Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Sustainability Crystal Ball

Don't you wish you could have a crystal ball that would tell you what sustainability issues are coming up to hit you in the glabella? Or somewhere else even more painful? Wouldn't you like to know the issues before your stakeholders turn you into mush? Wouldn't you want to prepare your sustainability strategy knowing that you have covered all the angles and not left materiality to fortuity? Wouldn't you want a little materiality certainty rather than a lot of materiality perplexity? 

The answer to all your wishes just may have come true with a little big thing that calls itself the DatamaranTM. Yes, that's Datamaran, not catamaran. Catamarans are characterized by light weight, high stability, reduced drag and comfort that get you where you want to go. That's kind of what you want from technology too, so the selection of the name Datamaran for a dynamic, interactive, real-time personalizable database of sustainability issues is apparently not entirely coincidental.

Datamaran is the new little big thing for companies who want to be in control of their sustainability journey. With sustainability, there are so many variables that it's hard to stay in on top of what's most important. If you can't see the forest for the saplings, then you might need to cut through the undergrowth. (Am I mixing metaphors?)

Datamaran is the brainchild of startup eRevalue. Marjella Alma, founder of eRevalue, explained it to me: 

"Sustainability closes doors. People look at frameworks and numbers. We should take a step back, relax and then come back to see how the land lies. The frameworks that we use such as GRI or SASB should not be treated as forms you fill in and tick the sustainability “box”. Companies must first and foremost take responsibility for their impacts – “know your business” - regardless of the framework and their prescribed KPIs. But how do this when there’s many initiatives, various opinions, regulatory pressures… and you have a complex value chain?

We wanted to create a tool that would help companies understand and navigate the issues so that they can talk about what's really on the table, not reduce this important effort to “selecting from a set of generic givens”. We asked ourselves how we could put this in front of companies to help them identify emerging issues by country, by sector, by competitive landscape and by regulatory pressures. 

We wanted to help companies know what to talk about and how to establish the right kind of KPIs that are relevant for them, and early enough in the process so that companies are not caught unaware." 

HQ'd in London with a team of 25+ ESG experts, lawyers and data scientists and growing, eRevalue's Datamaran is set for a long and meaningful navigation through sustainaland.  

Marjella makes a lot of sense (She usually does. I've known her for quite a while!) We are being plied and prodded with more frameworks and regulations than we can ever imagine and more and more companies are asking, how can we cut through the clutter? More companies are looking to filter out the noise, as the folks at eRevalue say. Datamaran conjures up a set of emerging issues to be aware of as you assess what's material for your business and for your stakeholders. The issues are driven by what people are really talking about out there, as it happens. The conversations that suddenly explode into viral megaphones are caught at an early stage in the Datamaran clutches, letting you know who's doing the talking and how loud everybody else is shouting. Ultimately it becomes a real-time materiality funnel, shaping the relative force of the issues as the conversations on the radar vary in intensity.  

Datamaran works with complex search algorithms across a taxonomy of 6,000 search terms relating to 120 issues on the sustainability radar, hunting down references in corporate websites, Sustainability Reports, SEC filings, Annual Reports and increasingly, media and social media, starting with Twitter. There is also a regulatory platform where all the regulatory frameworks relative to a particular issue magically pop up, and even indicate emerging regulation that is on the radar. In short, all the things that your materiality analysis needs as you create it and as you revise it. 

For reporting, Datamaran helps you understand what's current right now. Suppose you are a company and you are about to prepare your next Sustainability Report. You have your overall strategy and materiality framework mapped out, but you are interested to know what is on the radar right now for your peer group. 

I couldn't resist having a little play around with Datamaran. (Fortunately it's not catamaran, as I am prone to seasickness). I imagined I was a large pharmaceutical company. I selected in my profile the issues that are currently on my radar and I benchmarked these against global and regional issues for my peer companies in relation to what they report in sustainability reports.

At a global level, I see that occupational health and safety, environmental issues and employee issues are picking up the most noise in terms of what pharma peer companies are reporting in their sustainability reports.    

Drilling down, I was able to get a view of how these issues play our in different regions and the relative noise created by each issue in the current landscape. When I separately benchmarked Europe, Americas and Asia, I got different rankings.


Globally, I can see that 91% of my peer companies mention waste in their sustainability reports - a sign that I had better ensure I'm on top of that too. 

Broadly speaking, the top 20 issues don't change significantly across regions - as I would not expect them to do - but in the Americas, waste comes out top; in Europe, occupational health and safety comes out top and in Asia, workforce diversity and inclusion tops the list. While these results might not be significant enough for me to entirely redraw my materiality matrix, it's certainly interesting enough for me to check out who's saying what in the different regions and why. On the subject of waste, for example, we can see the regulatory landscape of current and emerging legislation quite clearly and for each issue, Datamaran can take us back to the source legislation. 

There are a million other ways Datamaran can be useful.. I have only scratched the surface. In my chat with Marjella, I understand that the busy bees at eRevalue are technologizing away really really fast to expand the applicability and personalizability of the system to make it even more useful. This is apparently the only tool of its kind around to support sustainability material decision making and low-noise focus. 

As with any database, what comes out is only as good as what goes in, and the way the program functionality is constructed. So as long as Datamaran keeps its legs on dry land, it seems that it could be quite useful. I'll certainly keep this radar on my radar....  I always wanted a crystal ball.   

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:   

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