Data Sharing for Sustainable Development Should Not be a One-Way Street

One of the data for development mantras is that we should ‘measure what we treasure’, rather than treasuring something because it is easy to measure.

Data analysis is a key element of business strategy and operations; becoming a more inclusive business means thinking in new and diverse ways about how and what is measured and why.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created a surge of interest in the data that would be used for monitoring, and the data that governments and others would need to achieve them. So far, companies have been involved in this conversation mostly as producers of data, and as developers of tools for analyzing the data. But this should change. How companies use data, and what data they use, is as much a part of effective strategies for social good in the private sector as it is for governments and NGOs.

Different metrics lead to different incentives. This is something Paul Polman of Unilever knew well when he famously dropped the practice of quarterly reporting on the company’s financial performance to instead encourage long-term thinking in line with the principles of environmental sustainability. Along with a growing interest in, and demand for, sustainability reporting, companies are using their own data to monitor their impact on a variety of social and economic criteria that go way beyond financial performance.

This can go beyond accountability to shareholders and become a chance to use data to engage with all stakeholders along the supply chain, providing information for companies to improve their business and the relationships on which it depends.

The Brazil-based multinational cosmetics corporation Natura is doing just this. Working with Esri and SAP, both Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data members, Natura utilizes data to monitor and maintain sustainable practices throughout their supply chain. Natura staff collect data, which includes the locations of thousands of participating farms and over a million direct distributors, and combine it with business data from SAP. Using Esri’s ArcGIS platform, the data is analyzed and used to improve traceability and transparency in investments, production, and supply chain infrastructure. Esri’s platform makes the detailed information about the entire production chain easily accessible throughout the company, enabling Natura to track and meet its obligations to farming co-operatives, consumers, and shareholders, and maintain commitments to socio-biodiversity and environmental stewardship.