The ultimate guide to Data Collection for Sustainability Reports
The most difficult, time-consuming, and costly aspect of any reporting exercise is usually data collection—and sustainability reporting is no different.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With a little bit of planning and the right tools, collecting data for your sustainability report can be a breeze. In this guide, we’ll show you how to go about collecting data for your report, what to look out for, and what tools can make the process easier.
Let’s get started!
What Is Data Collection in Sustainability Reporting?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of data collection, let’s first take a step back and define what we’re talking about.
In sustainability reporting, data collection is the process of gathering information related to an organization’s environmental, social, and economic (ESG) performance. This data is then used to produce sustainability reports—documents that communicate an organization’s progress on sustainability issues to internal and external stakeholders.
Data collection is the foundation of any good sustainability report. Without accurate and timely data, it would be impossible to measure an organization’s performance or track its progress over time.
What Kinds of Data Should You Collect for a Sustainability Report?
The specific data you’ll need to collect for your sustainability report will depend on your organizational context and reporting goals. And there’s a huge range of qualitative and quantitative data that can be used—from carbon emissions to employee satisfaction rates.
So, how do you decide what data to collect? Let’s talk about data variety:
When it comes to sustainability reporting, there are three main categories of data you’ll need to consider:
- Environmental Data: This type of data covers an organization’s impact on the environment. It can include everything from energy consumption and water usage to greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation.
- Social Data: This type of data covers an organization’s social impact, including its impacts on employees, the local community, and society at large. It can include everything from employee satisfaction rates to social media sentiment.
- Governance Data: This type of data covers an organization’s governance and compliance with environmental, social, and ethical regulations. It can include everything from safety incidents to corruption allegations.
Generally, the sustainability reporting framework you use will have specific information about the types of data you need to collect.
For example, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides detailed guidance on the specific ESG indicators that should be reported.
It’s also important to think about data types. Data can be either:
- Quantitative Data: Quantitative data is numerical and can be measured or counted.Examples of quantitative data include things like carbon emissions, water usage, and employee satisfaction rates.
- Qualitative Data: Qualitative data is non-numerical and can’t be directly measured or counted. Examples of qualitative data include things like social media sentiment, employee interview comments, and focus group feedback.
Both quantitative and qualitative data have their own strengths and weaknesses—and both are important for sustainability reporting.
In general, quantitative data is good for measuring progress over time, while qualitative data is good for understanding the underlying reasons behind that progress (or lack thereof).
Finally, to add another layer of confusion, there are also two main sources for the data you’ll use in your report:
- Primary Data: This is data that’s collected directly by the organization itself. It can come from things like employee surveys, focus groups, or energy consumption records.
- Secondary Data: This is data that’s collected by another organization or entity—usually a government body or research institution. It can include things like population data, economic indicators, or industry benchmarks.
Both primary and secondary data have their advantages and disadvantages. Primary data is usually more specific to your organization, while secondary data is generally more reliable (since it comes from an objective third party). In practice, most sustainability reports will use a mix of both primary and secondary data.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of data collection, let’s take a closer look at the process itself.
How to Collect Data for a Sustainability Report
Now that we’ve covered the basics of data collection for sustainability reporting, let’s take a closer look at the process itself.
There are four steps involved in collecting data for a sustainability report:
- Choose the right data collection methods for your needs.
- Develop a data collection plan.
- Implement your plan with the help of technology.
- Verify and validate your data.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
1. Choose the right data collection methods for your needs.
The first step in collecting data for your sustainability report is to choose the right data collection methods. There are a wide variety of methods available, and the best one for you will depend on your specific needs.
Some common data collection methods include:
- Employee Surveys
- Customer Surveys
- Supplier Surveys
- Focus Groups
- Secondary Research
- Document Analysis
- Web Scraping
Choose these methods by categorizing the data you need to collect and working backwards to arrive at the best method.
2. Develop a data collection plan.
Once you’ve selected your data collection methods, the next step is to develop a detailed data collection plan. This plan should include everything from the types of data you need to collect to the specific questions you’ll ask in your surveys.
Your data collection plan doesn’t have to be overly complicated. A simple Excel spreadsheet can often suffice. However, if you’re working with a large team or a lot of data, you may want to consider using a more robust project management tool like ClickUp or Asana.
3. Implement your plan with the help of technology.
The next step is to put your data collection plan into action. This usually involves using technology to help you collect and organize your data.
There are a wide variety of software options available, from survey platforms like SurveyMonkey to data visualization tools like Tableau. The best option for you will depend on your specific needs and budget.
4. Verify and validate your data.
Once you’ve collected your data, it’s important to verify and validate it before using it in your report. This ensures that your data is accurate and reliable.
There are a few different ways to do this, but the most common method is to cross-check your data against other sources. For example, if you’re collecting energy consumption data, you could compare it against utility bills or energy usage records.
This step is often overlooked, but it’s crucial to ensure the accuracy of your sustainability report.
Start Simplifying Data Collection
Sustainability reporting is a critical tool for organizations that want to track their progress and performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. And while the process of collecting data for a sustainability report can be complex, it’s important to remember that the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs.
With the right approach, collecting data for a sustainability report can help you make better decisions, improve your operations, and achieve your sustainability goals.
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Based in Dubai for over 10years, Peter Caush is the founder of Sandpaperme.com and TheSchoolAgency.com.
A trusted authority on digital marketing Peter is passionate about helping SME’s grow their business in the Gulf region.
When he’s not in the office Peter enjoys playing squash, often more times than his knees can cope.
At Sandpaper We have been around long enough to realize the importance of good report writing, research, and design. A thoroughly planned and executed report builds loyalty and trust among stakeholders.
In the 10 years of service, Sandpaper has managed to adapt to changes in both the global and local corporate landscape in the United Arab Emirates.
Annual Reports : Sustainability/Environmental, Financial/AGM, Impact and special focus.
View the latest work Sandpaper has designed and published.