Carbon Accounting System Vendor Selection Best Practices
The market for carbon accounting systems and related services is complex and crowded. Vendors range from small-startups to major enterprises. The products and services being offered span from free spreadsheet tools to major integrated solutions. With so many options, it is increasingly important that consumers are aware of the market and understand their own needs.
There are multiple factors motivating organizations to address their greenhouse gas emissions:
- Consumers increasingly favor products and services from vendors that address their own environmental impact.
- Organizations see the business case for sustainability as a competitive advantage and use carbon accounting systems as a gauge of efficiency.
- Organizations are voluntarily reporting their greenhouse gas emissions as part of a larger initiative. Examples of these include the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
- Organizations are mandated through legislation to track and report their greenhouse gas emissions. This is currently underway in Australia, the European Union, California, and others.
- Organizations with large supply chains seek to reduce exposure by understanding their climate risk.
If your organization is searching for a carbon accounting system, these questions will help prepare you for the complex landscape of vendors.
Q) Why do you need a carbon management solution?
A) There are many different drivers for investing in carbon management solutions. Generally, organizations fall into two buckets: environmental leadership or compliance – proactive or reactive. Depending on which bucket your organization falls into, you may have different requirement for reporting your environmental metrics. Understanding why you are measuring your footprint and what you are going to do with your results will help you select the appropriate carbon accounting system.
Q) How will a carbon management system fit in with your organization?
A) Each organization is unique. The data that is required by carbon accounting systems usually lives in a variety of places, from facility managers to accountants and human resources. If you can map out where the data is located and who will be required to aggregate it, you will be better prepared when discussing options with vendors. What is the pricing structure? Do you charge per seat or is it based on the size and complexity of the organization?
Q) What are your IT requirements?
A) Work closely with your IT department as you evaluate solutions. Depending on your current systems and securities that are already in place, some carbon accounting software packages may not be compatible.
Q: Who will be using the software?
A) Some systems are designed to only be used by engineers or facilities managers while others are designed for non-technical employees. By understanding who will be using the carbon accounting system you will be able to better target the appropriate solution.
Before final selection, ask your vendor these important questions:
Q) Is the software easy to use?
A) Technology is meant to reduce your burden and make you more efficient at your job. Simply put, the solution that you choose should be easy to use. Is it intuitive, easy to set up, and scalable? Do you have to pay the vendor additional fees just to implement the software within your current systems? Can you imagine your staff using the software on a regular basis and into the foreseeable future?
Q) Does the software follow the protocols required for your reporting purposes?
A) If you will be reporting to a specific program or reporting authority, make sure that the software you use will enable you to be compliant with the requirements. Generally speaking, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, published by the World Resource Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is comprehensive and will address your needs.
Q) How do you get your information out of the system?
A) The software that you choose should not be a black box -- the whole point is to be able to do something with the information. Most software solutions provide some sort of output report. It is important to know what the reporting capabilities are. What are you going to be using the output reports for? Are the reports broken down into a usable format? Are the reports transparent? Could they be audited/verified?
Deciding which of the many enterprise carbon accounting systems to purchase is an important decision. Define your requirements, do your research, and ask tough questions when vetting vendors. The software that you choose can make all the difference as you move forward towards your sustainability goals.