In the world of CSR, tools enable practitioners to extend capabilities; when we think differently, we can do differently. In the new and ever evolving world of sustainability, understanding how we can use tools to do better at answering the questions of the field will enable progress. Leaders in this burgeoning area gathered Wednesday morning at MIT Sloan, day one of the New Metrics ’14 conference, for a workshop to discuss new, easy-to-use tools aimed at supporting and enhancing the work of sustainability practitioners in every field, and the impacts of access to new, accurate and verifiable data.
Daniel Aronson (left), founder of Valutus, argued that companies can put a numerical value on the employee perception of sustainability. A simple tool was created and demonstrated: the Human Capital Value of Sustainability and Responsibility Calculator. Through this simple plug-and-play calculator, you can insert verifiable data to get an output, or an ROI, for measurements on questions such as the cost of employee recruitment or turnover. Example: There is evidence that if you are a highly sustainable company, recruitment costs are lowered significantly because people will want to work for you — eliminating the higher premium that may have been paid to pry talent away from another company. Being able to quickly determine the cost of recruitment vs. sustainable brand perception is an easy story to tell having accurate data and costs to back it up. This calculator takes away the guess work by using big data that companies already have and can quickly (in a matter of minutes) give an accurate picture of employee CSR landscape.
This simple tool uses real data to quantify programs that are often thought of as immeasurable — changing the conversation from “should we” to “when & how.” It frees up one task so that new thinking and innovation can progress.
“CSR tools need to do one thing well to allow for further development of better tools,” Aronson said.
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Companies are often settling for inferior solutions to tracking and reporting on sustainability data, using Excel and crossing their fingers that the data is right while using endless payroll for input. Europe was an early adapter of reporting tools, but the US has generally lagged in participation due to lack of awareness and lack of federal mandate.
Tennaxia offers customizable solutions to formerly slow and painful data collection and analysis, and is able to ensure data quality. Having a platform that manages CSR data in this way allows for everything from big-picture to granular analysis, liberates manpower from data processing to mission-driven work, drives performance while driving decisions, and mitigates reputational and operating risks.
The data and metrics derived from a customized tool such as Tennaxia help companies to achieve and measure against short- and long-term goals, while giving the framework to share needed information to key stakeholders. For one company, that meant being able to integrate their CSR data into their parent company’s CSR report. For others, it gives a way to report on regulatory compliance based on their nationality.
Next, Emma Stewart, Head of Sustainability Solutions at AutoDesk, presented an approach called C-FACT — which calls for companies to reduce GHG emissions in line with global scientific and policy climate stabilization targets, and in proportion to companies’ relative contribution to the economy, measured by GDP. Stewart argued that all companies must act now — in the window of time that is still available — to limit climate change’s impact under the critical 2 degrees Celsius, and provide a way to clearly articulate the individual needs of varying company structures.
This free tool was designed as current practices in goal setting was “ripe for disruption” — often company PR, finance, or marketing teams arbitrarily and irresponsibly assign targets without the real data to understand what actually could or should be done. Based on 100 percent publically available information, C-FACT was developed to be fair, verifiable, and flexible — allowing company growth despite company carbon goals. By adding in data, any company can determine their course for meeting climate goals, and then integrate those metrics into overall CSR program goals.
John Williams, chairman and CEO of Impact Infrastructure, wrapped up the morning session by presenting the Automated Business Case (ABC) Evaluator to help companies tell their complete value story of private and commercial building projects.
Infrastructure and building projects are a massive source of investment and play a pivotal role in companies’ long-term, sustainable financial outcomes. The ABC system devises to tell the financial, economic, social, environmental and resiliency value story behind existing and future properties, bringing massive opportunity for success to planners. This tool will harvest data from BIM to allow the economic assessment of a project, in real time. It enables users to try out different building materials, landscaping, and formations before projects commence or after they progress, which gives the ability to continually inform stakeholders of updated cost/benefit analysis.
“We want people to make decisions based on optimal outcomes,” Williams said.
Williams highlighted the example of the Trinity River Vision Authority Panther Island Low-Impact Development in Fort Worth, TX. The ABC model was able to analyze:
- Increased revenues, change in subsidies and avoided costs
- Shadow wage benefit
- Recreational use value
- Property value benefit
- Reduce heat stress mortality benefit
- Water quality and habitat enhancement
- Wetland enhancement
The ABC tool will be commercially available in fall 2014, and targets the architecture community to help speed up the assessment process for the sustainability impacts of infrastructure.