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Sustainability Resources You Might Have Missed

The SSC Team November 24, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

It seems like every day there is a new sustainability tool on the market. Some are awesome, some are interesting, and some will make you scratch your head in confusion. But don't worry, we've done the heavy lifting and highlighted three sustainability tools below that are worth your time. Enjoy!

World Resources Institute (WRI) Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, or CAIT 2.0 - "The platform offers free online access to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other climate data, enabling researchers, policymakers, media, and others to download, visualize and share data for analysis and communications on climate change."

Value Chain Mapping - "Obtaining a clear picture of the fundamental inputs and outputs of your business provides valuable information for sustainability program development, as well as CSR reporting. CR professionals are developing sustainability-specific value chain maps in order to systematically assess the company's impacts throughout product sourcing, transport, development, use and disposal."

Sustainable Apparel Coalition's Higg Index Web Portal - "The Higg Index is used by the coalition's members to measure metrics such as energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, chemicals policies, waste management and labor practices from factories around the world... Although you must be a coalition member to gain complete access to the index, any invited supplier can submit data about its facilities and business practices. This will turn the Higg Index into a valuable Web resource that will help apparel and footwear companies collect and consider environmental and social information from potential suppliers or production resources."

Want to know more about sustainability reporting?  Check out our white paper, Sustainability Reporting and SMEs:  A Closer Look at the GRI.

 

The Earth Genome: New Natural Capital Accounting Software Being Tested

The SSC Team June 28, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Global leaders in sustainability measure much more than impact, they are focused on measuring all up and downstream inputs and outputs to really find ways to improve performance on social and environmental metrics, and to translate those improvements into a common denominator that everyone understands: currency.

Tracking performance this way is often called natural capital accounting.

Many organizations that delve this deeply into the cost, benefit, risk, and impact of the “use of nature” in performing business tasks use a host of methodologies to fully analyze all of the different datasets and translate them into a coherent report.

For example, Kering, the parent company of the clothing and footware manufacturer, Puma, published its methodology as an open-source tool for others to use.

Recently, a non-profit organization called The Earth Genome, launched a software tool that may help standardize and simplify the process of natural capital accounting. Currently, the chemical giant Dow is testing the software, and eventually the organization plans to make the tool more widely available.

Accurate and trusted industry-wide tools, like CDP and GRI, help better benchmark and assess sustainability progress, so we can’t help but be a bit optimistic about The Earth Genome project. We look forward to the wider launch to see how this tool compares in its ability to collect data and generate accurate results.

If your company is ready to develop its sustainability action plan, and fully understand its impact, risk and opportunities, contact us. 

The Earth Genome: New Natural Capital Accounting Software Being Tested

The SSC Team June 28, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Global leaders in sustainability measure much more than impact, they are focused on measuring all up and downstream inputs and outputs to really find ways to improve performance on social and environmental metrics, and to translate those improvements into a common denominator that everyone understands: currency.

Tracking performance this way is often called natural capital accounting.

Many organizations that delve this deeply into the cost, benefit, risk, and impact of the “use of nature” in performing business tasks use a host of methodologies to fully analyze all of the different datasets and translate them into a coherent report.

For example, Kering, the parent company of the clothing and footware manufacturer, Puma, published its methodology as an open-source tool for others to use.

Recently, a non-profit organization called The Earth Genome, launched a software tool that may help standardize and simplify the process of natural capital accounting. Currently, the chemical giant Dow is testing the software, and eventually the organization plans to make the tool more widely available.

Accurate and trusted industry-wide tools, like CDP and GRI, help better benchmark and assess sustainability progress, so we can’t help but be a bit optimistic about The Earth Genome project. We look forward to the wider launch to see how this tool compares in its ability to collect data and generate accurate results.

If your company is ready to develop its sustainability action plan, and fully understand its impact, risk and opportunities, contact us. 

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.  

 

 

3 Sustainability Tools that got our Attention in 2015

The SSC Team January 7, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

We appreciate good calculation tools. We are constantly looking for the most comprehensive or best combinations of calculation tools to cross check and ensure our clients are getting the best possible data. 

Here were three tools that got our attention in 2015:

GCSP-ITC Quick Scan Tool – Launched in June, this open-source tool allows companies to compare their compliance policies against best practices in order to inform improvements in supply-chain management. Provided by the Global Social Compliance Programme (GCSP), it is open to GCSP members and others free of charge.

  • How it works: Buying companies can identify standards others use in purchasing. Suppliers can create a self-assessment, benchmark the assessment against peers, and identify immediate steps to move toward best practice.
  • Who should use it: Anyone with a medium to lengthy supply chain or who is a supplier.

Water Risk Valuation Tool – Launched in September by Bloomberg ESG Data and Tols, this calculator illustrates how water risk can be valuated in corporate mining valuation models. Based on the gold and copper mining industries, this tool can inform all mining companies on how water risk might effect earnings and operations.

  • How it works: The tool models potential “asset stranding” based on estimated future water scarcity and risk factors related to that scarcity.
  • Who should use it: Mining companies, especially in precious metals

RiskHorizon – Launched in October by Anthesis Group, this web-based toold quantifies and monetizes environmental, social, and governance risk over 25 political, economic, social, and environmental areas, aggregating 100 different datasets.

  • How it works: The tool is designed to help “futurecast” risks and opportunities in assets, supply chain, and business model and then quantify and prioritize the value of that risk. A big job.
  • Who should use it: Investors, risk management professionals, supply chain managers, and strategic leaders should all be interested in a company’s risk profile.

One thing to remember - data out of context or too generalized really won't do anyone any good. Ensure you're working with a sustainability professional that can help validate and contextualize your data in your reporting process and sustainability planning programs.  

Have you used a calculator, but aren’t quite sure how to take action on results? Let us know. We can help assess your findings and customize a plan to help your company align with best practice in sustainability.

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability – Part 4

The SSC Team August 20, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers… 

Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 4 of 4), we’ll complete the introduction and definition of key Data Management terms (read Part 3 here).  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Integration

Data Integration is one of the most difficult of the activities covered in this series because it involves most of the different activities working in concert with each other.  For example, it is implicit in Data Movement between systems where the Data models are different.  Suppose we have data in our Accounting system that will be used in a cost calculation algorithm (method) in our Sustainability Software.  To do this, we need to copy the Accounting data, then reshape it to conform to the load utilities for our package and proceed with the load.  This setup entails numerous subtleties including the cross referencing of the source data model in the Accounting System with the format of the import utility.  This is called Field Mapping and it’s not just an easy matching question where you can get the first few right and guess the rest.  Examples will help us here.

  • Suppose we need to deal with quantity shipment data and the target model is asking for unit prices and volumes.  We might need to deduce the carbon content per gallon from the available carbon content per fifty five gallon barrel, or just divide by 55. 
  • A more complex example involves translation from the English System to the Metric System (raise your hand if you can do this without a calculator).
  • Another example would be the rules concerning the potential for rounding errors for large quantities.
  • A final classic example is how to deal with Asian names (commonly listed with the surname first) being transferred into a system with a European paradigm (where the surname is listed last).

Data Integration is expensive to build and more expensive to operate.  SaaS is a way to avoid the Integration Tax to the extent possible since it has already been built into many of the downstream systems you’ll be using.

Data Mining

Data Mining is the last major topic to be introduced.  It also involves smatterings of the others, but has a unique ad-hoc character at its essence.  

Suppose we have a database that describes product production events in a manufacturing setting.  Suppose also that we wish to learn more about root causes of some recurring problem that has escaped previous attempts to solve it and choose to “look at all the occurrences at once”.  Someone who is expert in the data itself, as well as all the business processes it describes could attempt to construct queries that will reveal common conditions that led to the problem occurrences.  For example, he might notice they all tend to fall in the first half hour of their respective production runs.  Further drill down might reveal they all involve late shipments from the same raw material vendor, while production runs with timely shipments from the same vendor seem to go without mishap.  This would lead us to suspect potential spoilage or lack of maturity in the late arriving material.  Data Mining is a spiral learning discipline.  One spirals in to a common cause, or spirals out to learn the nature of the Cosmos. 

Conclusion

We hope that as a result of this information, albeit somewhat high-level, you’ll find a greater degree of ease in approaching Data Management problems and their solutions with any Sustainability Software package that you may be considering.   As with the rest of this series, our goal is to guide you through each of these complex topics and bring them safely toward a solution that will provide you with robust and accurate data and data management practices that will last for years to come. 

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability, Pt. 4

The SSC Team August 20, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…  Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 4 of 4), we’ll complete the introduction and definition of key Data Management terms (read Part 3 here).  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Integration

Data Integration is one of the most difficult of the activities covered in this series because it involves most of the different activities working in concert with each other.  For example, it is implicit in Data Movement between systems where the Data models are different.  Suppose we have data in our Accounting system that will be used in a cost calculation algorithm (method) in our Sustainability Software.  To do this, we need to copy the Accounting data, then reshape it to conform to the load utilities for our package and proceed with the load.  This setup entails numerous subtleties including the cross referencing of the source data model in the Accounting System with the format of the import utility.  This is called Field Mapping and it’s not just an easy matching question where you can get the first few right and guess the rest.  Examples will help us here.
  • Suppose we need to deal with quantity shipment data and the target model is asking for unit prices and volumes.  We might need to deduce the carbon content per gallon from the available carbon content per fifty five gallon barrel, or just divide by 55.
  • A more complex example involves translation from the English System to the Metric System (raise your hand if you can do this without a calculator).
  • Another example would be the rules concerning the potential for rounding errors for large quantities.
  • A final classic example is how to deal with Asian names (commonly listed with the surname first) being transferred into a system with a European paradigm (where the surname is listed last).
Data Integration is expensive to build and more expensive to operate.  SaaS is a way to avoid the Integration Tax to the extent possible since it has already been built into many of the downstream systems you’ll be using.

Data Mining

Data Mining is the last major topic to be introduced.  It also involves smatterings of the others, but has a unique ad-hoc character at its essence. Suppose we have a database that describes product production events in a manufacturing setting.  Suppose also that we wish to learn more about root causes of some recurring problem that has escaped previous attempts to solve it and choose to “look at all the occurrences at once”.  Someone who is expert in the data itself, as well as all the business processes it describes could attempt to construct queries that will reveal common conditions that led to the problem occurrences.  For example, he might notice they all tend to fall in the first half hour of their respective production runs.  Further drill down might reveal they all involve late shipments from the same raw material vendor, while production runs with timely shipments from the same vendor seem to go without mishap.  This would lead us to suspect potential spoilage or lack of maturity in the late arriving material.  Data Mining is a spiral learning discipline.  One spirals in to a common cause, or spirals out to learn the nature of the Cosmos.

Conclusion

We hope that as a result of this information, albeit somewhat high-level, you’ll find a greater degree of ease in approaching Data Management problems and their solutions with any Sustainability Software package that you may be considering.   As with the rest of this series, our goal is to guide you through each of these complex topics and bring them safely toward a solution that will provide you with robust and accurate data and data management practices that will last for years to come. Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.