THE ROLE OF DATA IN A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
09 June 2015

​The latest study by GRI and Oxfam Novib provides important insights into how different stakeholder groups are using sustainability data. This report is timely, given the launch of the SDGs later this year, and serves to open a dialogue on how to ensure that sustainability data is available, accurate, and being used to foster a sustainable future.  

Sustainability reporting is now commonplace among the world’s largest companies, resulting in a vast amount of sustainability performance data. The amount of data available is growing every year, giving stakeholders an ideal opportunity to leverage this information to create positive change.

Untapped potential
Sustainability reports are valuable to many different groups of stakeholders, especially in developing and emerging markets where sustainability impacts are often hardest hitting and most urgent. These groups of stakeholders could benefit greatly from a better understanding of the reporting process, and of how to use data to their advantage – be it for advocacy, partnerships, consumer action, investment decisions, or to help improve public information about sustainability issues.

Despite all this, sustainability reports are not being used to their full potential. This is a lost opportunity, not only for those who produced the reports, but also given their potential to contribute to sustainable change for a world without poverty – a key aim of the upcoming SDGs.
 
The potential of sustainability data needs to be maximized to inform and empower change if we are to tackle some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. To do this, we need to understand how the sustainability data reported by companies and organizations is currently being used.
 
Current and future uses for sustainability data
This new study presents a baseline stocktake of the ways sustainability performance data is being used by civil society, investors, business, government and market regulators, and media. Various ways in which data is being used to drive behavior change and its impacts are outlined in the report. It also features case studies on the challenges and future potential of using sustainability data, offering insights into how it can be used to empower stakeholders, and how it can be leveraged for change.
 
The study concludes with recommendations for reporting organizations, governments, report users, and GRI on how to maximize the potential of sustainability data to inform and empower change. For example, the research suggests that reporting organizations could make data more valuable by ensuring it is accurate and honest, using standardized metrics, and considering the context.
 
Informing sustainable decisions
“The study offers great insights into how sustainability performance data can be leveraged for change and empower sustainable decisions, ultimately tackling some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges,” says Alyson Slater, Director Regional Network & Sustainable Development, GRI. “We hope that the recommendations outlined in this report will mark the first step towards empowering the use of performance data and to give it a more central role in the transition to a sustainable global economy.”
 
This important study will help to inform the current dialogue on the future of sustainability reporting. “So much sustainability data is being produced, it is great to see how the debate is now maturing to another level, the level on how to use it, how to make the data dance for a world without poverty”, says Gine Zwart, Senior Advisor Corporate Accountability, Oxfam Novib. “I trust this report will contribute to that debate as well as to even more and better sustainability reporting.”
 
Informing Decisions, Driving Change was produced with support from BSD Consulting and can be downloaded from GRI’s website here