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Data has influenced our understanding of the world for centuries, from Archimedes’ discovery of the principle of buoyancy in 246 BCE to 19th-century data from the ice ages that led us to the modern understanding of the greenhouse effect. Data not only informs the decisions we make every single day, but it helps us understand the human impact on climate and how to mitigate it.

And it is becoming even more important to understand sustainable data as sectors like oil take a big hit. On May 27th, Shell was ordered to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 by the Dutch court, Chevron stakeholders voted to decrease Scope 3 emissions, and ExxonMobil saw activists replace two directors on the company’s board.

But understanding whether this news is truly beneficial for the environment means digging into the data behind the headline.

How do we do this? These three big questions can help to discern the validity of the data and uncover what it really means.

1. When is data meaningful — and when is it just fluff?

Recognizing meaningful data involves taking several factors into consideration.

Let’s start with the process. Look at the collection criteria and what measurements are considered significant. Are they choosing to collect impartial data or is it designed to only make them look good?

Then move onto biases. Recognize that all data comes with built-in biases and it’s important to acknowledge how those biases contribute to various datasets and findings. Take a deep dive into the sources, the funding, and the purpose behind any dataset. Who released it? Who are the financial backers? What is this dataset trying to achieve?

Lastly, examine the patterns. Solid datasets should be replicable in similar conditions. In an ideal world, there should be more than one dataset that supports one hypothesis. If you come across an unreliable dataset, you’ll notice it won’t demonstrate the same parallels.

2. How can you separate important data from greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are manufactured to give the appearance that they’re more environmentally friendly than they really are.

This might look like companies sharing data they know will help to market themselves as sustainable or claiming a product is 100% biodegradable when it isn’t. You have to look at the big picture.

So as consumers, how can we guard against being greenwashed?

Start by looking for companies that are honest and humble — if their products are not 100% green, they should say it. Companies should make it easy to check their green claims and they should focus on their continuing journey. After all, going green is not a one-day fix.

And keep an eye out for buzzwords like carbon footprint, carbon-neutral, and emissions — and evaluate whether companies who use these words are really getting to the source of the problem.

It all comes down to looking for sustainable brands and not simply products that fall under an unsustainable company. Is the entire brand ethos sustainable or is it just ‘one green product’? A good company should see sustainability as a high standard to reach — not just a competitive advantage. They are mission-driven and aren’t green for the sake of appearances.

3. How can we turn data into environmentally sustainable technologies?

There are lots of ways. A good example of an organization using data to create and build environmentally sustainable technologies is Sigfox Foundation and Dark Fibre Africa.

The data shows that only 27,000 rhinoceroses are left, a big difference from 500,000 at the beginning of the 19th century. And in South Africa alone, just under 800 rhinos were killed due to poaching in 2018.

That’s when Sigfox stepped in. Alongside Dark Fibre Africa, they implemented a network of IoT devices that they can implant into the horns of rhinos.

These devices send out three GPS signals a day to a secure platform for scientists and conservationists to ensure the protection of the rhinos. That means all of the rhinoceroses tagged can be tracked and easily located if they get too close to common poaching areas. It also helps rangers and veterinarians find them and save their lives in emergency situations.

Data can change the world

When you understand how to evaluate data, you can make informed decisions on the products we consume, the companies we support, and the digital solutions you build. Data can make the world a more sustainable place.

Want to know how you can harness data effectively? Apply Digital can help — let's talk.

Co-Written by Kera Johnson, Liz Goode and Jaime Chang

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