Making green a priority
How to stop talking and start walking
Today, there are several compelling reasons for adopting more sustainable business practices, including:
- Shareholder demands.
- Pressure for transparency.
- Renewed interest in optimization.
- Efficiency agendas to cut costs.
- Corporate image and reputation.
- Overall environmental concerns.
For these and other reasons, working toward a sustainable business is no longer just an option for most organizations.
It’s a priority.
Unfortunately, making something a priority does not make it easy. In fact, it’s much easier to talk about sustainable goals than it is to achieve them, because achievement requires change. Not simple change but change in the way a business prioritizes investments, change in procurement or building practices, and change in evaluation of nonfinancial performance metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions.
My colleagues and I spend most of our time working with organizations that are ready for change and the business opportunities it presents. Challenges arise because of the confusing metrics and standards in this area, from the Global Reporting Initiative and Greenhouse Gas Protocol to new international standards and industry-specific approaches in electronics and telecoms, plus education and the public sector. Organizations are overwhelmed with the task of external reporting, and that’s without the pressure of customer-driven initiatives, like those proposed by retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tesco.
Add in a regulatory mandate for high-emissions industries, combined with volatile fuel costs, and you have a thorny path to progress. While the task may seem daunting, green strategies can be successful with the right alignment of technologies and services from experts ready to help.
Build sustainability data into everything you do
The real problem lies in what you might call a “sustainability performance management gap,” which is primarily a question of alignment. Essentially: How can you close the gap between strategy and execution?
From my experience, you have to be able to link specific quantitative metrics, such as electricity consumed per month per building, with high-level qualitative strategic goals and corporate outcomes. You need a mechanism to determine what activities today are likely to have the greatest impacts on achieving goals tomorrow and use that knowledge to start prioritizing investments. This requires reliable predictive analytics and intelligence, drawing together data and information from lots of different sources. And this is something SAS has been doing for more than 30 years.
SAS for Sustainability Management is more than traditional enterprise carbon accounting software – it is a valuable management asset for organizations that desire a window into risk mitigation by forecasting whether their goals – such as carbon neutrality by 2015 – will be achieved.
Managing sustainable programs is much more than calculating numbers for a report. Once you’ve worked out your carbon footprint, you can calculate how to transition to a lower carbon impact by using technology for what-if scenario modeling. Results can feed directly back into practical activities aimed at reducing energy usage, increasing energy efficiency or revealing new ways to optimize IT assets.
Once you overcome the biggest challenges of dealing with the explosion of data, you can build sustainability approaches into a wide range of business processes and integrate sustainability with everything you do. Last but not least, you can ensure you have the right mix of leadership skills and technology to support your sustainability journey through its various stages.
Cisco sets the example for sustainability
How are companies putting this into practice? At a recent SAS event featuring sustainability thought leaders, Neil Harris, Head of Environmental Sustainability for Cisco in Europe, explained how Cisco is taking steps to create a greener company and help pave the way to a lower carbon economy.
Cisco recently rolled out a carbon management performance system in their European business that will eventually run globally. They call it the Connected Carbon Management Program because it links managing carbon emissions with business performance and tracking toward goals agreed upon by the business globally. Functional leaders and country managers can now assess their carbon performance on a quarterly basis.
Cisco has also released EnergyWise, a product that allows a network to monitor, manage and optimize energy consumption from devices connected to that network. Harris also points to general greener benefits delivered by Cisco technology, from cost and environmental impact savings delivered by conferencing and collaboration up to smart grids and smart utilities.
Cisco also runs various innovation programs, in-country “green teams” and green ambassadors across the business to capture and harness new ideas. Their success serves as a model for other companies all around the world and shows that with new technologies for collecting and analyzing data and the support of people who are willing to help “take the gray out of the green,” environmental sustainability can be achieved.
Alyssa Farrell is a Product Marketing Manager for Sustainability Solutions at SAS.