The role of data for a strong sustainability strategy

25 Aug 2023

Image: Cathy Mauzaize

ServiceNow EMEA president Cathy Mauzaize advises companies to gather and maintain transparent, centralised data to achieve and measure their ESG targets.

From the Climate Action Plan to the mounting risks of legal challenges for corporate ‘greenwashing’, there are plenty of reminders in the media about the importance of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

Put simply, ESG – the corporate performance evaluation criteria assessing environmental and social impacts and governance mechanisms –  is a business imperative that organisations should take seriously.

When I speak to leaders across EMEA, I consistently hear about the importance of ESG. In fact, ServiceNow, working with ThoughtLab, surveyed 1,000 C-suite executives worldwide, and the findings tell a compelling story that ESG is rising on the C-Suite agenda.

ESG strategy is the second most important priority for leaders across EMEA (33pc), tied with maximising profits (33pc), and second only to accelerating digital transformation (40pc).

In Ireland, this is especially prominent, with 39pc of respondents claiming ESG programs are a top priority.

Equally, across EMEA, an average of 21pc of executives plan to increase investment in ESG significantly, with this number rising to 29pc for Ireland.

Yet, there are still many headwinds that I hear of when I speak to customers and prospects. We’re still seeing organisations held back by a lack of visibility, unclear metrics and sub-optimal reporting capabilities. To put it simply, this is a problem.

Stakeholders, regulators, employees and consumers in EMEA are all demanding action when it comes to ESG. What’s more, it’s not as straightforward as simply discussing the actions you’ve taken. To truly meet demands, organisations must be able to point to concrete, tangible results.

Getting these results requires organisations to understand that there’s often a missing link in their strategies: data.

Transparency and information drive ESG

Regulatory pressure and consumer demands require organisations to track and measure concrete metrics. Calls to successfully demonstrate results are intensifying.

Our research showed that more than half (52pc) of executives in EMEA state they’re seeing a high level of regulatory pressure regarding ESG matters, with this number rising to 60pc in Ireland. Ignoring the demand for visibility and transparency regarding ESG is a luxury that business leaders simply can’t afford.

Implementing a complete strategy that can be successfully tracked and measured, however, requires more than just time and money – it requires a high level of data and information. Without access to the right data, it can be much more challenging to drive successful ESG results, regardless of how much time, budget or effort you sink into it.

‘Stakeholders, regulators, employees and consumers in EMEA are all demanding action when it comes to ESG’

For many organisations, access to this data remains elusive. In fact, our research shows just 6pc of Irish executives are confident that ESG data is fully available, traceable and usable for decision-making within their organisation. This figure varies from country to country, with an average of 11pc across EMEA.

Clearly, organisations across multiple regions are facing obstacles when it comes to tracking and measuring ESG performance. The UK and the Netherlands seem to be navigating these obstacles most successfully, with 35pc and 31pc of executives, respectively, claiming their organisations are currently in the advanced stages of reporting. On the flip side, Ireland is falling behind, with just 21pc of executives claiming they’ve reached advanced stages of reporting.

Navigating data for a stronger ESG strategy

Often, data is split between multiple complex technologies and platforms, making it difficult to gain a complete 360-degree view of everything going on at any one time. Equally, we often see organisations unable to realise the true potential of data because it’s trapped in clunky or outdated legacy systems.

Business leaders should look to modernise their systems where possible. This can help revolutionise processes, bringing all operations together and increasing visibility, while also improving efficiency across the board.

Once this information is available to organisations, it’s essential to consider how to manage it. Storing and analysing data can often be a laborious, time-intensive and complicated process.

Edua Dickerson, ServiceNow’s vice president of ESG and finance strategy, explains the challenge well: “Companies often capture their ESG-related data across a variety of spreadsheets and emails.

“As a recovering auditor, I can tell you that manually inputting data in siloed software tools is tedious, difficult and error prone. It often leads to widespread issues with data integrity and auditability, knowledge capture and retention.”

In today’s challenging economic landscape, resources should be protected where possible, and laborious manual processes simply aren’t feasible for most companies.

Instead, business leaders should consider how to best make use of automated workflows or hyperautomation, specifically when it comes to inputting the volume of data required for successful ESG reporting.

The long view of ESG

Successfully driving a tangible ESG strategy is possible – and even easier, in many cases  – when business leaders view data as an integral part of the process. As Keith Pearson, ServiceNow’s global head of financial services, explains: “Without a holistic overview of data from across the whole business – including our customers and suppliers – we can’t begin to understand the extent of our exposure to ESG risk.

“That means we can’t properly mitigate that risk. But once we clear up that picture, we know exactly what’s going on at all times, we know exactly what to change and we can report it immediately.”

Organisations should look to invest in technology that empowers teams to increase visibility, unlock access to previously untapped ESG data and use that data to make more informed business decisions.

Organisations that make this investment have a real opportunity to take control of their ESG strategy and drive a high level of success.

A single server platform that can streamline processes is a great place to start. Platforms designed with simplicity in mind make it possible to bring everything together in one place, increasing visibility across all operations. This, in turn, can empower organisations to successfully navigate a strong ESG strategy both now and in the future.

By Cathy Mauzaize

Cathy Mauzaize is president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region at ServiceNow. She drives the growth strategy in EMEA to support ServiceNow in becoming the defining enterprise software of the 21st century. Cathy previously held senior leadership roles across companies including Microsoft, SAP, Dell, PwC, and Hewlett Packard.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.