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The Green Data Firehose: Where Is All This Green Data Coming From?

Companies have many kinds of data that they have to manage, and from which they try to learn how to run their businesses better. “Green” or “sustainability” data is a relatively new category, at least compared to financial data which companies have been dealing with for centuries.

Here are some of the current and future sources of the data filling the Green Data firehose. Companies are at early stages of figuring out how to manage and benefit from many of these data streams. Essentially every company can save 10% or more of costs in many of these areas by more sophisticated collection and use of data.

Energy Use Data–The main driver for most companies’ efforts to become more “green” has been the potential to significantly reduce costs. The place they usually start is on reducing energy costs. This means tracking energy use in order to judge the effectiveness of conservation steps. The degree of sophistication can range from just looking at monthly utility bills to detailed analysis of every energy use, process, light bulb, and server on a minute-by-minute basis.

Emissions Data–Many businesses, non-profits and government entities are trying to compile data on how much CO2 and other greenhouse gases they emit. This may be for regulatory compliance (government requires them to submit the data) or for their own “footprinting” efforts associated with sustainability goals. Of course air quality rules, cap-and-trade schemes, and other demands already require many facilities to measure, log, and report emissions of many pollutants on a minute-by-minute basis from smokestack sensors.

Building Performance Data–Computerized building management systems track building energy consumption and performance factors, to enable fine tuning of building systems. They typically track environmental parameters such as light, temperature and humidity at many points, and measure and adjust the operation of HVAC systems, lighting systems, and the like. 

Vehicle Data–Obviously firms with large delivery or transportation fleets, such as FedEx, UPS, The USPS, or Coca-Cola, already track many parameters of their vehicles (including aircraft). These parameters include engine performance and fuel use, driver performance, speed, location and the like. The purpose of collecting this data is to minimize cost by efficient capacity utilization, route planning, and operation, which saves fuel, and thus as a potential secondary benefit reduces GHG emissions. I believe increasingly all companies with corporate vehicle fleets will collect similar data, which will create large data-management requirements. OnStar and SYNC generate lots of data on private vehicles, much of which could be used to help owners reduce their emissions. Battery-electric vehicles will have their own data systems to monitor charge, locate charging points, interact with electric utilities, etc.

Smart Grid–The conversion of electricity meters from traditional “dumb” meters to “smart” meters that communicate wirelessly with the utility every few minutes is generating vast data streams. Several firms are selling utilities software systems use this data to make power generation and dispatching more efficient, manage demand response programs, and identify faults.

Water Use and Discharge Data–The Clean Water Act and similar legislation require most firms to measure and track their water discharges and other releases to assure toxic substances are within acceptable limits. Increasingly, users are finding that reducing water use through increased process efficiency and reuse saves them money, both the cost of water and the cost of treating wastewater. In the future they will manage data on water the same way they manage data on fuel and power to achieve green goals and savings.

Waste Data, Including Electronic Waste Data (WEEE)–Reducing waste reduces cost, since it costs something to dispose of waste. Also, waste reduction efforts often reduce packaging, which cuts manufacturing and shipping costs as well as waste disposal costs. Waste management systems involve measuring and tracking waste, verifying proper recycling and disposal, calculating energy and emissions savings, and so on.

ISO 14000 and ISO 50001 DataISO 14000 is an international set of environmental management standards and ISO 50001 is a developing standard for energy management. Both use protocols similar to the ISO 9000 series for quality management, which require significant data assembly, retention, auditing, and data quality systems.

Environmental Health and Safety Data–Most large firms uses sophisticated data tools like SAP’s EHS Solutions to track safety, toxic substances, and regulatory compliance, including spills and incidents, accidents and injuries, toxic exposures, required employee training, monitoring and certification, and other measures.

Data From Tracking Toxic Components–Regulations such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), as well as a healthy concern about liability, drive many organizations to track hazardous substances in their production chains to be sure none end up in jurisdictions where they are forbidden. Lead paint, bisphenol A, or cadmium can only be used in certain products but not in others. Effective management of such components requires reaching back to suppliers–see the next item.

Supplier Quality Requirements–To be sure suppliers are not using unacceptable production or waste disposal practices, that they are using energy efficiently, and that they are complying with packaging and waste reduction rules calls for elaborate systems of questionnaires, monitoring, inspections, reports and so on. All this needs to be imposed across complex international supply chains.

Carbon Footprint Calculations–Thousands of companies, including of course SAP, gather data and calculate their environmental footprints for their sustainability reports. (SAP Greenhouse Gas Emissions Up on SAP’s latest quarterly environmental report.) They use sophisticated protocols such as those of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative and the Global Reporting Initiative.

Regulatory Compliance Processes and Quality Control–To avoid defects in environmental regulatory compliance many firms use sophisticated software to prepare submissions for and monitor the vast number of rules and regulations to which they are subject.

Product Life Cycle Analysis–Approaches are being developed to analyze the environmental impact, cost, and other parameters across complete product life cycles. This covers everything from the extraction of raw materials through transportation, several manufacturing steps, distribution, sale, use by the consumer, and final disposal or fate. Because suppliers, consumption patterns and designs can change, such analysis is excruciatingly complex.

Strategic Sustainability Goals Development and Tracking–In the executive suite tools are needed to understand the implications of developments in the increasingly competitive sustainability field, and plan and act as seems best for the firm. This applies to every company, not just those that claim to be “going green”. Environmental risks and perception issues apply to all organizations. Some will have sophisticated planning tools to address these challenges.

Carbon Emissions Issues in Logistics–Although shipping decisions have traditionally been made on the basis of cost, speed and reliability, these days GHG emissions are often being included as a criterion.

Carbon Assets Tracking and Trading–Companies have to juggle a range of carbon credits, emission allowances, carbon offsets, renewable energy certificates and other valuable assets. These all have specific identities, and many have fluctuating values or expiration dates. They are traded either with specific suppliers or through open markets. Some have associated futures markets. The decisions about acquisition or divestiture of such assets are complex, and sophisticated modeling is needed, in addition to verifiable audit trails for each individual asset.

Risk Management for Climate Change Risks–Climate change is creating many new risks that companies need to model, forecast, and analyze. How will new regulations, heatwaves, sea level rise, or storms affect our operations? Answering these questions requires a lot of data crunching. Environmental risk analysis is a growing field.

Employee Sustainability Training and Motivation Systems–“Green Teams” are increasingly common. Building and managing these communities is one data need. Many cost-saving initiatives require ongoing and effective training, cooperation and monitoring programs. To change behaviors it is not enough to just put up a few signs. Many of these programs involve elaborate reward systems and employee participation.

Social Data on Public Perception of Corporate Sustainability–“Green” perception is one of the topics that some companies are tracking as they analyze the vast streams of comment in social media, news media, and other sources. Such tracking requires sophisticated analytics.

Many of these data streams and databases are or can be connected to other enterprise data systems, such as ERP, Personnel, Financial, and other tools. Some, such as environmental health and safety (EHS) systems or carbon accounting systems come as complete packages.

The availability of this wealth of data presents many opportunities for BI tools to help management reduce costs, reduce or at least anticipate risks, and connect energy and environmental data resources to corporate planning and goals.

I will try to discuss some of these areas in more detail in weeks to come.

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  • Hi David,

    I work for Ecodesk, an on-line data publication of sustainability data for organisations and countries and I thought you might be interested in our website. We are growing very quickly at the moment and currently have the largest sustainability database in the world whilst also offering on-line digital training, to help lower companies energy costs.
    Below is a link to our SAP profile and you can view all of our profiles on our website for free.

    I hope you find our website useful.