Special Report

Understanding the market

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Special Report: Environmental Business Software


Potential tool users face an increasingly large and confusing range of offerings. But the market can be navigated successfully

An avalanche of new environmental software products has hit the market over the past three years, largely driven by the need to measure and manage carbon.

The Environment Tools website, created by consultants Aether and ENDS, lists over 300 tools, most focusing on or including carbon. Pike Research estimates that sales of carbon management software worldwide will rise from $132m in 2009 to $1.2bn by 2017.

The market is in a constant state of flux, with new start-ups appearing, established vendors adding new products to their range and a number of take-overs and mergers complicating the picture.

This chaotic market leaves potential users struggling to find the right solution. A survey by Groom Energy found only 10% of firms reporting their carbon emissions had installed software. Another by IFS found half of US and three quarters of European firms did not have the right software to track their environmental impacts. Even organisations that have been reporting under the EU emissions trading scheme since 2005 often use a combination of spreadsheets and consultants instead of specialist software.

But organisations are starting to realise they need more detailed data to manage their impacts. A market study of 16 large ‘sustainability leader’ organisations by independent analyst firm Verdantix found that although two thirds still rely on Excel, most plan to buy software soon. A 2008 survey of US high-tech manufacturers by AMR found that only 10% owned software but half planned to buy some in the next two years.

Identifying the need for a software tool is the easy bit – finding one that meets individual business needs is more challenging. Verdantix found that more than half of those interviewed had not heard of 90% of the main vendors. They were familiar with established software companies such as SAP and Oracle, but unaware of specialist start-ups.

Vendors and products

Vendors and products fall into several distinct groups. Most are based in the US, Australia, Canada or the UK, with a handful in other European countries. New vendors and products are appearing all the time, and existing vendors are merging or rebranding, so the examples given in this report should not be taken as an exhaustive inventory.

Free carbon calculators: There are a host of free calculators on the internet, typically provided by public bodies or NGOs and aimed at small businesses or households. They are usually country-specific because they rely on national emission factors for electricity. Most require yearly gas and electricity usage data plus estimates of annual mileage by vehicle type. Some look at issues such as paper use and recycling, or ask broad questions about the use of energy efficient lights or appliances.

A few are more sophisticated, for example the SMEasure tool from Oxford University focuses on energy use in buildings. This allows users to plot their gas and electricity use against weather information and benchmark their usage against similar buildings. Forum for the Future has tools for sustainable procurement, and WRAP has a tool allowing simple what-if analysis. These tools provide a quick and easy, if crude, estimate of impacts for small companies, and give a rough indication of the potential to make cost and carbon savings.

Tools for small businesses: Some software vendors provide tools and services aimed at small and medium-sized organisations. Credit360, for example, has developed a slimmed down version of its sustainability reporting tool, which is affordable for smaller organisations. CarbonOps offers a bureau service for smaller customers providing monthly reports focused on compliance with the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Best Foot Forward provides carbon and ecological footprinting tools from a free version for single users (used by 2,000 small businesses) up to an Enterprise version for large international organisations. CloudApps offers flexible products that allow organisations to progress along a “carbon journey” from measuring and compliance to emissions reduction. Vendors say the ‘software as a service’ approach is suited to smaller organisations because it avoids large up-front costs.

Other vendors with offerings for smaller organisations include SustainIT, CSRware and CarbonView. The Waste and Resources Action Programme offers free tools to help cut energy, water and materials waste.

Carbon tools: A flood of new carbon-oriented tools has appeared in the past three years, driven by the need for organisations to comply with legislation such as the CRC and voluntary reporting formats such as the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Sometimes called enterprise carbon accounting or carbon emissions management systems, many are from new start-ups such as Carbon Hub, CloudApps and Green Oak Solutions in the UK, Hara in the US and Verteego in France. Others come from existing firms: Greenstone Carbon Management and Best Foot Forward are carbon consultants, and CarbonView was developed by supply chain analysis company ViewLocity.

Some include an emissions trading and offsetting aspect, for example ClimateLinked from CarbonOps, CarbonNavigator and ENXSuite (formerly Carbonetworks). Although they focus on greenhouse gases, many include waste disposal and water use, and the Hara tool assesses resource use.

Sustainability reporting tools: These allow reporting of a wide range of user-defined sustainability indicators. These can include economic and social metrics as well as environmental impacts such as air pollution, greenhouse gases and land use. Examples include Credit360, CSRware, CA Ecosoftware, Enablon’s CSR module, SERAM, SoFi by PE International, TBL2, Sustain4 and Best Foot Forward’s ecological footprint tools. Some tools focus on reporting, whereas others offer impact-reduction functions

Environmental compliance suites: Established environmental health and safety (EHS) software vendors such as Enviance, Intelex, Cintellate, Perillon and ProcessMAP are adding carbon accounting modules to their suites, which handle compliance with health and safety, air pollution, hazardous waste management, accidental spill reporting and emergency response regulations.

Other entrants include Enablon (from a sustainability reporting background), IHS (a technical standards consultancy that bought environmental software firms ESS and ESP) and Foresite Systems with its GEMS software for product-level compliance.

Modules added to corporate software: Some vendors have added bolt-on environmental modules to existing corporate software such as business analytics, accounting or enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages. This allows customers to integrate environmental management into systems handling data such as business structure, purchasing, sales, invoicing, accounting, project management and supply chain management.

Oracle, for example, added the Ndevr GHG accounting module to its ERP software. SAP has added carbon and EHS modules to its business suite. SAS has added a sustainability module to its business analytical software. And Microsoft has added an environmental dashboard to its Dynamics suite.

In the UK, ERP supplier Unit4 Business Software has recently launched a sustainability benchmarking tool, Sustain4. Although not carbon or environment specialists, many vendors in this category benefit from a large existing customer base.

Energy and facilities management: Suppliers of energy and asset management tools such as EnerNOC, Johnson Controls, Pace, Summit Energy, TEAM and Verisae have started adding carbon management modules to their software. These focus on cutting energy costs with features such as automatic metering, building energy controls and bill payment systems. Some go beyond carbon. The Verisae Sustainability Resource Planning platform, for example, also allows water and waste management. UK firm IntegratedFM has added a sustainability tool to its facilities management suite.

Product footprinting tools and life-cycle analysis: Although most tools focus on corporate operations, some assess the footprint of specific products or processes, to help with green procurement, eco-design or product labelling. Examples include Best Foot Forward’s footprinting tools and product development package, Carbonostics’ tool for assessing the carbon impact of food products, Foresite System’s GEMS, Hara EEM and PE International’s GaBi. Some carbon specialist vendors such as Verisae and CarbonView use supply chain information to track product-level carbon.

Sector-specific tools: Some tools are specific to sectors, such as buildings, vehicle fleet management, the water industry or information technology (IT). These tools typically focus on carbon reduction, and though they may have less functionality than full carbon accounting packages they can appeal to their target sector.

Some users are developing their own in-house tools, particularly in sectors with specific needs such as construction and civil engineering. For example, consultancy HR Wallingford is developing a tool called HRCAT for coastal engineering projects.

Best Foot Forward has developed footprinting tools specifically for sectors including aviation, publishing, events, packaging, offices and government agencies. Several companies produce energy efficiency tools for the IT sector, such as GreenIT by CSRware.