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How can web scraping help collect sustainability information?

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New regulations will impose that businesses compile comprehensive sustainability reports. Urtė Karklienė, sustainability manager at Oxylabs, and Ugnė Butinavičiūtė, junior PR manager at Oxylabs, explain how web scraping can help.

  • The growing demand for sustainability by customers, employees, and other stakeholders worldwide pushes organizations to take more action. 
  • For businesses interested in incorporating sustainability into their corporate goals, web scraping can be a helpful tool for acquiring related information. 
  • It allows companies to watch sustainability information and changing regulations closely, spot emerging trends, and base decisions on factual evidence. 

As the importance of sustainability continues to grow, businesses need to adapt to the changing social requirements and embrace new technologies to remain competitive while meeting stakeholder expectations. Like a digital transformation, which requires organizations to transform every division of their business, achieving sustainability targets also demands a reevaluation of business processes for adhering to new goals.  

Creating a comprehensive sustainability report is one of the most effective ways to stay accountable for the company’s actions. Additionally, doing so will soon be a requirement for many companies, so it’s the perfect stepping stone. Gathering all the information required for such a report, however, may be challenging and time-consuming.

Web scraping may come in handy, offering an efficient solution that could revolutionize how businesses approach this challenge. By using web scraping tools, companies can collect crucial information on carbon emissions, water usage, waste production, and other sustainability-related metrics in their industry and compare them with their internal data.   

Therefore, the growing demand for sustainability by customers, employees, and other stakeholders worldwide pushes organizations to take a more active role in promoting sustainability. 

Increasing expectations 

Recently, the increasing awareness of corporations’ influence on the environment and society has been taking center stage. As a result, stakeholders such as customers, investors, regulators, and employees began pressuring businesses to take a more active role in promoting sustainability while upholding ethical standards and contributing to local communities. 

Escalating expectations from diverse stakeholders stem from heightened environmental awareness and a call for stronger social accountability. Mounting pressure from investors, customers, and regulatory bodies propels companies to adopt sustainable practices, as doing so not only presents new opportunities and draws in clients, but also bolsters their overall performance.  

Consumers are among the essential stakeholders in driving sustainable business practices. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they demand that companies demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.  

NielsenIQ’s 2022 State of Consumers analysis showed a more than 26% increase in preference for sustainable products from 2020 to 2022. In addition, according to IBM’s research insights, nearly 80% of consumers say it is at least moderately important that brands are environmentally responsible.   

Investors are also pushing corporations to be more environmentally friendly. Institutional investors’ strategies increasingly include environmental, social, and governance (ESG) elements. They are looking for companies with strong sustainability performance as they believe these businesses will be more financially stable in the long run. Furthermore, investors are concerned about the risks of climate change and want to ensure that their investments do not contribute to environmental deterioration.  

Regulators are another stakeholder that is pushing companies to be more sustainable. Governments are introducing regulations and policies that require companies to report and reduce their environmental impact while, at the same time, improving their social responsibility.   

Finally, employees are increasingly expecting companies to be more sustainable. Employees want to work for companies that share their values and are committed to positively impacting society. Porter Novelli’s analysis says that nearly 70% of employees would only work for a company with a strong purpose. Therefore, companies with strong sustainability policies and practices are more likely to attract and retain top talent.   

As these expectations continue to grow, companies that fail to meet them risk losing market share, facing regulatory action, and struggling to attract or retain top talent. On the other hand, companies that are proactive in adopting sustainable practices can benefit from improved financial performance, reduced risk, and a more engaged workforce.  

As evidenced by the fact that 90% of companies on the S&P 500 index published a CSR report in 2019, it is becoming increasingly clear that prioritizing sustainability is a key aspect of successful business operations. 

Accurate data collection  

As the requirements for reporting on sustainability matters become more stringent, the demand for both reporting and assurance will rise. Effective reports require more than just good intentions. Similar to financial reporting, this will entail consolidating data from various parts of the business. The key elements are data collection and analysis, which must be tangible, measurable, and purposeful rather than mere aspirations.   

There is an abundance of data on the internet, but not all of it is relevant, and some businesses collect it without differentiating between high-quality and low-quality data or in hardly-readable formats. Data parsing, on the other hand, enables the transformation of unstructured strings of data into a more readable format, facilitating easier understanding and analysis.  

AI-enhanced technologies, such as scraper APIs, offer capabilities to monitor the external landscape to improve reporting and risk management. In conjunction with the capabilities of other software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, web scraping could enable businesses to collect data, monitor and measure various processes such as air, water, and waste pollution, and report on sustainability activities.   

Web scraping can scan publicly available requirements such as permits, standards, regulations, policies, guidance materials, and more in minutes. Thus, companies can scan public regulatory, media, and corporate disclosure data through web scraping.  

Additionally, it can collect social data on factors such as employee satisfaction, company culture, compensation, as well as diversity and inclusion by extracting information from business review websites. This data can reveal the workplace’s transparency and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the company’s sustainability performance. 

As a result, organizations can decrease risk and ensure compliance with all their duties, including ESG reporting. While gathering sustainability data was previously onerous for many organizations, AI technologies are making this a more common occurrence. 

How to get started with web scraping for sustainability 

Web scraping can be a valuable tool for sustainability researchers and practitioners. It allows users to extract data from websites automatically without manually copying and pasting information. This can save a lot of time and help collect large amounts of data that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain.  

To get started with web scraping for sustainability, the first step is to identify the specific data sources that will be scraped. It may include websites and online databases containing relevant sustainability information, such as environmental impact reports, energy usage data, or social responsibility metrics.  

Once the data sources have been identified, a web scraping tool can extract the desired data automatically. It is important to ensure that the data is obtained ethically and legally, in accordance with any relevant data privacy legislation, and following outlined security protocols.  

The extracted data can then be analyzed and used to inform sustainability initiatives and decision-making within the organization. Regular updates and maintenance of the web scraping process may also be necessary to ensure continued access to data.  

Furthermore, web scraping tools have become increasingly prevalent in various fields, including the realm of regulatory authorities. For instance, in Lithuania, the Communications Regulatory Authority (RRT) has implemented an AI-powered web scraping solution developed by Oxylabs to search for potentially harmful content online (incl. sexual child abuse and pornography). This initiative was implemented with the help of the “4β” project  

Web scraping’s potential applications go far beyond regulatory monitoring. Monitoring the supply chain is another approach to using web scraping for sustainability. These solutions can collect information on suppliers’ and vendors’ sustainability policies with details about their environmental effect, labor practices, and social responsibility activities. Additionally, it can then be used to support supply chain sustainability assessments and suggest areas for improvement. 

Web scraping solutions can also be used to track environmental performance metrics like greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and waste creation. Such information is gathered from publicly available databases and environmental reporting systems, then used to assess results and spot problem areas.  

They may also be used to track socioeconomic variables, such as employee diversity and community engagement. For instance, companies can scrape various public sources to gain insights into their workforce’s skill sets and participation in industry-related events or conferences. This method can offer valuable information about the company’s social and economic impact and help identify areas where it can contribute positively to both its employees and the community. 

Moreover, web scraping services may help measure public awareness of sustainability activities and environmental challenges. Scraping news stories for mentions of sustainability themes and assessing sentiment and tone might be part of this. Such data may then be utilized to inform communications and marketing initiatives, as well as to assess the efficacy of sustainability messages.  

A practical example of an organization using web scraping for sustainability monitoring is a clothing retailer aiming to improve the sustainability of its supply chain.   

The clothing retailer identifies its key suppliers and vendors and takes note of any third-party certification or sustainability initiatives they are involved in. They use web scraping tools to collect information from various sources, such as suppliers’ websites, industry reports, news articles, and sustainability forums, which include data on suppliers’ environmental policies, labor practices, carbon emissions, water usage, waste management, and social responsibility initiatives.  

After collecting and analyzing the data, the retailer evaluates the sustainability performance of each supplier against industry benchmarks and their internal sustainability targets, identifying gaps and areas for improvement. 

A similar process could be implemented by many other industries, allowing them to collect and analyze environmental performance metrics and make informed decisions to reduce its environmental impact, comply with regulations, and meet the demands of increasingly conscious customers. 

Addressing the sustainability challenge

Businesses in the modern day must give serious thought to sustainability issues. Sustainable practices help businesses fulfil the needs of their consumers, as well as those of regulators, recruit top personnel, and increase output. 

For businesses interested in incorporating sustainability into their corporate goals, web scraping can be a helpful tool for acquiring related information. Web scraping allows companies to watch sustainability information and changing regulations closely, spot emerging trends, and base decisions on factual evidence. 

Ultimately, incorporating sustainability into business plans may help companies succeed in the long run while simultaneously positively impacting the world. 

The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.

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