Big Data Can Support Corporate Environmental Management
Faced with the challenges of digitalization and the climate crisis, many companies are keen to improve their sustainability. In a new study, researchers examine the potential uses of data analysis to strengthen corporate environmental management in the automotive industry. As part of the study, the researchers interviewed corporate sustainability officers and invited data analysis experts to evaluate their key statements. The study reveals that Big Data could enhance corporate environmental management in a variety of ways and that many of these opportunities are going untapped.
The term "Big Data" refers to a variety of methods and applications for the processing and evaluation of very large data sets from diverse sources with the aim of distilling relevant insights to enhance decision-making and business processes. In corporate environmental management contexts these insights are generated using data relating to production and manufacturing processes from internal sources as well as data sourced from suppliers.
"Targeted analyses of these data can not only enable companies to gain competitive advantages but can also help them to make their business practices more environmentally friendly. The sustainability officers interviewed for this study have developed some ideas how Big Data could benefit their companies. However, few of the respondents had developed concrete plans for the implementation of Big Data solutions. Only one of the six companies surveyed currently uses Big Data in the context of its environmental management activities – in this case, with the specific aim of improving energy efficiency," says lead author and IASS researcher Grischa Beier, who noted that energy consumption was an important focus for all of the respondents.
Study offers ideas to improve corporate environmental management
Big Data analyses can also help companies reduce their carbon emissions, improve water usage, and implement more resource-efficient approaches to waste management. The respondents also suggested that Big Data could be used to optimize life cycle assessments (LCAs) by facilitating a more accurate assessment of the environmental impact of products across the entire lifecycle – from the extraction of raw materials through to the disposal or recycling of retired products.
The study aims to help companies discover the potential benefits of digitalization for sustainability performance by providing real-world examples of how the use of big data can strengthen corporate environmental management.
Dr Grischa Beier
Research Group Leader
Beier, G., Kiefer, J., Knopf, J. (2020 online): Potentials of big data for corporate environmental management. A case study from the German automotive industry. - Journal of industrial ecology.