Leveraging data to meet decarbonization goals

An image of a factory at night.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Since the UN Climate Conference unfolded in Glasgow last November, businesses and governments globally have stepped up to the challenge to reduce their carbon footprints. But much more remains to be done to keep climate change under control. And the manufacturing industry is one of the sectors under particular pressure to reduce its carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions.

Insights gained from data can help manufacturers achieve their decarbonization targets in many different ways. The streams of data can offer insights into ensuring improved building and energy management, optimized renewable energy production, and can help decision makers gain visibility over the company’s actual carbon footprint.

About the author

Mark Woods is the Chief Technical Advisor at Splunk.

The tools required for businesses to use data to reach industry decarbonization goals, are already here. But in order for businesses to actually reap all the benefits from this data right now, they need to ensure that employees are equipped with the skills needed to analyze data correctly and that well-structured plans that help meet their business goals are in place.

Manufacturing bears a particular responsibility

Immense efforts will be needed to achieve Europe's climate targets for 2050. Each day we see more companies pledging responsibility in tackling environmental, social and corporate governance goals. The manufacturing sector bears a particular responsibility here, emitting an annual total of 775Mt of CO₂ equivalents. With a 22% share of Europe's total CO₂ emissions, manufacturing is the third largest emitter after energy and transport. Therefore, this industry has a particular responsibility to reduce emissions.

Stricter environmental regulations and increasing public pressure around the industry are just more reasons on why now is the time for the industry to really use data to reduce emissions.

Making good strides to unlock the power of data

The industry is however, already taking steps to utilize data better, to save energy and protect the environment. As an example, automotive manufacturers have already started to use data to develop predictive models and machine learning toolkits. This allows them to do a number of things, including proactively optimizing business-critical regenerative thermal ovens to better protect the environment. In this case, car manufacturers can increase logistics efficiencies and reduce downtime. Moreover, the automotive industry is also taking the lead in using data to develop the charging infrastructure for the new all-electric vehicles. The power of data can also help companies minimize, mitigate and even offset their impacts on the environment by helping enable the use of more energy efficient products.

The barriers to extracting optimum data insights

The current data environment expands exponentially each day and understanding it all becomes harder when the information is fragmented. Although data can offer valuable advantages to businesses which are looking to take the lead on reducing their harmful emissions, understanding what’s available at hand requires considerable effort. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that businesses are equipping their employees with the skills and tools they need to understand the best way to use data.

The need for more digital skills is not a new issue, but put against the rapidly advancing manufacturing industry, its importance has become even more acute. Businesses need to start thinking about how to better equip employees with the latest skills or risk falling behind competitors.

Further to bridging the skills gap, organizations which are looking to make use of their data in a smart and consistent way should also ensure that their systems and infrastructure are in an optimum state allowing them to gain the best insights. Having visibility across all points in the manufacturing process will become vital for leaders to make the best decisions based on actionable insights.

Make a plan with the right people and tools

There are a number of ways that businesses can start their journey of using the power of data to reduce carbon emission. For one, businesses should have a dedicated data scout or strategist who partners with the data-analytics team and business functions to identify operational, cost, and growth improvements that could be powered by data. It's crucial to use a platform that lets businesses investigate, monitor, analyze and act on data with unprecedented insight.

But in addition to dedicated data experts, it is also important to capture the imagination of the broader leadership team and build excitement for scaling beyond early pilots and tests. An effective route is to begin with a small team that is focused on using external data to solve a well-defined problem and then use that success to generate momentum for expanding external-data efforts across the organization.

And finally, a well-structured plan with the right tools for using data can provide a competitive edge. While most companies work on new ways to decarbonize their core businesses, they have an imminent opportunity to meaningfully advance their net zero ambitions by transforming their data operations, including data processing, data storage, and data analysis, that support their business activities as well.

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Mark Woods is the Chief Technical Advisor, at Splunk. He helps executive teams and international policy makers understand the seismic effect that data-driven approaches can achieve.