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Sustainability Software: Total Cost of Ownership Revisited

The SSC Team July 14, 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.  Enjoy: We touched on the TCO – Total Cost of Ownership – in the main white paper, but since the cost is such an important part of your decision making process we felt the need to dig into a little more detail.  Be sure to check in with your CFO, your CPA, your financial advisor, or with whomever else you typically engage for financial input as well.  They’ll definitely have a view of the important costs that are specific to your situation.  We’ll break the Total Cost of Ownership down into four main areas:  Acquisition, Implementation, Maintenance/Enhancement, and Growth.

Acquisition Costs...

...include all the money that you need to spend on purchasing your software solution.  They may include direct payments to your primary software vendor as well as any related software that you may need to purchase a license for.  Ideally, you’ll get all the software costs for the enterprise carbon accounting software rolled up into one cost from your vendor, but if you decide to add complementary packages or tools, they may cost you extra. Any hardware costs would also fall into this category.  You can avoid these if you choose a Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) model, but if you need to purchase new equipment for your end users – maybe laptops or tablets/phones for field data entry or memory upgrades for your existing equipment – make sure you include these costs in your TCO.  Your analysis should also account for any taxes and shipping/handling charges on hardware and software purchases.  You will most likely be able to capitalize these costs as they are related to the purchase of company assets; they may be eligible for tax credits or other incentives.  Be sure to check with your accountant for the correct treatment.

Implementation Costs...

...include all the effort necessary to install, set up, configure, test, train, and otherwise get your software ready for launch.  You may need to pay your vendor or a consultant to set up and install the software.  You also may need to allocate time for your internal associates or employees to do work as part of their day job. This internal staff cost is important – your folks may not be able to just absorb this extra work alongside their regular responsibilities.  This cost may be payment for temporary labor to come in and cover the daily office activities, or it may help you determine that you really do need to leverage your vendor or consultant to do more work.  Performing your initial data load and set up, testing all the reports and data interfaces, and training your users on how to use the tool, create reports, and otherwise maintain the information, are all critical.  You may even need to spend time (and money) educating users on why it is important to correctly track your environmental impact. Aside from all the labor costs, you might also need to set aside money for travel (to and from training, vendor locations, etc.), for incidentals (such as food and snacks for meetings and training sessions), and even simple things like office supplies to help you get the implementation done.  Similar to acquisition costs, you can most likely capitalize implementation.  However costs for tasks like training and data conversion may not be eligible for that treatment.  Again, check with your accountant for the correct handling of these costs.

Maintenance Costs...

...cover everything related to your core software system’s ongoing maintenance and enhancement that comes after the initial launch.  In some cases, your ongoing maintenance fees will be bundled with your upfront purchase – if they are, be sure you are specific about what period they cover (i.e. one year, three years, etc.) and what the correct accounting treatment is for these costs.  For planning purposes, your annual software license is approximately will typically be 20% of the upfront purchase costs of the software.  This may vary depending on a number of factors, including whether or not you are on a subscription model, so be sure you identify this with the vendor up front. Once the initial maintenance period is over, you’ll also want to make sure you account for any increases in fees that may occur.  You don’t want to get locked into using a system that suddenly escalates out of your budget a few years down the road because you didn’t get things spelled out up front.   Things like bug fixes, troubleshooting, and support are also be covered under this category.  Maintenance costs are most likely to be operational expenses.  If they’re bundled with your upfront purchase, be sure you know how to split them out appropriately – when you talk to your accounting folks, they’ll thank you for that.

Enhancement Costs...

...for the software are other types of “future costs” that you more than likely will not pay up front.  They’ll come into play when your software vendor releases version 2.0, 3.0, X.0, etc. of your software solution.  You may have the option to stay with your current version, but then you’ll miss out on all the new features, enhancements, bug fixes, and other goodies that your vendor has bundled with the new software.  Your best bet is to get a clear understanding of how often upgrades – that aren’t included free of charge – will come along and what the cost will be.  You should also be sure to capture any accompanying “implementation” costs that may be incurred.  Depending on the nature of the enhancement, you may be able to capitalize the cost as it will relate to an asset versus an operational cost, but once again be sure to check with your accountant.

Growth Costs...

...are the last major category of “future costs” that you should consider.  These costs are incurred when your usage of the software solution increases.  Maybe you start out with only a handful of users of the platform, but then want to scale up and have everyone in the company use the tool.  You may need to go from a “seat license” (for a single user) to a “site license” (for everyone at a single location) or an “enterprise license” (for everyone at your company).  Know these costs so they don’t break your business case down the road. You will also most likely increase the amount of data that you store over time.  This may be due to the addition of more sites, more data elements, or just more detail on your existing information.  Be sure you know when you’re likely to exceed a price threshold so that you can account for it in your planning process.  You may not be able to account for things like mergers and acquisitions at the present time, but you should have some idea of how you expect your business and usage of the system to grow over the next several years from your basic business planning, so be sure to include those details.  Depending on the specific driver for these costs, the accounting treatment may vary between capital and operating expense – try to provide your accountant with specifics when you talk to them.

Cost Timing...

...is important to each of these categories. Make sure you do some yearly projections so you know how much you are going to spend and when.  Your acquisition and implementation costs are most likely to occur in a relatively short time frame (maybe even in a single calendar year).  Your maintenance costs will almost certainly kick in at the start of Year 2, if not earlier.  Enhancement costs might show up yearly, beginning in Year 2 or Year 3.  Growth costs will hit whenever you hit those thresholds – try to make sure you’ve at least given yourself a year or maybe two of room in your initial contract.  You will need to consider the expected lifespan of the asset to determine just how many years forward you need to look.  A typical time frame for a smaller system may only be three years, but for a large enterprise level system that you have integrated with other major systems, you could be looking at a horizon of five or even seven years.  If you were wondering who could help you with that determination, you probably can guess who to ask: your accountant! Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

The Brutal Truth about Sustainability Reporting

The SSC Team March 5, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2012, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for CSRwire that we featured on our blog discussing some of the harsh truths about sustainability reporting. We thought this article was worth sharing again! Enjoy:

Last month, Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) released its sixth annual Sustainability Report. That means we have published one report for every year that we've been in business. And once again, as cofounder and President, I was the author.

Committing to write an annual sustainability report is a little bit like spring-cleaning. You try to keep up with it throughout the year, but it's the once-a-year deep clean that really scours all the corners.

Much like spring-cleaning, few organizations eagerly anticipate the sustainability reporting process, and for good reason.

It's a bit of a nightmare.

Analyzing the data -- even with a great data management tool -- is a headache. Waiting for the stragglers to get their information back always takes longer than planned. I'm never happy with the first or second (or sometimes third) versions of the opening Letter from the President. Yet, I do it, and proudly stand by my company's commitment to devote the time and resources to an annual accounting of our sustainability performance. 

If your organization is dreading the approach of your sustainability-reporting season -- or wondering if committing to your first sustainability report is even worth it -- let me offer you a view from the trenches.

Sustainability Reporting: The Good News

Producing an annual sustainability report sends a powerful message to stakeholders about your commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Many companies talk about "going green," but the fact is that only a fraction of those organizations take the time to evaluate their performance and communicate it publicly. Those few, diligent companies get an instant credibility boost that only comes with putting your money where your mouth is.

Moreover, when done correctly, the annual sustainability reporting process can be an incredible strategic tool that helps you assess where the organization is today, determine tangible goals for the future, and chart a roadmap to get there. The steps necessary to producing a robust sustainability report are remarkably similar to developing a sustainability strategy -- so why not combine them and get more bang for your buck?

The Bad

Sustainability reporting is a time consuming process. From my experience in both writing our sustainability reports and helping clients produce their own, the entire process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months. Nothing about a Sustainability Report is simple or quick, from the data gathering to the CEO's Letter.

So make sure to schedule enough time -- and then double that to give you a cushion. I promise that you'll need it.

Equally important: don't listen to those software providers that promise to reduce time spent preparing a sustainability report by 90 percent. Software can make it easier to collect and aggregate data, but it doesn't -- and cannot -- effectively address the areas that take the bulk of the work and time spent: describing programs, identifying challenges, setting goals, wrestling with delicate issues, the seemingly interminable editing and review process, graphic design and publication.

And The Ugly: GRI's 90+ Sustainability Performance Indicators

Even if you collect and report on each of the 90+ sustainability performance indicators listed in the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, even if you carefully tally and index every measurement under the sun, it's not going to be enough. What really makes a sustainability report meaningful is its context. 

What do I mean? Let's start with GRI's statement on context:

Information on performance should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level.

Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability.

In essence, you can't just report on what your organization did. You must also report on what those actions mean in your local community, in your industry, and in the world at large. No longer is it enough to judge the success of environmental and social initiatives using indicators like these:

  • Hours spent training employees (safety)
  • Gallons of water used (resource use)
  • Thousands of dollars donated (philanthropy)

The indicators listed above don't really tell anyone about the effectiveness of a program or its relative impact (positive or negative). Here's another example:

If I told you that a company emitted 3,415 tons of carbon last year, would you be pleased or distraught? The truth is you wouldn't be prepared to venture a reaction unless you had more information. You're missing context. 

Adding The Context to Sustainability Reporting

Figuring out the sustainability context for your organization is one of the toughest challenges for sustainability reporters. I know, because in 2011 my company made it a specific priority. I wrote in the opening pages of the report:

"This year, we’re pushing the boundaries of our sustainability reporting, and sharing how our activities have rippled out into the world. For each of the major reporting sections, we’ll report on the outcomes of our activities.

Not just how many clients we served — but what our consulting helped those clients to achieve. Not just how many webinars we conducted, but who received that training. Not just how many miles we traveled, but what those miles helped us to do."

The Opportunity

I won't lie -- I'm not completely happy with our approach to contextualizing sustainability. I think there are many more opportunities to push deeper and really explore what it means to be a sustainability consulting company -- balancing our own impacts against the services we deliver to clients. Trying to quantify that has turned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

But we've made a start and we'll continue to improve in the coming years. That's the huge opportunity presented by annual sustainability reporting. There's always the chance to expand, to redefine, to recalculate, to re-examine, or to shift your focus as you learn along the way.

Yes, I both dread and anticipate the annual sustainability reporting cycle. The best part, however? Just like that dreaded spring-cleaning, it's that moment when you step back and survey the finished product.

Two of our clients recently published their annual sustainability reports and featured them in our blog. Check out the article here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports – Part 2

The SSC Team February 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Two weeks ago, we featured an article that highlighted sustainability reports from two of our clients: Chicken of the Sea and PureCircle. Both companies made great strides towards their 2020 sustainability goals and we wanted to feature their achievements.

This week, we wanted to do more of a comparison between the two companies. With both companies operating in the food industry – Chicken of the Sea with canned fish products and PureCircle with stevia – we thought this would be a great opportunity to see how close the companies (and the reports) compare within the same industry!

Chicken of the Sea 

Chicken of the Sea specializes in…

…producing a wide variety of seafood that ranges from frozen to refrigerated to cans, pouches, and cups. While Chicken of the Sea is known for their tuna products, they also produce other seafood items that include oysters, crabmeat, clams, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and more.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…over-fishing in oceans is becoming a more prominent issue, especially regarding tuna. Chicken of the Sea is doing their best to make sure they are not only responsibly harvesting tuna, but also making sure that their production line is as sustainable as can be. 

These were their sustainability goals:
Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for the 2020 goals (against 2012 baseline):

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

 In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety. Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste, a 12.8% reduction in water use, and a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle 

PureCircle specializes in…

…producing and innovating the next generation of stevia to be used as sweeteners for the food and beverage industry that help support a natural and healthy lifestyle, such as low and no-calorie sweeteners.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their businesses practices since the beginning. From their operations to their social commitments, PureCircle has made sure to be socially and environmentally responsible by having sustainability policies in place. 

These were their sustainability goals:

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal – energy intensity – already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Regardless of whether it was the first or third report, what makes both of these sustainability reports strong is the incorporation of a materiality assessment. By completing the assessment, both companies were able to see what is not only what is considered important to the company, but also to their stakeholders, allowing each company to tailor their reports to fit their needs the best.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

4 Reasons Why Corporate Sustainability Reporting Might Be a Waste of Time

The SSC Team January 13, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

As more companies are publishing annual sustainability reports, some fear that these reports are plateauing, rather than offering more value each year. Some companies are beginning to think that producing reports are not worth the effort or money. In an article published by The Guardian last week, they stated that while sustainability reports do provide useful information, they are not being as effective as they could be.

The article provided an in-depth analysis on a report published by SustainAbility, a think tank and strategic advisory firm, examining what companies can do to help make their reports… well… not as wasteful. Below are four possible ways your company’s sustainability report might be a waste of time:

Heavy Language

No one likes reading an article or a book that is plagued with dense language and phrases, and a sustainability report is no different. All too often, reports are filled with special wording to adhere to reporting standards, or they are bogged down my technical language. While certain key phrases or words are inevitable, don’t have your entire report filled with jargon that no one is going to want to sift through.

Failing to Connect with the Audience

Your company spends countless hours putting in the effort to create a sustainability report, but for who? Who exactly is the audience your company is trying aim their report at? Tying in nicely with the previous point, if your company is structuring the report to be read by customers, but instead reads like a report intended for upper level executives, you aren't going to have readership. Be sure to remind yourself while constructing your report who your intended audience is, and be sure to not lose sight of that.

Confusing Standards and Frameworks

GRI. IIRC. SASB. These are just three examples of some of the many reporting frameworks available to companies. But how is a company supposed to choose and navigate one of these frameworks? They're all different! Should your company go with a compliance-driven approach? Or maybe they should consider a principle-driven approach or a materiality focused take on a global framework. A single framework is exhausting as is, but having so many options might lead to “framework fatigue” and possibly...

Choosing the Wrong Framework

Even if your company does end up choosing a reporting framework, it does not necessarily mean that it will be a good fit for your company. If a company is using a framework that is not best suited for them, their reports could potentially leave out a lot of valuable information. For example, Novo Nordisk recently decided to no longer follow GRI standards and instead take an “integrated reporting” approach, since they determined that would best reflect how they manage their business. 

Be sure to check out our blog post exploring how sustainability reports change over time!