[open-sustainability] Guardian article: Open data can help plug the gaps in our understanding of sustainability

Jack Townsend jack at jacktownsend.net
Thu May 29 15:15:43 UTC 2014

Open data can help plug the gaps in our understanding of sustainability


A new platform sharing data about sustainability performance is aimed at business leaders but may attract others too

Can open data help small businesses and their customers understand their footprint? Photograph: Kacper Pempel/REUTERS
Peter Drucker's quote, "what gets measured gets managed", is one that most of us will have heard before, but interpretation of those famous five words varies. For some the simple act of measuring an activity changes it, by forcing us to pay attention to it. Others suggest that measuring an activity gives us a handle on it, a way to manage or improve it.

Both interpretations are important for sustainability. The act of monitoring and reporting on environmental, social and governance risks in global supply chains helps to make these issues more visible. It can also lead to a greater understanding of how best to tackle the root causes behind sustainability challenges.

The list of existing reporting frameworks and initiatives to drive transparency on corporate sustainability is long. There are millions of companies of all shapes and sizes operating around the world, but while larger companies are increasingly engaged on transparency and sustainability, the reality is that a vast chunk of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not.

Open data provides big benefits for sustainability. The European Parliament adopted a directive on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information on 15 April 2014 meaning many EU companies will now be required to disclose information on policies, risks and outcomes linked to environmental performance, social and employee-related aspects, respect for human rights, anti-corruption practices, bribery issues, and diversity.

This policy is a response to the surging demand for corporate transparency, and it is timely. There are more than 20m SMEs in Europe alone and yet we still have no common mechanism for the private sector to openly share this type information, and there is a widening gap between companies that do have the knowledge, capacity and funds to afford to work openly and collaboratively, and those that do not.

To help plug these gaps, Sedex Global is working with OpenCorporates and the World Bank Institute to create an Open Supply Chain Platform: a free global platform that lets companies upload and share core information on their policies, systems and procedures to tackle environmental, social and governance issues.

It aims to help suppliers that are new to sustainability understand where they are at in terms of their performance, and to provide guidance on areas of weakness. For buyers, the platform should provide better visibility of suppliers in the marketplace by region or industry and their maturity on sustainability practices – particularly when buying from SMEs which previously might not have been able to provide this detailed information.

We hope this tool will create a more level playing field for companies, whatever their shape or size, to understand and promote sustainability performance within global supply chains.

It's more timely than ever that everyone is able to understand and scrutinise the performance of global SMEs on sustainability.

Mark Robertson is head of communications at Sedex Global

The supply chain living hub is funded by the Fairtrade Foundation. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

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