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How technology is powering sustainability

Unlocking data is critical for organizations striving to achieve sustainability goals. Many businesses see challenges in how to effectively record, report, and analyze the data they need to reduce their environmental impact. 

As leaders and companies realize sustainability is smart business and invest in new solutions, sharing our collective learnings is important for long-term success. Reflecting on examples of sustainable business transformations, we asked key opinion leaders inside and outside of Microsoft to share their perspectives.

Building sustainable supply chains 

Returned items present a waste problem for retailers, as 30 to 40 percent of purchased clothing ends up in landfills. Retailers like H&M worked with Microsoft and partner Ombori to start addressing this problem. Retail industry expert Cathy Hotka says analyzing the supply chain can help. “AI and machine learning can help determine which products will sell well, resulting in higher efficiency and less waste.” 

Retailers used to guess about popular styles and how many items to purchase. Those decisions can now be quantified using prescriptive analytics. As retailers work to create a more sustainable future, every step of the supply chain journey is an opportunity to gather data, optimize environmental impact, and drive value. 

Likewise, manufacturers are turning to technology to breathe sustainability into their operations. Facilities can now use AI to automate and digitize processes, allowing them to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, and increase transparency along the supply chain, which can also help improve the industry’s reputation. “Transforming business practices to become more sustainable presents an opportunity to shift the perception of manufacturing to being circular and green,” says Peggy Smedley, who has over 25 years’ experience in IoT and manufacturing. 

Leverage data to evaluate climate risk 

Using data to evaluate impact is essential to the partnership between NatWest Group and Microsoft to help businesses understand and act on reducing their carbon footprints. The NatWest Group conducted a customer research study of 500 businesses that found a lack of data and resources created challenges for meeting climate goals. With cloud, data, and AI capabilities, the NatWest Group will help customers understand changes they can make to reduce emissions. “The availability of high-quality data helps organizations better understand their impacts and provides opportunities for more sustainable investment decisions,” adds Theodora Lau, entrepreneur and founder of Unconventional Ventures.  

Enabling Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies 

Sustainability for financial services firms exists primarily in investments. “Firms gather mountains of self-reported, external, and planetary data to make decisions. The scale of this data necessitates tools like AI to help uncover useful information for analysts and investors,” shares Matthew Sekol, Sustainability Industry Advocate at Microsoft. Risk, data, and analytics firms like MSCI provide information to help analysts and investors make more-informed decisions.

MSCI selected Microsoft as its partner for its Investment Solutions as a Service, which includes components of ESG. “Technology brings once-siloed data together to inform decision making on ESG. This will help investors adapt, mitigate, or transition portfolios, allowing better asset management,” adds Dr. Sally Eaves, CEO of Aspirational Futures.

Accelerating the transformation to net zero  

Digital solutions also are helping companies reach their net-zero targets. The power provider ENGIE generates substantial amounts of data from its IoT-connected assets. The company partnered with Microsoft to transform its operational performance software to process and analyze this data. Now, ENGIE teams have AI-driven insights to help optimize power generation and reduce emissions. “AI can process and analyze data from various sources to make real-time decisions,” says Dawn James, Director of Global IoT Industry Strategy at Microsoft. 

Understanding climate data to make better decisions  

The planet is changing rapidly, and making better decisions requires a collaborative approach. The Planetary Computer combines environmental data contributed by people globally. That combined data can help us better understand the species, biodiversity, and ecosystems vital to our planet. “Data and AI are key drivers to understanding where emissions are coming from and how best to mitigate them—because you can’t mitigate what you can’t measure,” comments Zeke Hausfather, climate research lead at Stripe.

Powering a sustainable future together

Better data leads to better insights, which leads to better action. Many organizations face challenges acquiring and identifying data, unifying it, and creating a single actionable view of sustainability data. With increasing regulation and growing customer demand for positive change, organizations across multiple industries are embracing the challenge and Microsoft is here to help.

With the release of our Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, we’re bringing together a growing set of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) capabilities across the Microsoft Cloud portfolio plus solutions from our ecosystem of partners to empower organizations in their sustainability efforts.

 Our Microsoft Sustainability Manager—a Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability solution that unifies data to help monitor and manage environmental impact. Now organizations can easily record, report, and reduce their environmental impact through increasingly automated data connections that provide actionable insights.