Blockchain: Linking Sustainability Data

May 13, 2016 Lucie Frideling

Blockchain: Linking Sustainability Data

What is blockchain technology, and what does it mean for the relationship between society, business and ecology? Both questions were addressed during a recent Crowd panel. And while opinions were split, there was agreement that blockchain has the potential to change and improve sustainability reporting.

Just a new buzzword?

Blockchain started as a component of the bitcoin peer-to-peer payment system, but it has developed a life beyond bitcoin. That’s because, at its core, blockchain provides the means to link data across multiple ledgers hosted by different users across the world, in a highly secure manner. Any type of data, not just bits and bytes related to digital currency.

For more, watch this BBC story.

While the idea that blockchain is the most significant innovation since the Internet is a bit of hyperbole (as of now), it definitely has utility in the sustainability realm. Namely, it could help make the reporting process truly transparent, solving the trust challenges organization face when they disclose information tied to initiatives such as energy and water conservation, waste management, social and labor practices, etc.

Blockchain offers a transparent future, however, future is the key word. There are many ways of harvesting decision-making data today. So there were other, related questions raised during the roundtable: What should be on a sustainability expert’s dashboard? What kind of data is most useful and what’s the business case for advanced analytics?

Sustainability data & blockchain

Access to data needs to be immediate and accessible from anywhere. Dashboards should be easy to share with all stakeholders who need to monitor sustainability programs, and act based on the trends and opportunities uncovered. In addition, data should be the foundation for key performance indicators used to measure success — and gain C-level and investor support. For companies without the necessary experience and tools, this may mean building a process to collect data and ensure it is accurate.

As organizations grow in their sustainability journey, they will be able to dive deep into data and analytics to address complex issues.

“We are now on the cusp of a new era: The way we capture, analyze and use sustainability data is about to be transformed,” writes Michael Meehan, chief executive of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in a recent Sustainable Brands article. As part of its Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project, GRI predicts three trends: dynamic sustainability data exchange, greater emphasis on critical global issues, and ‘near-real-time’ interactions to become the norm.

On the horizon, blockchain applications could be the way people manage and host sustainability data, and drive markets like carbon trading to develop transparency and build trust with senior decision makers, many of who still consider sustainability to be a bit of an unknown and hard to quantify.

Contributed by Eloise Lebrun and John McGettrick, Energy & Sustainability Services, Schneider Electric

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