All it takes for quiet desperation to become outright frustration is one data error or misplaced spreadsheet. As the deadline to submit reports to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) approaches, don’t let this happen to you.
Let’s Take A Step Back
Challenges like this are rooted in the fact that many sustainability directors and managers must manage multiple copies of the same spreadsheet. For example, each time one facility manager makes a change to ‘their’ copy, the sustainability director needs to merge that change into a common copy of the spreadsheet.
Solutions like Dropbox, Google Drive, and SharePoint let multiple users work on a single shared copy of the data. This has made life less complicated since spreadsheets aren’t being emailed back and forth as often. But under the hood, these applications are still flat documents, whether spreadsheets or text files.
This limits their usefulness.
Furthermore, the approach also lacks embedded “smarts” like error detection and correction, emissions libraries, and data normalization, among others.
Cloud-based applications like Scope 5 greatly simplify efforts required for CDP reporting, reducing time, and democratizing data to save money.
Why Is this?
How Cloud-based Applications Simplify
The right sustainability reporting application improves on the basic spreadsheet in many ways:
- Enabling multiple users to work on a coherent data set
- Automating unit conversion
- Warning of outliers and missing or duplicate data
- Providing an audit trail
But it goes further:
- Support dynamic and unanticipated data relationships
- Facilitate in-depth and flexible analysis of the data
- Make it easy to generate many different charts and reports
- Enable data extension and customization through definition of new data sets and calculations
- Automate data collection
- Engage employees
A Deeper Look at the Benefits of a Cloud-based Sustainability Application
Sending spreadsheets back and forth, then trying to combine many into one, is time-consuming. Managers often report spending hundreds of hours just collecting and organizing data.
With a cloud-based application, there’s no need to email spreadsheets around. Each ‘data provider’ logs in to the application and enters their data. Because a single database underlies the application, the data is always up-to-date and coherent.
Maintaining multiple spreadsheets with multiple users and multiple data sources is error-prone. Data must be copied and pasted. Units must be converted. Duplicates must be identified.
The right application incorporates error checking and warns of outlying, missing or duplicate data. Unit conversion is built in, enabling each user to provide data in the most convenient units. The application quantifies the quality of the data so that the user can decide whether he or she can be confident in the data.
The application provides an audit trail. Since each user logs in under his or her credentials, the application ‘knows’ just who created or updated each data record and when. An audit trail should also allow users to upload files or images with each record to substantiate the data.
Conventional spreadsheets do lend a degree of structure to the data collection task. But often, data providers modify parts of the spreadsheet to meet their specific data format. This makes it difficult to combine multiple spreadsheets.
Managers try to “block” parts or the entire spreadsheet to prevent the data provider from tampering with prescribed format. But the data provider may simply omit that part of the data that doesn’t ‘fit.’
A cloud-based application can give the data provider flexibility in data entry by offering a drop-down with a broad choice of units and simultaneously restrict them to a common format like requiring monthly data rather than annual.
The application might allow the data provider to define new fields or column names while keeping the basic structure and data relationships intact.
Charting, Reporting, and Analyzing
Data is frequently collected with one purpose or report in mind. Spreadsheets will typically be structured to suit that purpose specifically.
But the collected data is a potential treasure trove of insight. The value of the data beyond its initial intended purpose might not be realized for months.
In spreadsheets, the data remains static and perishable. When the data is resident in a relational database and accessible through a quality application, the data ‘comes to life.’ Users with different needs and interests can chart one variable as a function of another. They can segment the data in ways never intended, revealing insights that lead to operational improvements.
Robust analytics and visual data discovery are useful whether reporting to the CDP Climate Change questionnaire, CDP Forests disclosure questions, or the CDP Water Security questions. In the case of reporting to the CDP Climate Change questionnaire, the data includes electricity and fuel use for each facility.
In the cloud-based application, a user might chart their facility’s usage relative to other facilities. If the application stores the area of each facility, that user can chart energy per square foot for each facility. Such a chart reveals facilities that are using much more energy per square foot than the average (or much less). This leads to energy and cost savings.
Flexibility and Customization
Since spreadsheet solutions are often designed with a specific purpose in mind, they collect a specific set of data. When a new type of data is required, a new spreadsheet must be designed and re-circulated.
For example, a new project is launched to collect water and waste use at the same facilities from which energy use was previously collected. This requires the creation of a new spreadsheet, doubling the number of spreadsheets in circulation. Nightmare.
With Scope 5, the administrator can add categories of data and configure detailed parameters around each category to support specific business processes. This exercise should not require a team of experts to customize the application at a significant cost but should be doable with a few clicks by any authorized user. The application remains alive and readily updated by those collecting and using the data.
Automated Data Collection
The cloud-based application can automate the otherwise tedious process of data collection. In many cases, data can be periodically retrieved electronically from other data stores, such as online utility accounts or other systems that are already part of an organization’s infrastructure. The data remains current without requiring manual effort.
In cases where the data is unavailable electronically, data can be imported from third-party spreadsheets in varying formats.
Finally, one of the benefits of the cloud-based application lies in the democratization of the data. In the old spreadsheet world, data providers often feel like cogs in a machine. They’re asked for data, provide it, and are left wondering.
What role has their data played as a whole?
How does their data compare to the data provided by peers?
What insights are revealed, and what action does it spur?
At the administrator’s discretion, users can be allowed access to their division’s data, their region’s data, or the whole dataset. They see the part their data plays in the whole, which gets users more engaged and leads to new, actionable insights.
Don’t Settle for Spreadsheets
Many companies continue to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for sustainability reporting. Spreadsheets make the work of tracking and reporting such data tedious and error prone.
A cloud-based application like Scope 5 makes this kind of work far easier. In addition to saving time and money, these applications increase the quality of the data and can lead to surprising insights. They promote greater transparency and deeper stakeholder engagement.
At Scope 5, we’re excited to be providing an application that helps customers through another season of CDP reporting.
Scope 5 helps organizations improve environmental and economic impacts by tracking progress, revealing waste, and driving action. Using Scope 5 Tracker™ technology, Scope 5 software can track any type of sustainability data at any scope by facility or product-line, and much more. Want to learn more? Contact us at email@example.com.