Getting to grips with EHS, carbon and water tracking software

Getting to grips with EHS, carbon and water tracking software

As the science around global warming evolves in ever more complex and sophisticated ways, so too does the burden on companies to measure their carbon footprint and manage their environmental, health and safety operations. Increasingly, companies need to implement more efficient systems and strategies to balance their greenhouse gas emissions against their own financial risks and country’s regulations.

To manage this task, companies can choose from scores of EHS, carbon and water tracking software programs.  But choosing the best fit isn’t easy.

“The process can be very challenging,” Joel Makower, GreenBiz.com Executive Editor, said during "Top Considerations When Evaluating, Choosing and Deploying EHS, Carbon and Water Tracking Software," a Green Biz Group webcast held on Thursday. “There’s a dizzying array of products, features and price points,” he added.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t despair.

To start, a company first has to decide what type of system to use, how to implement the system and who to involve in the process.

Choosing a system and implementation strategy

There are three main types of Environmental Management Information Systems (EMIS): A custom-built application, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and a client-server-based model. The latter two fall under Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) category. Choosing which one to use depends on your company’s needs. SaaS is cloud-based and requires no hardware or software installations. The client-server, on the other hand, runs on a client’s network and requires the purchase of separate upgrades.

“SaaS helps because you can scale it and purchase as much or as little as you need for your system or your requirements,” said James Jensen, vice president of professional services at Enviance, a SaaS environmental system.

When it comes to implementing the system, a company has the choice of having the software vendor carrying out the task, using of a vendor’s third-party contractor, or having in-house staff take care of it. Using a third-party contractor enables companies some leeway when scheduling the implementation, Jensen said.

But a company shouldn’t limit themselves to one approach.

“Usually the right answer is a combination of all three of those,” Jensen said.

There are various factors to consider during implementation. A company needs to decide, for instance, whether to replace an existing system line-for-line. Jensen suggests a phased approach, which means first implementing the software in the areas of highest priority.

“It comes down to time versus money and return on investment -- what the biggest value is for your company at the present time,” Jensen said.

The process may require input from a wide range of different groups within the organization, said Jensen. For instance, IT might be involved if the business needs to grab data once and use it in a multitude of places, or legal might need to be consulted on issues of compliance.

It may seem like a large number of players, but Jensen said the groups play different roles at different stages. IT, for example, only needs to come onboard once implementation has begun.

Small businesses are in a particularly tough position because of limited budgets and resources. Jensen suggests they use a SaaS-based system, which can grow with the company over time and help the company maintain cost control.

Photo of computer monitor provided by nmedia via Shutterstock

For larger companies, two case studies provide interesting examples of how to achieve success using an EMIS system.

Fujifilm [FUJI:US] discovered that its software system helped bridge communication gaps between its Tokyo and US offices and allowed them to see what was going on with the company in its entirety.

“We’re able…to analyze trends across the corporation that we were unable to do in the past,” Harold Williams, senior manager of EHS at Fujifilm Holdings America, said during Thursday’s webinar.

Steel and mining company ArcelorMittal [MT] found that having a software vendor committed to helping the company get to grips with the system was key during the implementation phase.

Paul Carpenter, manager of environmental and real estate information and reporting at ArcelorMittal, said what is most critical is for the company and the vendor to remain focused on each project from pre-sale through to post-sale, and to constantly remind employees of the original goal of implementing the system in the first place.

“If you try to take out too much [information], you’ll see your scope will creep -- which will increase budget and time constraints,” Carpenter said. “Having a focused project plan that’s specific to the reporting requirements would be a key.”

The companies said they have had to learn and adjust as they become more familiar with the software. Initially, Fujifilm had its staff manually input information into the system, but data reliability issues began to arise. As a result, the company transitioned to automatic data feeds that saves time and has increased the quality and accuracy of the information, Williams said.

ArcelorMittal, meanwhile, is building its own in-house team of EMIS experts who are involved in the process from the beginning stages all the way through maintenance of the system. The company realized that it needed a “solid team of experts who understand the product’s internal workings,” Carpenter said.

Both companies are currently using Enviance as their EMIS system. Asked if they had any gripes about the software, both companies answered it was too early to tell.

“We’re still scratching the surface as well,” said Carpenter. “Our wish list is fairly long but we haven’t got into the nitty-gritty.”