How Can Data Visualization Aid Sustainability Decision-Makers?

Last week, SSC President Jennifer Woofter shared an article, The Future of Sustainability: 5 Things I Learned at Greenbiz VERGE. In it, she wrote about the value of data visualization to help sort out the challenges of big data, and mentioned a couple of the best presenters on the topic at the conference. 

While Jennifer was unable to find video of the speakers online, Becky at Greenbiz came to the rescue and pointed us to the right place. Without further ado, here is David McConville of Elumenati.

Making sense of numbers: David McConville on data visualization

Want more? Watch Emma Stewart of Autodesk's presentation Are Smart Cities really Necessary? 

Struggling to manage your own sustainability data? Check out our free white paper on Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business. Want a personalized recommendation? Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

The Future of Sustainability: 5 Things I Learned at Greenbiz VERGE

A dispatch from SSC president Jennifer Woofter

In late October, I had the wonderful privilege of attending VERGE, a GreenBiz conference in San Francisco. The four-day conference brought together the sometimes contradictory, but mostly congruent, worlds of technology and sustainability. Here are  the 5 themes  that were prevalent over the course of the week:

#1 Technology is our best solution to global sustainability problems…

Over three days, I saw dozens of examples of cutting edge technology that is helping government, communities, and business dramatically reduce their energy use (and, as a result, their carbon footprint). Some were well established in today’s marketplace, like Autodesk, whose suite of software platforms provide a wide variety of sustainability planning and design features for products, buildings, and land areas. Others are still in the early stages of market penetration, like Strawberry Energy, which sells stand-alone, solar-powered mobile device chargers for public spaces.

#2 … Except when it’s not.

That said, there were lots of times that presenters and participants challenged the notion that technology can save us from the problems of unsustainability. In the agriculture tracks, I heard repeated questions from audience members about how social sustainability issues—such as labor rights—play into sustainability strategies for agriculture and food companies. While the focus of the conference was on ways that technology can help us achieve sustainability goals, there were recurrent and appreciated pleas throughout the week not to forget the people around the world without access to high-tech luxuries.

#3 There is no consensus yet about the future of the sharing economy.

There was a lot of talk throughout the conference about the so-called sharing economy. While I didn’t take a poll, there seemed to be a pretty even split between those who believe the sharing economy will be a major disruptor of business-as-usual and those who believe it will continue to be a fringe player. Regardless of one’s take on the idea, there was definite enthusiasm for several business ideas pitched at the conference. My personal favorite was Munirent, a platform on which municipalities can rent out equipment that isn’t being used, and rent equipment that they need from adjacent towns. It’s a win-win concept – good for the environment, good for city managers, and good for taxpayers.

#4 Logistics is at the heart of next-gen sustainability solutions.

Whether it’s moving people or products, the topic of transportation and logistics permeated almost all of the VERGE sessions. I heard about the promise of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), EPA programs for reporting and reducing freight-related tailpipe emissions, tools for making cars smarter (or irrelevant), and companies aimed at making parking less of a nightmare.

Given the global trends towards distributed manufacturing, real-time and immediate delivery demands, and increased climate change regulation, the evidence is clear: businesses must place sustainability logistics in the inner circle of their sustainability plans.

#5 Big data is a sustainability paradox.

The theme of big data ran through most of the VERGE presentations—and for good reason. Access to more data and better data has been, and will continue to be, essential in tailoring smart sustainability solutions in an increasingly complex world. At the same time, there was a general feeling that big data has taken on a life of its own. That it isn’t always being used appropriately. Whether the data is too expensive (such as the exorbitant prices that some municipalities charge for details on private parcels of land), or whether the assumptions for using the data are flawed (or hidden), or whether there is simply a lack of technical prowess in managing and analyzing the data—it is clear that the full value of big data has not yet been realized. One step in the right direction is the amazing work begin done in sustainability visualization – representatives from both Autodesk and The Elumenati provided jaw-dropping visualizations of big sustainability data. (Sadly, I could find neither presentation on the web, but a similar presentation from Autodesk is embedded below.)

Overall, the Greenbiz VERGE conference was a smashing success, and I walked away with a headful of new ideas, interesting perspectives, and an education in the latest sustainability technology. Even now, two weeks later, I am still thrilled and somewhat mind-boggled to think of the ways that technology will help us better manage natural resources, connect and share ideas, and improve product and building design. I look forward to sharing these findings with my clients and continuing to see how the technology, and the people behind them, evolves in the coming years. Now, if I could just quickly figure out how to put what I gleaned from the conference into a data visualization, I could have saved you some reading time!

Thank you 2degrees for publishing the article!

Be sure to check out some of the other conference SSC has attended in recent months, like the RILA Sustainability Conference.

22 Megatrends that Will Transform Retail Sustainability

In September, we had the great privilege to attend the RILA Sustainability Conference in Minneapolis. Over the course of several days, we delved into a number of sustainability issues relevant to the retail sector. Now that we’ve been back in the office for several weeks, there is one aspect of the event that we keep coming back to: megatrends.

As part of RILA  and Forum for the Future’s Retail Horizons project, they identified 22 megatrends that will shape the future. While you can read about each of them in more detail in the free toolkit download, here they are in brief:

  1. Retail Everywhere - mobile payments, pop-up stores, and online shopping
  2. Augmented Reality - mobile and wearable technology
  3. Distributed Manufacturing - localized production and 3D printing
  4. Advances in Biotechnology - genetic engineering and synthetic biology
  5. Shifting Demographics - the “greying and browning” of America
  6. Urbanization in the US - resurgence of cities
  7. Global Economic Shifts - economic center of the world is moving South and East
  8. New Approaches to Health & Wellbeing - explosion in digital healthcare and changes in lifestyle approaches
  9. Ubiquity of Data - big data benefits and privacy concerns
  10. Radical Transparency - rapid increase in consumer access to data and information
  11. Self and Community Reliance - focus on DIY and ultra-local community
  12. Rise of the Sharing Economy - shift away from consumerism to shared and rented material items
  13. Empowered Consumers - access to environmental and social information, as well as social media, are changing the power dynamic between consumers and retailers
  14. Circular economy - closed-loop, zero-waste industrial systems
  15. Decline in Ecosystem Services - environmental degradation takes its toll on nature’s ability to purify air and water, grow food and fuel
  16. Water Insecurity - freshwater scarcity and price fluctuations
  17. Resource scarcity - as key natural resources grow scarce and expensive, global supply chains will feel the impact
  18. Time poverty - pressure for greater convenience and on-demand delivery, increased stress and mental health problems
  19. Geopolitical instability - competition for resources and at-odds ideology drive local, tribal, and national unrest
  20. Energy transformation - changes impacted by energy security, increasing demand, advances in technology, and climate change
  21.  Education revolution - new teaching delivery (MOOCs) and focus on making education more widely accessible and affordable
  22. Coping with climate change - direct impacts (extreme weather, sea level rise) and societal response (regulation, adaptation)

Obviously, there are a handful of megatrends directly related to sustainability, but the really interesting realization was that ALL of the 22 megatrends have sustainability implications. The trend toward distributed manufacturing (#3) and retail everywhere (#1) will have huge consequences particularly for energy and freight-related transportation. Urbanization (#6) will have a profound impact on transportation systems and the environmental burdens placed on municipal wastewater systems and local energy grids. Even geopolitical instability (#19) has ramifications for supply chain security and reliance on fossil fuels.

We’ll be further exploring how using these megatrends to plan for a sustainable and resilient future can help your business. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this question: has your organization thought about any of these trends may impact your success? If not, why not? And better yet: How soon can you get started?

We’d love to know your answers! Please email them to us at, or for quicker interaction tweet at us using hashtag #SSustainabilityC