Solutions to Risky Spreadsheets in Your Sustainability Reporting

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The old saying goes “If it is important, you must manage it; if you want to manage it, you must measure it,” but too many companies today use spreadsheets to track their environmental impacts.

Would you use a spreadsheet to track your corporate finances?  To monitor your inventory?  To log all of your personnel data?  Using a spreadsheet may seem like the simplest way to track your sustainability reporting, but in reality using this as part of your process is risky.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Excel as much as the next person, but for sustainability tracking, a spreadsheet is cumbersome and prone to errors. Whether you make a data entry mistake while flipping back and forth between screens or you simply have incorrect data to start, once you get it wrong in a spreadsheet, it is difficult to figure out where exactly you went astray. After all of that work, why risk losing all that information, inaccurate information, or user confusion?

Fortunately, an entire industry of software providers has cropped up to combat the problem of spreadsheet-based sustainability reporting, each promising to streamline the data collection, validation, and reporting of all things sustainability-related for you. These programs come in all shapes, sizes, specifications and styles. Some of these software platforms are fabulous; some, not so much. While many of the systems are more appropriate for big companies, some of them will be just right for you. Here are some questions you might want to start asking yourself in your hunt for a provider:

Do you know what you will be measuring and reporting on with this software? Your intent may range from being able to perform life cycle analysis (LCA) for your product supply chain to fulfilling a need to report on your carbon emissions to a customer such as Walmart onward to one of various international reporting protocols. Maybe you are being audited by an NGO or other stakeholder group. Knowing the reason for making your purchase will be essential to making the right decision as every package provides some or all of these functions to varying degrees. Plus, if you have a specific use in mind, you may be able to more easily narrow your list of vendors to review.

What are your customers, suppliers, competitors, friends and neighbors using? It’s unlikely that your business is operating in a complete bubble isolated from any other enterprise carbon accounting software users. Assuming that you are on good terms with at least some of these folks, it probably makes sense to reach out to them and see what direction they’ve chosen. For your customers and suppliers, it may make sense to select an option that aligns more easily with their own selections. With regards to your industry, you may be able to pick something that gives you a competitive advantage – at least in the near term – until the competition buys the same software. In any case, take advantage of what other smart people know and use that knowledge to your advantage.

What business processes will you need to adapt to your software? What business processes will your software need to fit? Understanding both the flexibility of you and your company in terms of implementing a new system is critical. Unless you are developing your own custom sustainability software solution that exactly fits your business process, you will most likely need to be able to change your process or customize the software somewhat. Understanding the ease and cost of going in either direction is important to your final decision. At the end of the day the cost of purchasing this system must be outweighed by some combination of cost savings and other benefits if you are to pull out the corporate credit card and make a purchase.

Looking for more guidance?  To help you find the right solution, we’ve combed through a myriad of different sustainability software options and took a look at best practices in software selection. Our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business” provides a process for determining what type of sustainability software provider can meet your needs. To help you find a program that is the perfect fit for your business, download this complimentary white paper here to get started and find out more!