Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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

“Tipping Point” from Spreadsheets to Carbon Mgmt. Software?


According to Paul Baier of Groom Energy:

CFOs, CIOs and sustainability teams at large companies have used spreadsheets for years to track corporate carbon emissions.

We are now, however, at a tipping point where the benefits of carbon management software, also known as enterprise carbon accounting (ECA) software, outweigh the benefits of spreadsheets.

Assuming that CMS systems can be chosen and implemented effectively – no easy task.

Paul goes on to repeat the strengths and pitfalls of spreadsheets:

Spreadsheets allow a single user to enter, manipulate, analyze and visually represent numerical data with great flexibility. It can also be easily distributed via e-mail or a network-accessible location. Without a content management system to coordinate and track changes from multiple sources, however, spreadsheets quickly becomes unwieldy and error-prone.

Problems are compounded when a spreadsheet becomes so complex that only the original author can make required fixes and improvements. This leads to the “spreadsheet guru” — the irreplaceable employee who is the only person in the company who understands the 15MB spreadsheet.

Agree…though it would be interesting to know more about adaptations and routines used by companies to minimize these human and data “spreadsheet risks” (a subject I’m currently researching).

Beyond these risks, there is the basic issue of efficiency:

This summer, too many hours were spent on managing spreadsheets for CSR and CDP reports for this important, and now mainstream, business process. Better solutions now exist.

Important: yes.
Mainstream: not sure…CDP data suggests yes in the case of large multinationals… what about other types of organizations?
Better solutions exist: yes, but they are not a silver bullet (see ERP).

Author: nigelpm

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

3 thoughts on ““Tipping Point” from Spreadsheets to Carbon Mgmt. Software?

  1. While I am not sure if you are trying to make a case for the validity of spreadsheets, Paul is right that software on the market today is continually evolving and we have reach a place where environmental software is now functional and affordable. However, keep in mind that the Carbon Management is only one aspect associated with Environmental and Sustainability and when searching for solutions you should find one that meets all your needs, not just one for carbon, another for water quality, another for EHS reporting…etc.

    To address your point about find and implementing a solution being no easy task; it is by no means easy, but it is not that hard either. Where I work for example, we leverage the cloud computing model to tie remote facilities and user together and we handle a variety of areas around environmental and compliance requirements, not just GHG (BTW carbon is only one of several GHGs).

  2. Let’s take this issue apart as briefly as possible. First, is sustainability and carbon management in the mainstream? Take a look at EPA Climate Leaders ( That’s over 150 organizations that have made specific commitments across every industry imaginable.

    Second, why are companies doing this? Some of the drivers are around reputation, but leading organizations are looking for large energy savings. For example, the state of Massachusetts deployed an energy and carbon management system to drive savings over their entire portfolio (

    Third, can spreadsheets deliver those savings? You can generate a report from a spreadsheet but it’s very difficult to manage a process. That’s why we have CRM systems. In the same way, organizations that want to manage carbon and energy effectively are choosing to move to systems that deliver value far in excess of the implementation costs.

  3. Pingback: Carbon Mgmt. Software: The Next Big Thing? « Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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