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Solutions for Replacing Spreadsheets in Your Sustainability Reporting Practices

The SSC Team April 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

The old saying goes “If it is important, you must manage it; if you want to manage it, you must measure it,” but too many companies today use spreadsheets to track their environmental impacts.

Would you use a spreadsheet to track your corporate finances?  To monitor your inventory?  To log all of your personnel data?  Using a spreadsheet may seem like the simplest way to track your sustainability reporting, but in reality using this as part of your process is risky.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Excel as much as the next person, but for sustainability tracking, a spreadsheet is cumbersome and prone to errors. Whether you make a data entry mistake while flipping back and forth between screens or you simply have incorrect data to start, once you get it wrong in a spreadsheet, it is difficult to figure out where exactly you went astray. After all of that work, why risk losing all that information, inaccurate information, or user confusion?

Fortunately, an entire industry of software providers has cropped up to combat the problem of spreadsheet-based sustainability reporting, each promising to streamline the data collection, validation, and reporting of all things sustainability-related for you. These programs come in all shapes, sizes, specifications and styles. Some of these software platforms are fabulous; some, not so much. While many of the systems are more appropriate for big companies, some of them will be just right for you. Here are some questions you might want to start asking yourself in your hunt for a provider:

Do you know what you will be measuring and reporting on with this software? Your intent may range from being able to perform life cycle analysis (LCA) for your product supply chain to fulfilling a need to report on your carbon emissions to a customer such as Walmart onward to one of various international reporting protocols. Maybe you are being audited by an NGO or other stakeholder group. Knowing the reason for making your purchase will be essential to making the right decision as every package provides some or all of these functions to varying degrees. Plus, if you have a specific use in mind, you may be able to more easily narrow your list of vendors to review.

What are your customers, suppliers, competitors, friends and neighbors using? It’s unlikely that your business is operating in a complete bubble isolated from any other enterprise carbon accounting software users. Assuming that you are on good terms with at least some of these folks, it probably makes sense to reach out to them and see what direction they’ve chosen. For your customers and suppliers, it may make sense to select an option that aligns more easily with their own selections. With regards to your industry, you may be able to pick something that gives you a competitive advantage – at least in the near term – until the competition buys the same software. In any case, take advantage of what other smart people know and use that knowledge to your advantage.

What business processes will you need to adapt to your software? What business processes will your software need to fit? Understanding both the flexibility of you and your company in terms of implementing a new system is critical. Unless you are developing your own custom sustainability software solution that exactly fits your business process, you will most likely need to be able to change your process or customize the software somewhat. Understanding the ease and cost of going in either direction is important to your final decision. At the end of the day the cost of purchasing this system must be outweighed by some combination of cost savings and other benefits if you are to pull out the corporate credit card and make a purchase.

Looking for more guidance?  To help you find the right solution, we’ve combed through a myriad of different sustainability software options and took a look at best practices in software selection. Our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business” provides a process for determining what type of sustainability software provider can meet your needs. To help you find a program that is the perfect fit for your business, download this complimentary white paper here to get started and find out more!

Solutions for Replacing Spreadsheets in Your Sustainability Reporting Practices

The SSC Team April 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

The old saying goes “If it is important, you must manage it; if you want to manage it, you must measure it,” but too many companies today use spreadsheets to track their environmental impacts.

Would you use a spreadsheet to track your corporate finances?  To monitor your inventory?  To log all of your personnel data?  Using a spreadsheet may seem like the simplest way to track your sustainability reporting, but in reality using this as part of your process is risky.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Excel as much as the next person, but for sustainability tracking, a spreadsheet is cumbersome and prone to errors. Whether you make a data entry mistake while flipping back and forth between screens or you simply have incorrect data to start, once you get it wrong in a spreadsheet, it is difficult to figure out where exactly you went astray. After all of that work, why risk losing all that information, inaccurate information, or user confusion?

Fortunately, an entire industry of software providers has cropped up to combat the problem of spreadsheet-based sustainability reporting, each promising to streamline the data collection, validation, and reporting of all things sustainability-related for you. These programs come in all shapes, sizes, specifications and styles. Some of these software platforms are fabulous; some, not so much. While many of the systems are more appropriate for big companies, some of them will be just right for you. Here are some questions you might want to start asking yourself in your hunt for a provider:

Do you know what you will be measuring and reporting on with this software? Your intent may range from being able to perform life cycle analysis (LCA) for your product supply chain to fulfilling a need to report on your carbon emissions to a customer such as Walmart onward to one of various international reporting protocols. Maybe you are being audited by an NGO or other stakeholder group. Knowing the reason for making your purchase will be essential to making the right decision as every package provides some or all of these functions to varying degrees. Plus, if you have a specific use in mind, you may be able to more easily narrow your list of vendors to review.

What are your customers, suppliers, competitors, friends and neighbors using? It’s unlikely that your business is operating in a complete bubble isolated from any other enterprise carbon accounting software users. Assuming that you are on good terms with at least some of these folks, it probably makes sense to reach out to them and see what direction they’ve chosen. For your customers and suppliers, it may make sense to select an option that aligns more easily with their own selections. With regards to your industry, you may be able to pick something that gives you a competitive advantage – at least in the near term – until the competition buys the same software. In any case, take advantage of what other smart people know and use that knowledge to your advantage.

What business processes will you need to adapt to your software? What business processes will your software need to fit? Understanding both the flexibility of you and your company in terms of implementing a new system is critical. Unless you are developing your own custom sustainability software solution that exactly fits your business process, you will most likely need to be able to change your process or customize the software somewhat. Understanding the ease and cost of going in either direction is important to your final decision. At the end of the day the cost of purchasing this system must be outweighed by some combination of cost savings and other benefits if you are to pull out the corporate credit card and make a purchase.

Looking for more guidance?  To help you find the right solution, we’ve combed through a myriad of different sustainability software options and took a look at best practices in software selection. Our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business” provides a process for determining what type of sustainability software provider can meet your needs. To help you find a program that is the perfect fit for your business, download this complimentary white paper here to get started and find out more!

Are Google and Amazon Underestimating Their Own Carbon Footprints?

The SSC Team March 15, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Two of the world’s leading technology companies are under fire for underestimating data centers’ carbon footprints amid claims they use an obsolete tool for calculating emissions from electricity they purchase off the power grid.  

Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, went after the two tech giants for using tools that make broad generalizations about power production in the regions where Google and Amazon have large data facilities – reporting that the two companies may be underestimating their carbon footprints by 42,000 MT CO2e per year and 85,000 MT CO2e per year, respectively.

It’s pretty clear that Lux is using Google’s and Amazon’s data – data based on the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) – to tout its own analytical tool that estimates GHG emissions from electricity use.

What is important to note here is: the world of sustainability tools out there is rapidly moving. What you report today can be disputed tomorrow as new analytical tools, calculators, and data sets are developed.  

It’s not that eGRID is a terrible tool, or that Lux has built a surefire new solution, it’s more about choosing the right tool, at the right time, and at the right level of detail for your individual case.

Not every company needs a power-plant-by-power-plant analysis of its power sourcing, as the cost of a microscopic look at GHG emissions in this area may outweigh the overall variation in results. In other words, for many companies, the eGRID analysis would be absolutely acceptable based on moderate use of electricity in a given area as the overall data is within an acceptable margin of error.

However, power-intense companies like Google and Amazing, using vast amounts of energy, should absolutely be looking for the most refined and detailed tool to analyze power use impact. Being off by just a small percentage can represent tens of thousands of tons of CO2 being left un-reported, and more accurate data should help inform locations of future data centers to optimize clean power use.

If an organization is new to sustainability reporting, GHG calculating or meeting industry standards for environmental data, it is highly unlikely that that organization is going to be able to navigate these ever-changing waters without help.

Partnering with an experienced consulting firm like SSC, with the background knowledge and experience, to choose the best-fit reporting tool for every individual case is critical. Contact us today to talk about your carbon footprint analysis.  

 

 

Are Google and Amazon Underestimating Their Own Carbon Footprints?

The SSC Team March 15, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Two of the world’s leading technology companies are under fire for underestimating data centers’ carbon footprints amid claims they use an obsolete tool for calculating emissions from electricity they purchase off the power grid.  

Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, went after the two tech giants for using tools that make broad generalizations about power production in the regions where Google and Amazon have large data facilities – reporting that the two companies may be underestimating their carbon footprints by 42,000 MT CO2e per year and 85,000 MT CO2e per year, respectively.

It’s pretty clear that Lux is using Google’s and Amazon’s data – data based on the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) – to tout its own analytical tool that estimates GHG emissions from electricity use.

What is important to note here is: the world of sustainability tools out there is rapidly moving. What you report today can be disputed tomorrow as new analytical tools, calculators, and data sets are developed.  

It’s not that eGRID is a terrible tool, or that Lux has built a surefire new solution, it’s more about choosing the right tool, at the right time, and at the right level of detail for your individual case.

Not every company needs a power-plant-by-power-plant analysis of its power sourcing, as the cost of a microscopic look at GHG emissions in this area may outweigh the overall variation in results. In other words, for many companies, the eGRID analysis would be absolutely acceptable based on moderate use of electricity in a given area as the overall data is within an acceptable margin of error.

However, power-intense companies like Google and Amazing, using vast amounts of energy, should absolutely be looking for the most refined and detailed tool to analyze power use impact. Being off by just a small percentage can represent tens of thousands of tons of CO2 being left un-reported, and more accurate data should help inform locations of future data centers to optimize clean power use.

If an organization is new to sustainability reporting, GHG calculating or meeting industry standards for environmental data, it is highly unlikely that that organization is going to be able to navigate these ever-changing waters without help.

Partnering with an experienced consulting firm like SSC, with the background knowledge and experience, to choose the best-fit reporting tool for every individual case is critical. Contact us today to talk about your carbon footprint analysis.  

 

 

Do You Need Expensive Software for Environmental Reporting?

The SSC Team February 16, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

According to a recent press release by the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), the U.S. environmental industry grew 3.9% in 2014. Although the data will take another 10 months to come together for 2015, it’s fairly safe to say the sector saw growth again last year as the economy held steady.

EBJ reports on 14 business segments divided into three categories, all three categories showing upward trends in 2014.

The largest single growth area in 2014 was a double-digit gain in environmental software and information systems.

The industry has seen many environmental, health, safety and sustainability software vendors disappear as quickly as they appear, but every industry sees the tech start-up side get red hot, cool off, and heat up again.

With evolving needs, evolving science, and evolving technology capabilities, it is not at all surprising that many start-ups struggle in this field.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the customers that a software company in the environmental software and information systems field would need to acquire aren’t fluent in what they actually need to purchase (or how to use it).

Environmental reporting and data management systems are a lot like complicated legal matters or the tax code: companies likely need a specialist, and we haven’t reached a tipping point in the business community where enough companies have specialists.

Companies might buy a software license from a promising start-up with good software, yet not know how to actually collect the appropriate data and end up not using the tool to its potential. By the time they’ve got the team in place and are ready to ramp up, the software tool they’ve purchased needs an expensive upgrade because of changes in the science, regulations, or standards of sustainability reporting. You can see how the CEO might balk on a second wave of investment when the first wasn’t a huge success.

It’s not that start-ups are struggling in a silo, it’s more likely that we just haven’t reached a critical mass of companies with the in-house resources that can gain maximum value from a well-built environmental software tool. Combine that with with a standard of reporting that itself is a moving target, and it is really difficult to gain traction as a environmental software company.

If you know your company is ready to do begin sustainability reporting, but don’t have the in-house team to manage the software tools on the market, contact us. We work with leading software programs for tracking and reporting on environmental data, and help companies determine what might will for them.