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On the surface, the sustainability industry is pure at heart with the simple mission of making sure we all become better stewards of the planet. But peek underneath its warm, fuzzy, environmentally friendly blanket and confusion and complexity abound.  Where are the standards and best practices? How can companies both large and small reduce their carbon footprint without being accused of green washing?

Autodesk, a leading provider of design and engineering software tools to more than 10 million architects, designers and engineers around the world, is on a mission to address the inconvenient truths around the lack of sustainable standards and best practices. Even though Autodesk develops software that enables its customers to make more sustainable design decisions, the company realized it needed a better way to measure and manage its own carbon footprint first, in order to fully understand the pain points of its customers and prospects. To provide a strong foundation for sustainability efforts both now and in the future, Autodesk chose the SAP Carbon Impact on-demand solution from SAP AG.

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“We use SAP Carbon Impact to collect and manage our environmental data,” said Ben Thompson, sustainable business program manager, Autodesk. “From the SAP tool we can easily distribute surveys to our global facilities portfolio which has 100 different locations worldwide. The tool combines that data with travel, events, commute and other types of data to create our carbon footprint.”

Under its prior process, Autodesk relied heavily on Excel spreadsheets, an error-prone process that could take months to complete. Now Autodesk’s carbon reporting is completed in a matter of minutes, according to Thompson. “We make sure we have the right data, put in the right format, enter it into the SAP system, done.”

With support from Autodesk’s IT team and the new SAP Carbon Impact OnDemand system on the horizon, this process will become even more streamlined. As Autodesk’s requirements and activities change (more employees flying around the world for example) the inventory will be automatically updated.

A sustainable head start with customers

Why would a software company like Autodesk, with a minimal carbon footprint, want to become an early adopter of SAP’s Carbon Impact?

Autodesk is “right at the forefront” of what customers are seeing and experiencing in designing their buildings to new codes and standards, said Emma Stewart, senior manager for Autodesk’s sustainability initiative. From capturing data for urban planners to address sea level rise or enabling building portfolio owners to respond to investor disclosure requests on energy risk, for example.

“We’re really kicking the tires of a tool like SAP Carbon Impact not because we want to bring our footprint to zero but rather we think it has cascading benefits to us and to our customers” explained Stewart. “For example, as a result of managing our energy and carbon assets so carefully, Autodesk can step into the shoes of major building portfolio owners. Our newly honed in-house experience with enterprise energy and carbon accounting provides an intimate sense of type of data hierarchy needed, how to “slice and dice the data”, and who receives it. This experience and knowledge translates to our tools and benefits our customers by extension” said Stewart.

Breaking molds and setting standards

Autodesk is also passionate improving industry practice in greenhouse gas target setting. In fact, Stewart penned a piece called “A ‘Wild West’ of Corporate GHG Target-Setting,” because it “really felt like people were aimlessly shooting at moving targets,” according to Stewart.

As a result, Autodesk’s C- FACT was created in an attempt to address a need for a more standardized methodology for deriving sustainable targets for companies based in something other than marketing. “We introduced it to the world and encouraged anyone who wanted to adopt it to do so and to improve upon it,” said Stewart. “It’s our donation to the larger intellectual pool of folks in the sustainability field. It has also ended up paying dividends for SAP because they were so impressed with the methodology they embedded it into their Carbon Impact solution.”

Autodesk hasn’t numerically tracked the uptake of C-FACT, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists that the methodology is creating industry buzz. Major corporations like EMC have adopted C-FACT and adapted it to their circumstances. Autodesk customers have also tested it out for their purposes. And both the World Resources Institute and U.S. EPA put C-FACT in front of their corporate members.

The next sustainability stop for Autodesk is to expand the value of Building Information Modeling to the operation of existing buildings, with tools like GBS Portfolio Dashboard and Rapid Energy Modeling. “The intent is to address the chasm between design intent and actual building performance,” says Stewart. “This is a game-changing proposition and won’t happen immediately but many of our customers and their clients increasingly fear the risk of thinking they have one thing and discovering five years later that it is something completely different. We think Building Information Modeling has the potential to bridge that chasm and transform the way buildings perform.”

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