How Talkers and Walkers Use Data

One phrase that especially stuck with me at SPC Advance came from Domtar’s vice president of sustainability, David Struhs, explaining that sustainability data is better suited as a windshield rather than a rear-view mirror. I think it is a helpful reminder that while measurement tools and scorecards are important, we have come a long way in making them better, what is more important today is how we use the data to set real goals and take meaningful action.

Mr. Struhs is featured in a recent MIT Sloan Management School report Sustainability’s Next Frontier: Walking the Talk on Sustainability Issues that Matter Most that emphasizes this point. The report provides clear data on how sustainability strategy provides measurable business value. But  maybe more importantly, the report also makes clear that while businesses agree with and understand the data behind sustainability’s business value, they are, for the most part, not taking action to mine this business value. The MIT Sloan report, which includes a survey of more than 5,300 executive and manager respondents from 118 countries, explains:

“There is little disagreement that sustainability is necessary to be competitive — 86% of respondents say it is or will be. Sustainability’s next frontier is tackling the significant sustainability issues — or, in the parlance that is gaining currency, “material sustainability issues” — that lie at the heart of competitive advantage and long-term viability. Yet many companies struggle to match their strong level of sustainability concern with equally strong actions. They still wrestle with settling on which actions to pursue and aligning around them.”

There is all kinds of data out there for better decision making. Scorecards for every question. The challenge is how do we use this information? There is little doubt that leadership companies from the banking and forest products industries to IT and healthcare are connecting sustainability with profits. One aspect that sets them apart, however, is that these leadership companies leverage data not just to see where they have been, but also, where they want to go–what MIT Sloan describes as moving from  a “talker” to a “walker.”

For more info you can read MIT Sloan’s report including “Portrait of a Walker: Domtar” at  

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