big data sustainability

Big Data, Sustainability, and the Benefits

Jane Marsh - February 28, 2019

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

Big data provides a promising solution to many of today’s most pressing problems. Interconnectivity and predictive analysis enable researchers and scientists to address issues that were previously beyond their grasp. As computational strength continues to increase, our capacity for problem-solving increases, as well.

At the current rate of progress, IBM estimates we’ll have access to 300 times more information in 2020 than we had in 2005. While many businesses use this info to inform marketing strategies and drive profit, it has applications elsewhere. Big data shows incredible promise in the fulfillment of sustainability goals.

In this article, we’ll detail the data-driven strategies that business owners and environmental organizations have used to improve sustainability. We’ll touch on the benefits of big data for both the preservation of the planet and a company’s bottom line, showing its potential as a catalyst for positive change.

Optimized Resource Management

Pirelli, an Italian tire company, employs a big data management system to optimize its inventory. Sensors in their tires generate data which the system, known as HANA, collects and processes. Pirelli uses this info to eliminate waste by reducing the number of defective tires that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Another company, Alliander, uses HANA to maintain its grid’s peak efficiency, decreasing energy usage, and, by extension, their environmental impact. While it once took 10 weeks to optimize their grid, big data has enabled them to do the same work in only three days. A broad range of industries can enjoy the same benefits.

In major sectors like healthcare, aviation, rail, power, oil and gas, even a 1 percent improvement in efficiency could yield $276 billion in savings over the next 15 years. It’s a firm reminder that companies don’t have to compromise profit to achieve high levels of sustainability. A balance is not only possible but plausible.

Increased Awareness of Impact

While inefficient and wasteful facilities harm the environment, the professionals who manage them are often unaware of the full extent of the damage. This type of information usually exists across multiple formats, locations and sites, and managers rarely have access to a comprehensive collection of data.

With access to modern analytics software and enhanced interconnectivity, professionals can now view information that was previously unavailable to them. They have a better grasp of operations outside their direct control, such as employee travels, product disposal and raw material sourcing.

Their increased awareness of the end-to-end impact of their operation allows them to find and address problems they didn’t know they had. They gain new insight into their facilities, and as they come across areas which need improvement, they can give them the attention they deserve.

Informed Environmental Regulations

Beyond businesses and environmental organizations, the government can employ Big Data to improve its environmental regulations. With the latest sensor technology, they have access to real-time reporting of environmental quality data, used to monitor the emissions of utilities and companies.

Among the many different functions of big data for sustainability, its capacity to strengthen and enforce regulatory practices is one of the most effective. After all, environmental compliance is meaningless if a government doesn’t hold business owners accountable for their pollution and waste.

Moving forward, big data will provide regulatory bodies the information they need to develop and implement their programs. It’ll enable countries around the world to keep track of their emissions, and gradually, over time, help them reach their renewable energy goals and fulfill green initiatives.

Assessment of Environmental Risks

The necessity of environmental preservation is inarguable. With unseasonable weather, rising sea levels and an increasing frequency of natural disasters, change needs to happen — and soon. To place the problem in perspective, death rates as a result of climate change will exceed a quarter of a million each year by 2050.Fortunately, big data has proven valuable in assessing environmental risks. Interactive water-risk mapping tools like Aqueduct can monitor and calculate water risk anywhere in the world, and users can sort through parameters like quality, quantity and regulatory issues in the area. Big data is helping in other ways.

Through the analysis of information concerning food and energy, we have a better understanding of demand as the global population continues to grow. As we view the effect climate change will have on different variables, it’s easier to plan for the future and prepare for some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Change on a Global Scale

When you consider the benefits of big data and its effect on sustainability, it’s safe to speculate it’ll play a critical role in the future of environmental preservation. Companies, environmental organizations and regulatory bodies can all integrate modern analytics software, and in doing so, enact change on a global scale.

While we’re not there yet, we’re moving in a positive direction — and big data is paving the way.

Share on

Like what you read? Join other readers!

Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the newsletter!

About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.