How are businesses utilising data to reach ESG goals?

By Bengt Johannes Lundberg , CEO of Disruptive Technologies.

It is a fact that companies are now expected to exercise a high degree of moral and ethical leadership. And that’s with good reason. Companies that have adopted environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies in the 1990s have since outperformed those that didn't.

But the alarming need for action against climate change and the 2020 worldwide pandemic have been wake-up calls for business leaders that were lagging behind. All companies, small and large, public and private, are not only expected to undertake ESG initiatives, but also rethink the environmental and social impact of their current operations.

There is now an increased awareness that sustainability should expand to a company’s sustainable building use, how happy employees are in their offices, and how efficiently the business is using its resources. With this increased awareness also comes humankind’s greatest ally – technology, which is now more accessible and affordable than ever before.

What technologies are businesses adopting?

The first step in making operations and buildings more safe, smart, and sustainable is to understand how they are currently performing. Smart building technology is a go-to requirement for companies that relocate their activities to a new building. But this is not the most effective or realistic solution, since the majority of existing buildings were not designed with this technology in mind.

This is where retrofitting comes in. To combat the challenges of climate change and provide an optimized environment for occupants, building managers and property owners are now introducing technology to legacy buildings to turn them smart. Wireless sensors are a quick, reliable, and cost-effective way for any business to collect data about their building, without disrupting their operations or paying a fortune.

What can smart sensor technology do?

Sensors can collect any kind of data from a building environment. Data on the temperature and humidity of an office environment and different assets can form the benchmark for assessing the building’s energy performance. With the help of additional analytics, companies can answer important ESG-related questions, like whether their assets are overheated or if their HVAC system is energy-efficient.

Air quality is also increasingly important. Having insight into the environment’s CO2 levels, for example, can be the basis of creating an environment with healthier air. There is an established scientific link between optimal air quality and employee performance. And scientists have found a correlation between CO2 levels and increased risk of airborne virus transmission.

Beyond environmental monitoring, sensors can also offer non-intrusive data about how the office space is being used. By deploying sensors, businesses can know remotely and at any time which doors are left open after hours, how many meeting rooms are in use, or how many desks are occupied. But this is not just information for information’s sake. By applying additional analytics, this data can be the basis of occupancy heatmaps to paint a picture of how people use space. Businesses can use the data to make confident decisions that make people happier, reduce their carbon footprint, and save time and money. These decisions include space redesign, downsizing, and occupancy-based cleaning.

Sensors can also help companies be more compliant with cleaning standards, property damage protection, and water quality. A popular example is using touch buttons, sensors that employees can press to anonymously give feedback on their environment or request cleaning and maintenance services, to which employers can then respond in real-time. Water detectors can also trigger alerts at the risk of equipment leaks or floods.

Another increasingly popular example is the automation of legionella compliance, which is a tedious manual process where employees or facilities managers have to regularly flush taps to stop legionella, a water-borne bacteria, from growing. This is now easily automated by using temperature sensors and machine learning algorithms.

What are the advantages of smart sensor technology?

Sensor technology is the only realistic way to hit required energy-efficiency goals and prevent stranded assets. Smart sensor technology is affordable, accessible, and easy to use. By retrofitting, there is no need to discard old equipment to make way for smarter technology. Thus there is no more e-waste and invested capital being thrown down the drain. Sensors are now as small as a stamp and can be literally placed on any equipment. They are also plug & play, so no technical expertise is required to install or set up. There is also impressive improvement in battery life, with some lasting up to 15 years and needing no maintenance.

With this increased accessibility in what was once considered technology for the elite few, and by applying analytics depending on the business goals, companies can base their ESG compliance strategies and decision-making processes on real data.

How is the private sector demonstrating the benefits of this technology?

Within 5 months, a London workspace was able to reduce its electricity consumption by 31% using smart sensors and analytics. Creating an IoT-powered workspace through smart sensor technology allowed the business to optimize energy consumption, reduce its carbon footprint, and improve the customer experience in just 5 months. They were additionally able to identify 42 legionella risks and cut 49% in the cost of manual labor. But one of the largest deployments of this technology comes from a multinational technology company that retrofitted its workplace with thousands of sensors across hundreds of locations, optimizing its workspace and saving energy (winning a Verdantix Smart Building Innovation Award). Another example is a leading oil and gas production company in Norway, which redesigned its entire workplace based on data from smart sensor technology. These businesses have all seen significant improvements in both environmental control and sustainability.

Both the private and public sectors are now understanding the impact of collecting and analyzing data to improve ESG efforts. They are both affected by the same ESG regulations and are competing in the same candidate pool. However, the private sector can move quicker with implementing this technology and taking the necessary steps to make their buildings safe, smart, and sustainable. There are long processes and bureaucracies when making these decisions in schools, libraries, and all public infrastructure. But they should be more agile and remove some of the red tape when it comes to adopting these new technologies. The sooner they start, the sooner they can see the benefits. And by the time they decide, it might even be too late.

What challenges do businesses face when interpreting data?

The real value of data lies in how they are put to good use rather than how much of them are available. Most companies fall into a data trap, or “an analysis paralysis”, where they collect data on operations, without purpose or ability to analyze them.

To get the most value out of data, companies need to set a goal before deploying the technology and invest in people with the expertise to interpret it. The latter could be an in-

house data analyst or an external company that can help them turn that data into actionable insight.

Even if companies don’t have the capability to invest in data analysis right away, it’s essential to at least have a purpose. They have to start with a goal and deploy the necessary technology that will help them collect the data they need to reach that goal. Whenever they have the bandwidth to obtain the needed analytical capabilities, they will have all the data readily available to make decisions that help their triple bottom line.

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