A lot of attention gets paid to corporate sustainability initiatives, carbon footprint reduction, and environmental stewardship -- and rightly so. These top-level activities are beneficial to both businesses and the general public. Businesses get increased consumer loyalty and trust, their impact on the environment decreases. Consumers get a cleaner, safer planet and set of products. Win, win. This mutual benefit has caused these terms to become the buzzwords of choice for many company's PR efforts. What tends to be forgotten during these projects is their very core: environmental data management. But exactly how important is it, and how should you approach the way you manage it?
Simply put - Environmental data management is the foundation of any sustainability or environmental initiative, and is the key to their success.
Environmental data management guides your decisions, measures your success, and can forecast your future. The collection, analysis, and communication of all your environmental key performance indicators (KPIs) are becoming just as important as how you manage your financial data or sales figures.
The Triple Bottom Line
Since the dawn of business, financial data has consistently related to the bottom line.
"If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense", as the expression goes.
This data understandably received the lion's share of attention when it comes to a company's performance, with systems to measure, analyze and manage this data to benefit a company being developed. These systems have now evolved to an extremely high degree of sophistication.
There is also a tendency in business that the best and brightest often end up crunching the numbers to analyze the financial performance of a company. As technology evolved, this produced a trend in the use of software tools to automate the collection and manipulation of financial data, allowing analysts to do less manual crunching.
Financial analysts can now uncover incredible insights into a company's fiscal performance, previously considered unimaginable.
How To Position Yourself
Since the emergence of the triple bottom line as the new standard for business, this trend is repeating itself with environmental data. You only have to look at the number of environmental data management software platforms emerging on the market to realize this.
Therefore, for future success it's important for a company to prioritize two aspects of environmental data management:
- Implement a proven environmental data management system - Before you even begin corporate social responsibility or sustainability programs (CSR), sustainability initiatives or carbon accounting practices, you need a sound management system to be implemented. There would no point in trying to calculate the dividend owed to shareholders before laying out a basic budget or accounting practices. If the basics aren't set, you’ll just be wasting your effort and most likely end up with completely undependable results.
- Find the right people to analyze the data - Once you have your data management system in place, its important to have the right type of minds trying to uncover the information and secrets contained within. Lets say you decide you want to cut your carbon emissions by 25%. Great! Now, would you prefer someone that tries to cut the emissions from the main source, or someone who looks for the low-hanging fruit from other areas of your organization?
The trend in managing your environmental data properly is on the rise. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) knows it too. Which is why getting ISO 14001 certified requires businesses to implement a environmental data management system that can track and measure environmental progress.
The most common, and least effective, method of environmental data management is to use one or more spreadsheets to track, calculate, and display everything. The reason? Spreadsheets don't centralize your environmental data and often granularize any insights they do manage to uncover. They're also not sophisticated or robust enough to handle everything a typical analyst needs to achieve.
Environmental data management systems should be able to do it all: track environmental data in real time, alert you to when you are reaching emission thresholds, communicate when you’ve reached a CSR goal, and help you streamline your environmental reporting. Many companies have begun to look for environmental managment solutions to help them with these tasks.
There is no doubt - it's smart business to invest time and money into corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs. But don’t forget that the cornerstone of these projects is sound environmental data management, with analysts that can uncover the insights that will allow you to achieve your goals.
The effort it takes to find and implement a good Environmental Management System (EMS) will be paid back in the successes it provides in all of your future CSR endeavours.
About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+, LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog