Skip to main content

Software that grows with the sustainability movement

On top of a new product billed as a data foundation for all of a company's sustainability functions, software provider PE International today is also unveiling a new name to help adapt to a rapidly-evolving market.

Sustainability functions are still typically splintered among departments, managed on disparate spreadsheets and focused on compliance — but shifting market dynamics are now challenging that model, pushing the conversation to the C-suite as part of strategic decision making. 

From risk and resource management to finance or product design, one leading sustainability management software provider says opportunities and demands have outgrown most companies’ current capabilities.

“We think the market is profoundly changing,” Christoph Wilfert, CEO of the company known until today as PE International, told GreenBiz exclusively. “[Sustainability] is moving to a different agenda. Companies want to scale it into core operations.”

That realization pushed Wilfert's team to rethink their own business model. Today, the company is unveiling a new name — thinkstep — and a flagship product offering positioned as a new kind of software solution for companies to better integrate sustainability into their core business.

The broad software platform,, will allow large companies, government agencies and universities to scale sustainability decisions throughout operations by housing data on a common platform and allowing application functionality from that one platform.

" brings together all of the company’s intellectual property to help solve customer sustainability challenges,” according to a thinkstep statement.

Along with a central common data platform, the release includes the availability of 70 software application suites for product design and innovation, product reporting, compliance, life cycle assessment, corporate sustainability reporting, energy management, environmental health and safety management, supplier engagement and building portfolio management. Many of the applications are supplied by partner companies such as Trucost. 

The move puts sustainability into the arena of other corporate functions. Just as companies such as Salesforce, SAP and Oracle have been providing centralized database platforms for business applications in human resources, sales management, and finance, thinkstep is promoting a central database platform for all sustainability functions.

Wilfert said he believed the product is the first in the market. 

“What we are seeing now is it is time for stepping it up — what I mean is the broader sustainability agenda,” Wilfert said in an interview with GreenBiz, adding the context of government officials and businesses increasingly thinking about the seriousness of the challenge to keep the earth from warming beyond 2 degree Celsuis.  

Wilfert posits that 2015 is the beginning of a year, and a decade, when things will begin to change fast, starting with momentum building up to the United Nations COP2 Paris meeting, where it is hoped an international agreement will finally be reached on holding back greenhouse gas emissions.  He said his company is stepping up to the challenge at a crucial time.

“thinkstep underscores the mission of analytical rigor that we are known for, and taking action and impact,” Wilfert said. “The more you know, the better you are.” 

Why now?

The Stuttgart, Germany-based software provider and consultancy is making these announcements as it hosts an annual symposium for clients and customers, including large enterprises such as Unilever, Kraft Foods, the Bank of England and the European Commission. Symposium attendees are hearing about the change at the same moment this article is moving onto

The company describes the new software and related rebranding as the culmination and combination of everything that it has offered to its 3000 clients.  It has been growing aggressively, Wilfert said, with 30 percent growth in software and data sales last year and 100 percent growth in bookings. He said last year's growth was equivalent to $30 million in U.S. dollars.  

Many of its partner application providers have already built software to work with the platform.

TÜV SÜD is launching its first energy efficiency web application to work on the platform. With it, companies can assess their energy and cost savings potential.  

Trucost, meanwhile, integrated its data capital valuation and Life Cycle Assessment software to work on the think step platform. Previously natural capital valuation and LCA and product design might have been managed as separate activities in a company, but because the scarcity of natural resources informs how to sustainably design a product, they are inherently linked.

The platform uses cloud technologies so customers can deploy applications fast, but the company describes this as the "next generation of cloud," that allows for both proprietary and cloud-basd applications. Both "seamlessly integrate into the platform." The companies existing SoFi  and GaBi software has already been built into the new platform and existing SoFi customers ported over.   

Until now, the company's leading products were SoFi, software to manage sustainability reporting on carbon, energy managment, supply chain and healthy and safety, and GaBi, which is for life cycle assessment, product carbon footprint, resource and energy efficiency and the like.

What is in represented in this move is the interdependence of decision making and the need to have what Wilfert calls "a single version of the truth," inside companies looking for best practices.

“So we think it makes a lot of sense to start with an architecture that acknowledges the need for a single platform with multiple applications," Wilfert said.

Until now, typically in a company, "There are 10 different walls and a variety of applications that people use, one for product management, corporate responsibility, that all touch on sustainability. Yet everyone looks at it in terms of their role, but what’s needed, when you think about it, is a single version of the truth, so when you switch out the energy source for the manufacture of a product, it will change the composition of the product and thus product design.”

If, for example, an enterprise company changes the energy source at a manufacturing plant, that is going to affect the composition of the product. Until now, different parts of an organization often do not interact, so an act like changing an energy source at a single plant might not trickle back to product development, yet ideally it should be reflected in product design., Wilfert said, makes it simpler and more seamless for companies to  make changes that improve efficiency and sustainability. 

“They can see at the design stage, versus after the product is made, how it will be sustainable," Wilfert said. "It requires lifecycle management.”

Early reviews coming out of the Stuttgart meeting gave the software platform and the name change thumbs up.

2Degrees Managing Director Oliver Hurrey tweeted that it is “A refreshing launch of what looks a stunning product.”

Laura Storm, executive director of Sustainia, tweeted “Congratulations @pe_experts on the new name and brand! Clear proof that #susty is the only way forward to succeed in business #ThinkSymp15."

Dr. James Fava, thinkstep’s chief sustainability strategist, also said the marketplace now views sustainability as a tool for success. 

 "Companies are no longer just reacting to being told to be more sustainable – business leaders are driving change by using sustainability to boost their economic performance – reducing cost, mitigating risk, improving brand value and increasing sales,” he said in a blog post he plans to publish later today.

An example, Fava explained, is the Kenco coffee brand. Kenco switched from glass jars to refill packs.

“This one move reduced the packaging weight by 97 percent and the energy to manufacture it by 81 percent,” he said. "The change was marketed on its environmental benefits, and helped to grow market share for Kenco, it also saved money."

So the platform, Fava writes, “enables individuals to focus on implementing change, driving results, reducing impacts and generating value, rather than chasing data, manipulating multiple spreadsheets and collecting information in a range of forms to meet different compliance requirements."

Until now, the company's leading software product has been its SoFi solution that allows companies to obtain financial-grade sustainability information from their own operations, supply chain and products. That software is cerfified by the GRE for G4 content compliance and is also accredited for carbon reporting by the CDP.

But Fava and Wilfert said the interdependence of operations and decisions called for a new level of central decision and tools for faster decision making and implementation.

"Environmental, social and compliance factors are becoming increasingly central to companies’ ability to operate successfully. At the same time, value chains and product life cycles  have become ever-more complex, not just because individual issues are now more in the spotlight, but because these issues are increasingly interacting with each other," Fava said.

Thinkstep said its is currently in beta and will be fully available in six months.

More on this topic