The topic of sustainability has always been on the agenda at SAS in one way or another. As we become more educated and aware across the globe, and more regulatory factors come into play, expectations and accountabilities are under scrutiny like never before.
I caught up with Malinda Salter, Senior Industry Consultant at SAS, who has substantial global corporate experience and a strong focus on sustainability, to talk about global sustainability trends and why environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities are increasingly important for many organizations.
Jason: Malinda, you have a wealth of experience in sustainability. I’m always keen to hear your perspective. What global trends across industries do you see as being the most significant as we head toward 2025?
Malinda: The good news is that laws and regulations will drive radical transparency, enabling access to data. Expect an increase in disclosure requirements as policymakers propose legislation that demands robust disclosures. Managing carbon emissions data across scopes is inevitable. The global regulatory environment may become more stringent, but deglobalization may create further disparity between regulatory requirements, making compliance a challenge. The revised Environmental Social Governance reporting frameworks coming from the IFRS will simplify and drive consistent reporting, causing growth of the supporting industries. Expect to see some of the most significant corporate accounting and reporting innovations in decades.
Opportunities for learning
Jason: How do you see retail and consumer goods in the context of these global trends? Are they leading or lagging? And where do you see the crossover with other industries, i.e., opportunities for collaborative learning?
Malinda: The fashion industry is the go-to for success and failure in sustainable business. Fashion is a snarled, dirty, fractured supply chain with the hardest workers and problem solvers in industry. The fashion industry is heavily invested in creating positive, transformative change, doing the challenging work of analyzing data and engaging suppliers to solve problems. Systemic steps are being made to create circular economies through product design and processing. Innovative technologies are being developed that reduce the environmental impacts of production.
The industry is also rife with sustainability laggers. The clever work is not all-pervasive, but fashion still sets an example for all CPG and retailers.
Brands and retailers must engage consumers to change buying, usage and disposal habits. Quality should improve and quantity should go down. We need more insourcing. Plastic packaging will be a big issue, forever. Transportation and logistics are messy, as products re-circumvent the planet in the supply chain. Worker rights remain a massive problem. Greenwashing remains a grandiose thing because it is fashionable to be “green.”
We need to increase collaboration across industries because of limited institutional knowledge. Partnering with oil and gas, agriculture, utilities, advanced data analysts and carbon specialists will help answer the tough, inaccessible questions and make considerable systemic changes.
Environmental, social and governance
Jason: Why is the topic of ESG so important in the consideration of sustainability, and how do you see analytics helping?
Malinda: ESG regulation is the most tremendous boon to the sustainability industry. Auditable data should increase disclosure and transparency, reducing greenwashing. If Gensler’s SEC requires Scope 3 reporting, the insights will drive change in business decisions. Remember, Scope 3 emissions usually account for more than 70% of a business’s carbon footprint; companies must tackle Scope 3 emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
Sustainability starts with data. Benchmark everything, develop KPIs and improve continuously through analytics. The environmental side of sustainability is built on this approach – meter reading, test reports, etc. We can measure social impacts and improve them with data analytics, IoT, ML and AI. If we look at the third aspect as governance, SAS has been ensuring quality governance solutions for many years.
Data for sustainability
Jason: What exciting examples across SAS have you seen that tackle the question of sustainability and environment in unique and interesting ways?
Malinda: The heart of sustainability lies within environmental justice and distributive justice. At SAS, the brilliant work done in government and Data for Good does just that. Our data analytics has improved social equity in municipalities, distributed benefits equitably, contributed to humanitarian relief efforts, and helped overcome racial disparities. Environmentally speaking, SAS has helped mitigate water impacts from climate change, sorted logistics snarls and helped with California wildfires, to name but a few.
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