Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking to more than 2,000 data scientists, researchers, academics, and technologists at the KDD Conference in New York. The theme of this year’s conference was how to harness data science for social good. At Bloomberg, we believe that access to information is fundamentally a social good.
We take an intensely data-driven approach when it comes to our corporate sustainability practices. When I started at Bloomberg in 2008, I posed a challenge to our head of sustainability to try and find ways for us to become more profitable from sustainability and waste management, rather than to view it as an expense. We’ve since reduced our carbon intensity by 35% and have saved more than $50 million in the process.
That got us thinking – if we could trace the benefits of sustainability to our bottom line, shouldn’t investors be able to as well?
When you think about creating social impact at scale, the two biggest levers you can pull to get results are public policy and the markets. So we thought that if we could connect sustainable practices with value for investors, it could potentially impact corporate behavior on a massive scale.
On the Bloomberg terminal, our clients have access to ESG data – Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance information – right next to the other standard financial statements. We view it as a central part of a company’s financial profile, but a major challenge remains; public companies have been required to submit a specific set of standard financial metrics for over 80 years, which are currently governed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), but the same standards don’t exist for ESG information.
As we worked to define these standards, we came across a small startup called the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and invited them to partner with us. SASB’s goal is to comb through large data sets to find evidence-based metrics on the key sustainability issues that matter to financial performance of companies in each industry. SASB moved into our San Francisco office and Bloomberg technologists continue to donate thousands of hours of their time to help develop these standards. SASB benefits from our ability to develop powerful search algorithms that link their research process to our data; we benefit from helping them scale up and facilitate the production of better and more complete data. We still have a long way to go.
If SASB is successful, and if sustainability data is eventually included in standard corporate financial reporting, we could see a major shift in the way investment decisions are made. Markets could see billions of investment dollars move to companies that take sustainability seriously from those that don’t – not just because it’s the right thing do to, but because it’s the profitable thing to do.
Without data, none of these things are possible. Big ideas like these don’t happen overnight, and they’re bigger than one company or organization can take on alone. They amount to a grand exercise in measurement, standardization of metrics, analysis, and valuation methodologies – and all of these are ultimately driven by data.
So how can a company like Bloomberg – with resources, talented and dedicated teams itching to use data for social good and, most uniquely, with tremendous reach into financial markets – work with data scientists to accelerate and multiply the results of our common efforts?
It’s a challenge we think about every day. It informs our work with SASB and our partnerships with conferences like KDD. We believe providing access to this information – and the enhanced transparency it will provide global markets – will help create social impact at a massive scale.