Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | Governments have the tough job of figuring out how they will go about gathering, managing, analyzing and accurately reporting all their emission data. Here are six tools that will help do that.
As of the spring of 2023, 24 states and the District of Columbia had adopted greenhouse gas reduction targets, accompanied by programs to meet those goals around carbon pricing, emission caps, renewable portfolio standards and cleaner transportation. Cities, which account for an estimated 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, are making similar commitments at the local level. Most major U.S. cities now have greenhouse gas reduction targets in place, according to the Brookings Institution.
Finding funding is one major obstacle to governments fulfilling their GHG commitments, Brookings notes. Another big one is data and, in particular, figuring out how they will go about gathering, managing, analyzing and accurately reporting on all the internal and external data required to be accountable to their commitments. City and state governments can’t fulfill those responsibilities without the ability to source trusted data from within their own operations (built environments, fleet operations, power generation, etc.) as well as from suppliers and the huge range of other entities that comprise their value chain. They’ll need data management tools to verify, reconcile and standardize all the data they get from disparate sources.
Government leaders also need to be able to explain in clear terms the expected impact that meeting their emission- and carbon-reduction targets—and the programs designed to support those targets—will have on peoples’ health, taxes, local environment and quality of life. They must be able to measure and report regularly on their progress toward meeting their targets.
Transparency in all this is paramount; black box-type reporting won’t suffice. As significant a challenge as that might seem, it’s a manageable undertaking for states and municipalities that have the right capabilities in place. Here, based on my work helping public entities build the digital infrastructure to support their carbon-reduction efforts, are a handful of tools that are proving essential in meeting those responsibilities:
Well-placed data-collection points. On the hardware side, it’s critical that government entities have in place internet-of-things-based data collection to measure emissions and air quality. That means sensors that provide data on ambient air quality and traffic, for example.
Channels through which to transparently share actual—and trusted—data among a wide range of entities. The concept here is the opposite of a black box: a white box approach to exchanging emissions, carbon footprint and resource consumption data across the value chain and with other public entities and agencies in a given locality and region. At the most fundamental level, to make this possible, government entities should look to establish digitally connected business networks with other members of the value chain so they can readily exchange data. This gives them a clear line of sight into the emissions profiles of their supply chains and of their neighboring jurisdictions. Having that broader line of sight is critical because supply chains represent a large part of an organization’s carbon footprint, and because carbon reduction generally doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather takes regional cooperation between neighboring states, and between cities and their suburbs and exurbs. Having this data enables public entities to see holistically across the value chain and across jurisdictional boundaries to understand where emissions are occurring, identify specific areas for decarbonization impact and devise cooperative GHG-reduction programs. The Biden administration recently unveiled a new program to fund these kinds of initiatives.
A single ledger to holistically view sustainability factors alongside financial factors. It’s also important for public entities to have an accounting system for all their emissions data, one capable of producing reports that are as auditable, transparent and reliable as their financial data. This green ledger approach enables public entities to more readily factor sustainability, carbon-reduction and other priorities into their decision-making. Nowadays, public and private entities alike are increasingly judged on their overall sustainability performance, including that of their own operations as well as their supply chain. The green ledger enables public agencies to evaluate and choose providers, whether it’s a construction contractor, an energy supplier or an office supply company, based on sustainability factors as well as price, quality and reliability.
Actuals instead of ballpark figures. The more governments can rely on actual data rather than estimates or averages, the better their reporting, planning and projections will be, and the likelier their carbon-reduction programs are to deliver the desired impact.
A control tower to manage huge amounts of emission data, provide a single source of truth to inform decision-making and embed carbon-related key performance indicators, or KPIs, across the business. To glean actionable insight from all the data they collect, government entities need a 360-degree “control tower” perspective on the interplay between finance/spending, operations and emission-reduction. From the control tower, a public organization can establish, implement, track and reinforce emission-related KPIs and other sustainability metrics across operations to ensure compliance across agencies, and to better understand the impact their carbon-reduction programs are having, and how they can be improved. From the control tower—essentially, a single digital environment—decision-makers can make carbon footprint and other sustainability-related KPIs integral to core strategies, so agencies can procure with purpose, enforce responsible, traceable sourcing and generally prioritize carbon-reduction across their operations.
Analytics and predictive modeling. Making sense of all that data and turning it into better forecasting and planning requires strong analytics and modeling capabilities. Analytics can provide decision-makers with insights at the most granular level to help them understand the relationship between economic, social and environmental considerations, uncovering correlations between specific program spending and KPIs related to emission-reduction, public health, quality of life and the like. Armed with these insights, they can, with the help of predictive modeling tools, identify pathways to making programs and policies more impactful.
As the Brookings Institution points out, “while striving for GHG reductions globally and nationally matters, the ultimate responsibility rests in the hands of local leaders.” When leaders at the state and local levels equip public agencies with digital capabilities, those agencies can focus more on taking the action necessary to meet all those ambitious carbon-reduction targets.
Dante Ricci is a public sector expert for SAP Industries.
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