To be successful, the sustainability roadmap adopted by businesses needs to be powered by data. So far we have laid out the journey that organizations seeking to integrate impact outcomes as part of their DNA – and, ultimately, their enterprise value – need to embark on along with their stakeholders (the producers and recipients of societal and financial externalities). A sustainability-oriented mindset is increasingly perceived as the driver behind a global economic transition. When data enabled, it builds on the value of transparent decision making and actionable insights to deliver impact targets.

Leadership teams that are already doing this have created an environment where data-enabled decisions drive alignment between short-term responses and longer term objectives: from operations, to finance, to corporate development and talent retention.

In interviews with sustainability leaders, researchers have found the value of sustainability data in business innovation and the need for integrated reporting of E&S information along with traditional financial metrics. Successful businesses underscore the benefits of embedding sustainability as an organizational lever into the enterprise value of a company. The need for boards to be educated on ESG topics and enhance governance to reflect sustainability risks and opportunities in the ordinary course of doing business has become a priority. It brings forward the urgency of building analytical dashboards to inform decisions on clearly identified sustainability metrics that drive corporate strategy.

The Power of an Early Start

How have the businesses that made an early start on this journey managed to effectively incorporate impact-oriented data and frameworks in their decision making? Have they prioritized governance policies that align with their operating environment, and with their customer, employee and community relationships, to balance financial and societal trade-offs? How do they enable continuous learning? What are the metrics they live and breathe by? How have they aligned their risk culture with organizational incentives and accountability that drive continued learning and a dynamic approach to transforming their business model to be truly sustainable – ready to withstand the risks and capture the opportunities of the 21st century?

It is humbling to see how these leaders not only continue to advocate for change from within, but also steadily dismiss industry pressures and short-termism to build enterprise value sustainably.

In researching the impact challenge of businesses, I have discovered that most of the ones I reference are facing significant hurdles. Hurdles in the geographic markets in which they operate and in the over-regulated sectors they navigate. Hurdles in the form of continued pressure from investors and civil society organizations to build faster and cheaper solutions in an inclusive manner and create deeper outreach and expand their services and products to underdeveloped communities.

It is important to note that the early efforts of a company to gather, analyze, verify and sustain the integration of decision-useful data and insights reflect how inclusive the stakeholder networks that are involved in that effort truly are. It is also foundational to building an organizational culture and incentives plan around sustainability targets and corporate commitments that rely on individual actions and group decisions to deliver value in financial and societal terms. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise that the organizations featured in my book, The Impact Challenge, have also sought and built a highly diverse network of advisors, thought partners and community leaders to help their teams deliver value by iterating for change and embracing innovation responsibly.

As we’ve discussed earlier, data-enabled decision making is key to unlocking the potential of a sustainability mindset. A data-enabled mindset goes beyond simply having access to data and information. It enables us to see transparently how our actions impact people and the planet, translating data into insights that can drive positive change and yield a chain of accountability.

If you want to learn more, be sure to read my book – The Impact Challenge — which gives case studies and examples of how you can further unlock and integrate a data-enabled sustainability mindset in your organization.
About the Author

ALESSIA FALSARONE, SASB FSA, is a sustainable finance expert and a fellow of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. Her work bridges the gap between sustainability, financial innovation and risk management. A sought-after commentator for media outlets and contributor to academic programs, Ms. Falsarone is a member of high-level advisory groups that promote environmental and climate finance, including the G20 Environmental Ministerial, the London Stock Exchange, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (Value Reporting Foundation) and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. In recognition of her innovative vision for business and society, she has received an Honoree Award from the Women’s Venture Fund and the 2021 Global Leadership Award by the SheInspires Foundation in the UK.

She is an alumna of Stanford University, the MIT Sloan School of Business and Bocconi University. Ms. Falsarone holds certified director status with the National Association of Corporate Directors. An avid advocate of sustainability in business education, she has contributed to educational initiatives on the topic at the Asian University for Women, the Society of Corporate Compliance, the Swiss Sustainable Finance Initiative, the United Nations, the World Bank, Stanford University and University of Chicago, including delivering training on climate risk and green finance in Asia Pacific and Latin America.

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