Advancement in big data and analytical technologies has opened up many new opportunities to support sustainability advancement in large, complex organizations. The high volume of performance data from facilities, buildings, supply chains, operations and logistics subsystems can be gathered to trace the impact of sustainability initiatives at a very granular level. This information can be rolled up into a series of “green dashboards” allowing managers and employees to track costs savings and monitor performance enhancements across the organization.
Case studies and best-practice scenarios on using big data abound in the private sector as organizations collect and store detailed transactional and performance information on everything from product inventories to employee sick days. Public sector administrators find they can save billions in operational efficiency improvements and use big data to reduce fraud, errors and boost the collection of tax revenues.
The use of big data in supporting sustainability initiatives, however, is relatively new, although the efficiency gains are no less significant. This practice is evidenced by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which is leveraging data aggregation and analytics to track millions of dollars in annual cost savings largely attributed to employee-led sustainability actions. Notably, USPS was the first federal agency to publicly report its greenhouse gas emissions and receive third-party verification of the results.
Sustainability Tracking in the Extended Enterprise
The success of granular sustainability analysis relies on identifying the many ‘micro’ actions that take place in organizations, which can easily expand to include Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions across the extended enterprise. To improve results, companies need to get their arms around these issues operationally, which means engaging thousands of employees as well as accessing and understanding increasingly more complex and fine-grained data and business informatics.
The U.S. Postal Service, with nearly half a million employees and 32,000 facilities across the U.S. is a poster child for the types of challenges any large distributed organization faces in the pursuit of scalable sustainability progress. The USPS Office of Sustainability spearheaded a number of initiatives to address national sustainability goals in waste reduction, energy conservation, fleet fuel reduction, consumables spending, recycling, and water use. They were able to isolate over $52 million in savings in FY 2012 largely due to these employee-led initiatives.
Enter Green Initiatives Tracking Tool (GITT)
To aggregate and display “green” data, the USPS developed a Green Initiatives Tracking Tool (GITT). It serves as a business intelligence application that pulls data from the massive USPS data warehouse and tracks progress and results on specific sustainability goals at the national, regional and local level. The GITT system creates a series of “green dashboards" that provide status updates for core projects, as well as financial information, by tying directly into the accounting system for each facility.
The system is also designed to be interactive for users as well, providing both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ views on sustainability performance. It includes a start-up list of 41 suggested projects for USPS facilities as well as simple guidelines for completion. This provides visibility on “leading” indicators such as number of facilities, green teams, and number of members participating, as well as progress toward completion across the green project list. Program managers have clear indication of what projects are being implemented and where.
The second part of GITT provides sustainability performance metrics that result from green projects being implemented. In this regard, it represents “lagging” indicators that include consumption and cost information for facility energy, vehicle petroleum fuel, water, waste to landfill, recycling, and consumables spending. USPS estimates that it can save $2.5 million per year per in each regional HQ facility and in each district, and GITT provides visibility into its progress.
Ready access to GITT information and comparative tables create healthy competition between facilities, districts, and areas. At the national level, the Postal Service now can track progress in real time and support those facilities that need additional help. To increase participation in these initiatives the USPS also has embarked on a broad-based online training program targeting 15,000 more employees with job-specific training modules using the Sustainability In Practice™ library from Tripos Software.
The development of GITT was based purely on the program managers’ need to capture data and measure progress when first piloting lean green initiatives. Initially, they had to manually look up information every month on facility energy, vehicle fuels, water, waste and consumables and input that information into a large spreadsheet. It was time-consuming and labor-intensive, and as one can imagine, set back the expansion of the program.
Now, GITT pulls data into one place from various databases that hold the information. Information can be displayed in a single dashboard for each facility, or each district, or each area, or nationally. The GITT system also allows normalization of data where there are major climate and geographic differences. Depending on the report being generated, this ability makes it easier to compare facilities in different parts of the country and to convert volumetric data to greenhouse gas equivalents.
The Ultimate Sustainability Job Aid
Rapid access to sustainability data assists local planning efforts. It also creates a baseline on which progress can be measured over time. Having ready access to sustainability data using standard templates is also a huge aid for preparing annual reports in keeping with Agency goals. The system has become a basic source of data for preparing the Postal Service's Annual Sustainability Report, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Scorecard, Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Report.
In short, the GITT has evolved from a basic tool to hold Lean Green Teams accountable into a platform for tracking sustainability performance at all levels in the organization. This has encouraged full transparency and data visibility with regard to sustainability performance metrics and helps thousands more employees see visible progress from their efforts.
You can listen to Thomas Day, Chief Sustainability Officer of USPS speaking at last year's New Metrics of Sustainable Business conference in our digital library: The Paradox of E-commerce: A Quest to Reduce Footprints through Process and Business Model Innovation