A Framework For A Sustainability Strategy

Rivai H Tukimen

Across all organizations, sustainability has become a business imperative, and across the C-suite, two practices have become cornerstones: resilience and risk reduction.

They’re two sides of the same coin: a company that optimizes transportation routes to reduce its carbon footprint, for instance, creates a more streamlined network that may be less exposed to floods, storms, and other climate hazards. An organization that retools operations to use fewer natural resources ensures a healthier future supply of that resource.

Questions about risk, resilience, and sustainability are fundamentally questions of where – that’s why some of the world’s best-known companies are emphasizing a geographic approach.

The location intelligence provided by geographic information system (GIS) technology offers real-time insight into potential impacts on communities, people, facilities, assets, partners, and the supply chain. It helps with predictive modeling of climate risks informing decisions on where to invest in facilities, sourcing, production, infrastructure, labor force, and markets. Location analytics help companies track emissions from production facilities, vehicle fleets, stores, offices, as well as monitor consumption of natural resources across the business.

In the short term, GIS offers a “single pane of glass” through which decision-makers can anticipate climate-related events to ensure employee and customer safety, create location-specific mitigation strategies, and coordinate efforts to minimize disruptions and maintain business continuity. In the long term, GIS-based modeling can flag the location of worsening climate conditions, prompting business leaders to harden or relocate assets and infrastructure needed to serve the next generation. Further, by modeling facilities or supply chains into a GIS-based digital twin—complete with data from IoT sensors and satellite or drone imagery—executives gain a comprehensive view of business activity across land and sea.

GIS: An Organization’s Central Nervous System for Resilience and Reduction

For many C-suite leaders, resilience has been elevated to a top-line priority because extreme weather events and other climate change threats are increasingly affecting their ability to fulfill customer expectations day in and day out. GIS furnishes companies with a central digital nervous system that contextualizes and analyzes data.

Many of the most influential companies in the world have also signed on to net-zero commitments, which means a fundamental shift in how businesses source and ship goods and materials. To cut greenhouse gas emissions and reach ambitious resiliency goals, businesses need deep visibility into their own operations and a precise understanding of where they can make the biggest changes. By adopting a geographic approach, business leaders can see weather events developing and begin enacting location-specific strategies.

The world’s largest telecom company for instance, has been working with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to create forecasts showing how the locations of infrastructure like cell towers and base stations could be affected by 50-year storms; the analysis allows them to see with 95 percent confidence if a plot of coastal land will get up to 15 feet in flooding in the coming years.

Companies are also reacting to weakened ecosystems that have led to resource-poor environments and land that can’t recover from climate change. Farms and forests with strong biodiversity ratings are ultimately more resilient and productive. It’s yet another motivation for businesses to develop a detailed picture of how they use resources and impact the environment, and where efficiencies might escape the naked eye.

A Formula for Success in Business Continuity Planning

The largest shellfish producer in the US knows that maintaining a sustainable supply of seafood requires resource planning on the scale of decades, not months. The company’s leaders use pH sensors and GIS to track the acidity of ocean water and determine how well oysters respond. They’ve been able to grow in spite of climate-related disruptions that have crippled other hatcheries.

Other companies, including a Boston-based agricultural startup, are measuring the results of composting, no-till farming, and crop rotation, which can trap carbon in the soil and reverse nutrient depletion.

One international furniture giant owns swaths of forest in the US and Eastern Europe—which can take 140 years to mature—making sustainable forestry a vital interest for the company. It uses GIS to guide ecologically sound methods of timberland management. Based on data from field agents and satellite imagery, the company’s GIS analysts can identify which tracts contain tree species most vulnerable to threats like the invasive bark beetle. With this information, they can prioritize areas that need protective treatments, staving off costly losses. The company relies on GIS to monitor biodiversity measures like the health and population levels of animal, plant, and insect species on its properties. This holistic understanding of woodlands and the ecosystems they maintain is integral to maintaining productive forests.

In addition to the business urgency to become more resilient and reduce risk, governments and investors are ratcheting up pressure on companies to disclose environmental impacts. A new set of rigorous green disclosure standards in the UK, for instance, will demand that large businesses release sustainability data.

Companies that take a geographic approach possess a unique advantage in complying with new regulations; sensors and location dashboards help executives gather and organize relevant data, while maps are among the simplest ways to communicate and contextualize sustainability reporting for the public, regulators, and investors.

As climate change reshapes businesses and entire industries, a more long-term view is taking hold in the most influential offices in the world. There’s a deepening understanding that ensuring a prosperous future requires a location-specific view of today’s operations and tomorrow’s repercussions.

To hear more about how GIS and a geographic approach can help leaders and businesses thrive sustainably, check out the Esri & The Science of Where Podcast.


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