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Correct Metrics Key to Sustainability Programs

Posted on May 14, 2015

(Editor’s Note: Wayne Bates, Ph.D., Vice President at Capaccio Environmental Engineering, moderates the AIM Sustainability Roundtable.)

A successful sustainability program is directly related to a company’s ability to identify and measure the “right” performance indicators. Organizations must be able to readily identify progress toward achieving its goals and quickly respond to key indicators.

InnovationSmall-2That means identifying the appropriate sustainability trends specific to your business, as well as the metrics necessary to measure progress against the goals and objectives put in place to respond to these trends.

For example, a company that uses a “high profile chemical” in its product or processes must be acutely aware of the source of chemical, the quantities used, and its ultimate disposition (e.g., final product, by-product or emission).  Being “acutely aware” requires that systems be in place to support the collection, management, analysis and reporting of this data, which as many of us know, presents several challenges. 

Sustainability professionals are challenged with the fact that much of this information resides across diverse departments within their organization that may not have the same sense of urgency to collect or process the data. Even more challenging is that certain information, such as traceability to a source, may only be obtained from the supply chain. Some suppliers may not be in tune with your need for the information, others may not have the information, and a select few may withhold information because they have determined it is proprietary.

The good news for many companies is that some of the needed data is already being collected within the organization and may be used as a starting point to build a sustainability program and/or a sustainability report.

Available data may include utility bills (water, sewer, power), environmental reporting (Tier II, Form R, GHG) and safety metrics (lost work days, injury and illness reports).  The first step is to identify who owns the data – utility bills may be handled by accounts payable, Tier II reports by the facilities or environmental departments, and safety data by the health and safety department or human resources.

The next step is to establish a data-management system capable of collecting information in a format that is cross-functionally compatible within the organization. With an increase in cloud and web-based database solutions, some sustainability professionals are turning to commercially available software products, while others are developing custom-built applications or software suites leading to efficient management and reporting systems.

The key challenge is to obtain sufficient documentation from the data owners to support data trends and claims reported to external stakeholders.

Understanding and addressing the challenges with gathering, managing, and reporting environmental health and safety data is a major first step along an organization’s sustainability journey. Want some practical advice on data management from sustainability experts? Join us at the June 18 AIM Sustainability Roundtable where our panel will discuss the benefits that can be realized through efficient and effective data collection.