You’ll need coding in your sustainability career

When I started my career in impact investing many years ago, we had to ask companies for sustainability measures. Their usual response: “The only number we track is revenue, so why don’t you use that?” Needless to say, my basic Excel skills were up for grabs for this simple task.

Today? not anymore We have entered the era of big(ger) data in sustainability, where data chops are important. Strong data capabilities are an increasingly important asset for those cutting their teeth in the world of sustainability. Those who know about data will rise. So what data capabilities do you need and why do you need them?

The amount of data is growing

Most S&P 500 companies, 92 percent to be exact, publish sustainability reports annually. These are filled with increasingly nuanced sustainability measures, from greenhouse gas emissions to kilograms of food waste. Although reports are summarized in nice clean numbers, there is a lot of data underneath each metric that needs to be organized and analyzed.

Numerous reports will increase with regulations. from the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive It will require around 50,000 public and private companies doing business in the EU to report on key sustainability measures from 2024 onwards. US public companies would also have to increase climate reporting if the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed climate. disclosure requirements move forward. All indications point to a significant increase in the amount of sustainability data required.

The basic data skill you will need in persistence is the ability to code in a flexible language. Python is increasingly the gold standard, although I’m a die-hard R fan.

The data should be discussed

With the rise of big data, you might think that companies have all their information safely stored on easily accessible platforms. Think again. Sustainability data must come from many sources of information, often running on different platforms or in different databases within a company. Sustainability has always been scattered across many departments, and so has data.

The ability to crunch data (data scientists speak for combining and organizing data into a usable format) is key to making sure you can turn what you’ve collected into actionable information. You might think this is possible with the perfect Excel sheet – where sustainability data has lived for the last 20 years. However, coding provides the repeatable and scalable solutions we need as databases grow and reports become more frequent. For example, if you develop a fancy coding script that collects all your fuel usage data, you can run it whenever you need to analyze the data, daily or yearly, without repeating a lot of work.

Having strong data visualization skills and being able to distill a lot of data into a simple visual takes practice. If you master it, you will be an exceptional persuader in any meeting.

Data negotiation should be part of your tool belt. The ability to clean, unify, standardize and make sense of messy and disparate data sets is often the intangible 90 percent of a data scientist’s job, making stories and actions possible.

Good data leads to powerful storytelling

Convincing companies to make changes in the name of sustainability requires telling a good story. Clear, clean charts linking sustainability and business metrics are critical to onboarding executives and other stakeholders.

Yes, companies use many standard charts and dashboards to track sustainability results. But what is that key metric your CEO is always talking about? Collating your company’s decarbonization plan into key business metrics will generate much better business buy-in than GHG reporting across your company.

Having strong data visualization skills and being able to distill a lot of data into a simple visual takes practice. If you master it, you will be an exceptional persuader in any meeting.

Understanding data makes you think smarter

A growing number of third-party platforms, such as Salesforce Net Zero Cloud or startups like Altruistiq, offer services to collect, clean and analyze sustainability data. So why bother learning the skills yourself? Understanding what’s possible from a data perspective will make you a better data manager, user, and communicator, even if you’re not coding yourself after all. For example, our team recently noticed that colleagues were spending hours compiling water use data into individual Excel workbooks. Applying our data capabilities, we helped standardize and automate collection into a single master database, both saving time and improving data availability.

Even though I haven’t opened my coding software in months, knowing what good data looks like, how it can be displayed effectively, and knowing when to automate key processes are skills I leverage every day. This understanding of how to use data effectively only comes from a foundation built by doing each step yourself.

Finally, don’t think you’re the “coding type”? I can relate. I stayed in my Excel sandbox for years, believing I couldn’t hack it as a data geek. I didn’t take my first coding class until graduate school. Turns out, I love it. It’s like problem solving on steroids. My advice to anyone who wants to make an impact on corporate sustainability: take the opportunity. You might even find that you’re a data junkie.

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