Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

SAP Acquires Sustainability Software Company

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According to the Financial Times (subs. req.), SAP is moving into the sustainability software space:

Regardless of compliance, organisations should be moving to a more sophisticated definition of what green IT entails, one that acknowledges the role IT can play in curbing emissions across the business, says Peter Graf, chief sustainability officer of enterprise software giant SAP.

The IT department, he claims, accounts for about 2 per cent of carbon emissions at most companies, but technology can do much to tackle “the other 98 per cent”. That was the impetus behinSAPs May 2009 acquisition of Clear Standards, a provider of software tools that enable companies to measure and manage carbon emissions, water consumption and energy use.

“We miss the point if we continue to view green IT as something separate from the ‘greener business’,” agrees Keith White at management consultancy firm PA Consulting. “The nature of the debate has in itself created a distraction.”

According to SAP’s website discussing their Carbon Impact on-demand software:

With SAP Carbon Impact, you can:

  • Establish a comprehensive inventory of carbon emissions and other environmental impacts
  • Achieve cost savings by identifying opportunities for energy, waste, and emissions reductions within and outside operational boundaries
  • Manage carbon reduction and sustainability initiatives with insight
  • Streamline carbon registry reporting, communications, and compliance
  • Evaluate reduction project and optimize efficiency investments

Why the need for specialized software? Because environmental experts have tended to use Excel, whose limitations are legion. As argued by Clear Standard’s Anirban Chakrabarti:

Chakrabarti says the Clear Standards solution can integrate with SAP’s Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) offering, but sees it as a complementary solution that needs to draw data from various types of systems. In fact, says Chakrabati, in past deployments, the biggest point of integration was with smaller repositories of environmental data often held in spreadsheets.

“The most prevailing system we see on the market is good old Microsoft Excel,” he says. “And the reason for that is that if you look at the maturity of climate-change practices in the business landscape, most organizations are beginning to ramp up organically with people who are subject matter experts, but a good portion of them are investing money with consulting companies that help them gather this [carbon footprint] data  and articulate the meaning back to the company. A lot of the time,  that resides in Excel.”

 

This evolution from data stored on individual PCs in Excel spreadsheets towards a common platform shared across the enterprise (and perhaps outside the enterprise) has already happened in other industries (airlines, books, music, supply chains, etc.). What can we learn from the past? For one, companies that learn to use and re-use environmental data creatively for new sources of revenue will gain an edge on the competition, as I argue here. More on this in future posts.

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Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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