Every now and then we receive a well-intended, but naïve inquiry from a company or organization looking for us to solve every part of their sustainability reporting challenge.
Many in this group are on a Quixote-like quest for a “magic button” to produce a glossy Corporate Sustainability Report (CSR) with one push of a finger, a polished ‘A-list’ CDP report with the next push and a report addressing each of the hundreds of GRI indicators with the third push. While we have helped many clients with this process overall, we are sad to report no such button exists.
But these experiences inspired us to share five myths about sustainability software that every practitioner should know as they drive their agenda across the organization.
No, it can’t. There are multiple steps, each requiring different tools.
The first step is collecting the numbers that will serve as the basis for any report. The second is sorting, organizing and manipulating those numbers to produce quantitative results. After the quantitative results are available, attention turns to analyzing the results, drawing conclusions, making decisions and then producing the narrative to accompany the numbers (the qualitative results).
The final step is the presentation of the report. This last step varies in complexity depending on the audience. For a CDP report, the format is quite straightforward and there is little room for aesthetics. For a public facing glossy CSR report, aesthetics can be everything.
The first few steps are a “geek” exercise, the later steps – a marketing exercise.
Let’s dig into the “geek” part.
The right kind of cloud-based application greatly simplifies sustainability reporting by solving problems with data. For example, the right sustainability software enables multiple users to work on a coherent data set, provides automatic unit conversion, warns of outliers and missing or duplicate data, and provides an audit trail.
More advanced software like Dakota Metrics support dynamic and unanticipated data relationships, facilitates in-depth and flexible analysis of the data, makes it easy to generate many different charts and reports, and automates data collection.
Traditional approaches rely on piles of spreadsheets that require hundreds, if not thousands of hours to compile and organize – time better spent elsewhere.
Now, let’s shift to reporting.
Reporting authorities like CDP or Global Resource Initiative (GRI) specify data and format. Sustainability software tools like Dakota Metrics support these processes with knowledge base resources that make submission hassle-free.
By comparison, company-issued corporate sustainability reports are typically produced by marketing. Metrics supports their efforts with capabilities that allow for exporting and formatting of charts and graphs.
If an initiative cannot be justified from a strategic, financial, operational, marketing, or employee perspective, don’t do it. But in almost every corner of an organization, there is a fundamental business argument for being more sustainable. Making sustained organization-wide progress without the use of sustainability software is a practical impossibility.
Another way to put cost into context is sustainability can be a competitive differentiator in good times. In lean times, it’s a defensive strategy. In hard times, it may determine your survival.
A related myth is that sustainability reporting efforts require a big centralized staff. In fact, we have found the opposite to be true. In many large, leading companies the core sustainability team size ranges between one and four employees.
The role of these groups is to work with the various functions across the organization and with senior executives, to develop a strategy, formulate goals, coordinate activities and report progress. Over time, there may not even be a need for such a group because sustainability gets integrated into every facet of operations and products.
But trying to have a company-wide impact without the use of sustainability software as an enabler and facilitator is a recipe for costly one-off consulting, or a “heavy lift” requiring hundreds, if not thousands of employee hours.
A final word of caution: beware of outsourcing critical sustainability work to consultants. Sustainability issues should be integrated into core capabilities.
We can tell you without hesitation that the size of the company makes little difference. In fact, smaller companies have an advantage because their competitiveness often depends on being lean, resourceful and nimble, which sustainability enables.
Bigger companies do have an advantage when it comes to influencing sustainability with their supply chains as Walmart and Unilever do.
But just because you may work as a smaller company doesn’t mean sustainability reporting software is “too big” for your needs.
Some companies claim that because they don’t make things and they don’t buy much, they don’t have much of a carbon footprint. They may claim their products don’t consume much energy, so Scope 3 environmental impacts are negligible.
Walmart is a prime example of a company that doesn’t make things, yet is developing an index for thousands of suppliers to measure the carbon impact from the things they sell to the company. Let’s unpack why this is important for Walmart.
According to Matt Kistler, WalMart’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability, 88 percent of the company’s environmental footprint is in its supply chain, and only 12 percent is under its direct control. If the company is going to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality, it needs to get reductions from its supply chain.
In another example, large software or consulting companies spend billions of dollars on stuff like computers, office supplies, and utilities. Air travel may be a big contributor too. If a company aspires to be a leader in sustainability, then it can’t ignore supply chain because the impact of these on sustainability goals are significant.
While sustainability software reporting isn’t a panacea, it is a must-have for helping companies and organizations of all sizes pursue environmental sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability offers innovative firms opportunities for both top and bottom-line benefits. For example, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business.
Levi’s waterless jeans have saved 1 billion liters of water to date, and an estimated $1.6 million in cost of goods sold.
Upstarts like Organic Valley produces biodiesel from sunflower crops to fuel its trucks and tractors.
Since you can’t improve what you don’t measure, software is a key ingredient, whether just getting started, or looking to get to the next level. As a way of helping break down barriers, we hope you found this article on debunking common myths useful.