“What gets measured gets managed” is a maxim usually attribute to Peter Drucker. If you believe Drucker and believe that improving sustainability is important, there is good news from the land of enterprise software (SAP Adds Sustainability Reporting to BusinessObjects Software Suite, GreenBiz.com, Dec 14):
Business software giant SAP AG last week unveiled its latest effort in helping apply the power of IT to corporate environmental goals. The company’s Sustainability Performance Management addition to its BusinessObjects BI (business intelligence) software line aims to integrate the collection and measurement of environmental data into the already-commonplace data gathering methods companies have adopted. By folding the green elements into existing practices, SAP’s new software suite will help companies make the transition from green practices as a nice-to-do element of operations to one that is table stakes in any industry.
This mainstreaming of “measurement for sustainability” is an interesting development and potentially can lead to significant changes. SAP is not the only player in this area. CA also has an environmental measurement package. Their press release when British retailer Tesco signed up with them (Tesco Selects CA ecoSoftware to Manage Carbon Footprint Data Worldwide, Sep 29, 2009) helps illustrate why this is useful:
With 468,000 Tesco employees working at more than 4,000 locations across 14 countries, the task of accounting for carbon emissions is time-consuming and complex. Tesco has implemented CA ecoSoftware to help increase the efficiency, speed, and accuracy of its carbon accounting process, enabling the company to more effectively track progress in pursuit of its ambitious carbon reduction goals.
“When we announced our plan two years ago to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% across all of our global operations, we knew we were taking on a big task,” said Mike Yorwerth, IT director of Tesco plc. “Since that time a number of people across the business have been involved in measuring, documenting and reporting on our emissions—a time-consuming, largely manual task. We’re also overseeing hundreds of projects around the world designed to reduce our carbon footprint, all of which need to be prioritized and measured. With CA ecoSoftware, we expect to streamline the process of data management, helping to reduce errors and operational expenses, and improve our ability to communicate major milestones.”
Now one can question why a corporation would be interested in this kind of product. It may be that management has some idea that this is the “right” thing to do. Or it may be that regulatory concerns drive the decision. Some articles suggest that part of the appeal is just “burnishing a company’s public image” (SAP launches sustainability-tracking application, Computerworld, Dec 10). Whatever the reason, some form of automation is needed for anything to move forward. As the Tesco example shows, doing any kind of tracking can be tedious and labor intensive particularly in a distributed environment like a retail chain, and data is needed in order to justify investments or sway management that change is needed.
To my mind, the question is then how the data will get used. This kind of tracking has the capability to show how a variety of processes perform in a different light. Tracking the amount of chemical waste produced or the amount of water used may not be immediately tied to dollars and cents measures. But understanding what drives water consumption or chemical waste production leads to better process understanding and that has to benefit the firm over time. Stated another way, understanding the levers that move environmental measures ought to lead to better process choices even if those choices are targetted at other measures. Consequently, I would not be surprised if over the next decade firms that do the most to improve specific sustainability related measures also manage to show dramatic improvement on more conventional measures as well.