What is Necessary for Sustainability in Business?

by francine Hardaway on July 6, 2009

Information. Sustainability initiatives can’t succeed unless you know where you are starting out, what you are doing, and where you are going. Especially if the Obama Administration’s cap-and-trade bill becomes law, which seems likely, companies will need good raw data, because that information will be translated into dollars on the carbon market.

If you were the person in charge of writing the Corporate Social Responsibility Report for your company, and you wanted to make sure you had accurate data on your carbon management, greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainability practices, where would you look in your organization: the ERP system, the EMS system, the BI application? Data from each individual facility? Probably all of those. And on somebody’s Excel spread sheets, too.

Enterprise software was sold in pieces, each piece promising that it would be a “total solution.” Ironically, only twenty years after the first adoptions are we realizing that we need to see across facilities, departments, and processes to figure out how to build sustainable businesses.

That mean building “bridges” between systems so they can talk to each other. IBM’s new Green Sigma(TM) initiative is the first time industry leaders are coming together to work collaboratively to address greenhouse gas and carbon management and sustainability enterprise-wide. Charter members of the Green Sigma™ Coalition are Johnson Controls, Honeywell Building Solutions, ABB, Eaton, ESS, Cisco, Siemens Building Technologies Division, Schneider Electric and SAP. The coalition members will work with IBM to integrate their products and services with IBM’s Green Sigma solution.

Robert Johnson, CEO of ESS
, one of the charter members of Green Sigma, explained it simply: “In order to address GHG, carbon and sustainability across your company, you have to get all the data collected and rolled up. In the past, it’s been in silos, and companies have had difficulty getting it out of the different vendor systems.”

The Industry has evolved with vendors working in isolation doing their own thing, because companies have never had to collect and merge data before for any real purpose. The systems they have in place were bought by individual departments to handle certain situations, and were never designed to be integrated.

But things have changed with the increased emphasis on the environment. Green Sigma is a group of leaders, typically in corporate IT environments, who have decided to help clients by making it easier for systems to talk to each other. It is based on Lean Six Sigma, a business strategy for carefully analyzing operations to improve overall efficiency, lower costs, increase quality, and add, change or eliminate activities and processes to improve overall performance.

ESS is excited because it is the only small independent company on the charter founder roster. The next smallest company is over a billion in market cap. But Robert Johnson has been an evangelist on the subject of unified platforms for years, and ironically the company has had some big successes in China, where the US wants to sell its green products and services as it retools its own economy. ESS is already the environmental health and safety platform for China Light and Power, China National Petroleum, and PetroChina. If anyone can help the big guys pull together their disparate efforts into actionable information, it’s a small company.

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