Digital Environmental or Social Solutions Learn how to correctly analyse this topic.

Sarah Simon

13 min Read Time | December 24th 2021

Key takeaways

1

The topic deals with the impact of a company’s products and/or services that allow individuals and other businesses to enjoy environmental or social solutions through digital means.

2

This is about the direct and intended impact of the products or services offered by the company (not the indirect impact).

3

Analyses must be written from a positive angle.

Executive Summary

Today, many companies are working to provide digital solutions to prevalent environmental and social issues. 

Digital Environmental Solutions: The focus should be on providing a solution to environmental issues, through the conservation or protection of ecosystems, biodiversity, and landscapes, amongst others.

Digital Social Solutions: The focus should be on providing a solution to social issues, through technological or infrastructural connectivity, productivity, healthcare, amongst others.

The analysis must assess the final impact of the products and services in the form of digital solutions that allow individuals and other businesses to benefit from.

What is it?

Companies may offer products and/or services that act as a solution for environmental or social problems.

As such, companies offering digital solutions can play a vital role in combating, for instance, climate change. They can do this by measuring and monitoring GHG emissions, or detecting methane gas leaks. Another example would be by using technologies that monitor illegal deforestation.

Alternatively, companies offering digital solutions can play a vital role in improving healthcare such as high-resolution pictures to identify health issues early on, or day-to-day productivity in an ever more technological world and remote working, or even advancing smart cities.

This topic is outside of the companies core businesses and should highlight how the company is deliberately providing digital solutions. The solution provided may or may not be related to the Core Business Impact topic but make sure to not have overlap.

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SDG Choice

Impact assessment

In your analysis, start by describing the product(s): the what, how much, and the who, following the IMP framework.

Then, describe the impact by linking studies on this product and its widespread impact, comparing with competitors or the industry average, when relevant.

You must mention the direct and intended impact of the product or service and measure how significant it is.

You can also use studies as proxies.

Learn more in the article Step 5: Assess scale and value.

These topics are highly interlinked with the following topics: Environmental Solutions and Social Solutions.


Introduction

The introduction should provide background information about the digital environmental solution that is being discussed.

If the topic is about the environmental solution, then it should also include information about the issue that is being tackled, such as carbon emissions, energy consumption, biodiversity loss, or product waste, amongst others, and how this harms the environment.

If the topic is about the social solution, then it should also include information about the issue that is being tackled, such as gaps in the healthcare industry, inefficiencies in productivity, lack of digital or infrastructural connectivity, amongst others, and how this harms society at large.

It should aim to answer the following questions:

  • Why is providing this specific digital solution important?
  • What issue is it tackling? Is it prevalent?
  • Is it a context-specific issue that requires more information?

Read more on how to build a strong introduction in this article.

Core Analysis

The core of the analysis should disclose the company’s digital solution(s) and how it impacts other companies/individuals.

The digital environmental or social solution can relate to the companies core business product or service. It should provide a solution for other companies or individuals.

The solution cannot be for the companies own benefits, such as reducing the energy intensity for its own operations.


You should look at the wider impact, thereby including:

  • What is the issue that the company is tackling?
  • How is the company tackling this issue (i.e. the product/service)?
  • How is this providing a solution to environmental or social issues?
  • How many people/businesses have benefited from this solution?
  • Have the solutions disrupted industries?
  • How long-lasting or profound are these solutions? Are they permanent or transitional solutions?
  • What is their depth? How profound a change do they make?

Note: For most companies across industries, both B2B and B2C solutions are possible; with the exception of the hardware industry (only B2B to avoid double-counting with Software & IT companies).


How to measure the impact of Digital Environmental Solutions?

Example 1: Gas detection cameras avoiding methane gas leaks

The issue: "Methane is also a powerful greenhouse gas that causes over 80 times more global warming than CO2 during the first 20 years after release3."

The product or service: "Flir Systems is a leading producer of thermal imaging cameras6."

The solution: "Flir’s gas detection cameras use optical gas imaging to detect leaks of harmful gases like methane in real time8;p6. The FLIR ThermoVision Early Fire Detection system continuously monitors the temperature of stored waste material that is to be converted into biogas and raises the alarm if it starts to overheat8;p6."

The output: "In recent years, Flir’s gas detection cameras have helped detect about 70 leaks per camera every year on average9;p7,8;p7."

The impact: "As a result, 2.6 Mn tCO2e of methane leaks are repaired every year with Flir’s gas detection cameras, amounting to 34-68% of the total methane emissions in Sweden9;p7,8;p7."


Example 2: Technologies and data sharing removing space debris

The issue: "About 8M kg of defunct satellites and byproducts of satellite launching lurk around the planet, colliding into each other and damaging satellite operations1. Space garbage is a hazard for life on Earth [...]2;p74."

The product or service: "While the company has contributed nothing to debris creation*, it has recognized it as a paramount problem and pioneered its solutions by using cutting-edge tech and facilitating data sharing4."

*The fact that the company has not contributed to space debris shows that this is a solution for other businesses.

The solution: "By founding the Space Data Association (SDA), a non-profit institution of spacecraft operators, SES developed protocols for reducing and removing space debris by collectively gathering and sharing data. "

The output: "In 2019, the company successfully disposed of 2 satellites into graveyard orbit10."

The impact: "Currently, it is the only satellite company that has launched 4 missions on the flight-proven Falcon 96,7,8, each time preventing 549,054 kg of rocket debris9."


How to measure the impact of Digital Social Solutions?

Example 1: Productivity increases digitally thanks to cloud calling

The issue: "Work involving collaboration increases productivity and also gives a sense of purpose to the employees5. Cloud calling, with its various other features, provides benefits like low business cost, better security, remote working and a host of others to improve businesses4."

The product or service: "Nexon offers a managed service, known as Nexon AbsoluteTeam, for Microsoft Teams7. The Nexon Absolute for Teams enables cloud calling through Microsoft Office 365’s suite7."

The solution: "This service integrates voice, messaging, video, audio, web conferencing and desktop sharing environment in a single and simplified platform7,8."

The output: "As of 2021, about one million companies use Microsoft 365 with Nexon Absolute Team, of which 731,000 users are in the U.S11,7."

The impact: "Nexon was selected to provide cloud calling and other services to the 530 restaurants owned by Craveable Brands to help improve customer experiences across the restaurant network9. Nexon is actively enabling cloud calling for companies using Microsoft 365, thereby improving businesses performance."


Example 2: Creation of smart cities

The issue: "Smart cities [...] enhance safety, decrease traffic congestion, and monitor environmental quality3. Smart cities provide improved services to businesses and people, bridging the digital gap and enhancing everyone's quality of life3."

The product or service: "CommScope is a manufacturer of communication and entertainment network infrastructure solutions4. Digital solutions for both indoor and outdoor communication networks are part of the company's connectivity offering4."

The solution: "Commscope’s Ruckus infrastructure solutions6 are providing connectivity [...] Public Wi-Fi8;p3 [and] Urban Wi-Fi infrastructure for public use9."

The output: "The government of Gujarat, a province in India, has adopted Commscope’s Ruckus infrastructure solutions for providing free Wi-Fi to inhabitants of 56 towns, through 350 hotspots and 1,500 access points throughout the state9;(video01:15-01:19). The service has 700K registered users and 35K-40K daily users9;(video01:21)."

The impact: "CommScope’s infrastructure solutions are helping transform cities and build more efficient and connected societies."


Make sure to describe the scale of the impact by taking into account:

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many people are concerned? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?


Added Value

The analysis should remain critical and nuanced. What are the downsides?

In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report but going the extra mile of providing additional metrics, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.

Caution: Make sure the topic you are discussing is not overlapping with the Core Business Impact analysis.

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Step 5: Assess scale and value

Learn how to assess the analysis you are writing or reading.

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