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How Data Will Drive Sustainability Forward

How Data Will Drive Sustainability Forward

As CEO of Hitachi Vantara, Gajen helps solve clients’ problems by bringing to bear Hitachi’s unrivaled industrial expertise across sectors.

It’s incredibly promising to see sustainability practices permeating both public and private sectors, but too often, the easiest path to manage greenhouse gas exposure is to simply purchase carbon and emissions credits—essentially passing the buck for others to lead for them. There is, however, plenty an organization can do today to help set, meet and exceed sustainability goals and compliance mandates. The thread running through them all? Data.

I’m convinced the future of sustainability hinges on creating practical, data-driven initiatives that focus on intelligent collection, management and analysis across increasingly complex environments. Companies that take this fundamental approach will be better positioned to elevate all sectors of their businesses and have a better chance of meeting environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) targets and increasing regulatory requirements along the way.

Last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new climate disclosure rule that would require SEC registrants to make certain climate disclosures. In the announcement, SEC Commissioner Allison Herron Lee called climate change “one of the most momentous risks to face capital markets since the inception of this agency.”

The proposed rule lays out requirements for the disclosure of information on a range of categories, including the material impacts of climate risk on a company’s business and information about a company’s governance, risk management and strategy related to climate risk. It also calls for the disclosure of a company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Even if not fully approved, such regulation would dramatically increase the need for sophisticated data gathering innovations and processes. Let me share a few real-world examples of how intelligent data is being put to work in the wild.

Sustainable And Productive

One Hitachi Vantara client located nearby a World Heritage-listed region rich in rainforests, rivers, and reefs uses advanced data analytics with AI, ML and sensor technology to predict when the fruit will reach maturity and reduce the amount of fertilizer and water required for it to thrive.

A combination of RFID and GPS tags, solar-powered sensors, and a weather station capture data, while solar-powered edge computing processes the data based on the farm’s specific needs. The upshot? Managers can more accurately predict problems and proactively respond to challenges and risks before they take place, embodying the essence of what can only be described as smart farming.

Smarter Power Networks

Data and analytics give utilities new insights into consumption patterns and other matters related to their customers. Unlike other industries, utility companies never had a problem collecting information—the challenge has been sifting through all that information as data flows from smart meters in homes to drones and satellites sending back images of power lines or weather patterns. That’s finally happening with utilities realizing the importance of merging data to gain the insights they need.

In fact, some 75% of utilities now use advanced analytics, along with other digital technologies like IoT, automation, data analytics, hydrogen and storage technologies, electrification and artificial intelligence and machine learning, to extract new value from all that data.

Utilities can review data to better understand energy patterns and then build special billing plans that encourage off-peak energy use. Not only does this reduce customer expenses, but it relieves the need to invest in building out more infrastructure.

While the utilities track the hundreds of data points generated by wind turbines for early signs of wear and tear, they can use the same data to determine optimal times to take their machinery offline to perform services.

Protecting Water Sources

The increasingly unpredictable and violent nature of thunderstorms in the Apennine mountain range is impacting the hydrogeological structure of the soil, while on the contrary, long periods of drought are increasing the risk of potential desertification and increasing exposure to other natural disasters.

The Southern Apennine District Basin Authority is responsible for monitoring the correct use of water resources, forecasting and preventing natural disasters and malevolent anthropogenic activities. They have designed a network for monitoring the quality and availability of water through different data analytics and data science technologies and instruments, enabling developmental strategies for assessing and managing risk to the physical environment and socio-economic systems.

The Authority is also developing a system for sampling data from the field through sensors from video, thermographic tech, lidar and more. Integrated with a GIS system and meteorological forecasts, that data flows into a big data analytics and data science system for monitoring that allows officials to inspect the territory and generate actionable insights in real time to mitigate risks and protect the environment.

As a result of all this work, the Authority has obtained greater visibility of anomalies around springs and watercourses through a dashboard system within a control room, which makes it possible to react to intelligent alarms in coordination with law enforcement.

Our Only Limit Is Our Imagination

This is only the start, but we need to get this right. Business as usual will ensure the continued emission of greenhouse gases, heightened global warming and permanent changes to the climate, perhaps with disastrous effects such as shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and extended droughts.

The imperative for enterprises to create their own sustainability programs, using data in new and creative ways, should be clear. Begin with the operational and sustainable problems you are trying to solve at the most simplistic level and determine how you may be able to better understand those issues with data and analytics as your secret weapon. Once insight into these issues has been achieved and you have a greater understanding of the interconnected business, environment and people elements at play, true innovation and change can happen.

Those who can achieve this will improve productivity, even as they reduce their carbon footprint, for today and far into the future. Sustainability is good for the environment, the community and your organization, and the most powerful tool at your disposal is your data.

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