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Using Environmental Data for Business Value

It’s early in the calendar year, a time when many environmental professionals gather their 2011 environmental data to generate reports that your regulatory agencies require. How much fuel did your stationary combustion sources burn in the past year? How many times was a certain condition exceeded in the past quarter? Were there any accidental releases last year? If so, were they addressed promptly? Data used to determine your facility’s compliance status vis-à-vis all applicable environmental requirements has the end game: “Did we have any violations that could result in NOVs (Notices of Violation) or fines last year?” Environmental compliance has been seen by management as a back office operation to minimize losses, and not as an integral part of conducting business. Data had limited uses, but never studied to optimize practices or to understand its effects on company business prospects. No fines? You’re fine.

But forward-thinking businesses are now thinking differently about environmental metrics. Customer and shareholder preferences, regulatory pressures and process optimization require detailed environmental and sustainability data. New environmental software exists to make the gathering and analytical processes easier and smoother. Environmental metrics must be taken more seriously now to give direction to where your firm is heading. ISO 14001 and its companion guidelines and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have been major drivers in this movement.

Every company or facility has individual needs and systems and cannot be pigeon-holed into a single approach. However, there are some universal values to ponder in making your system more productive and encompassing. One is the critical need for planning.  One should spend significant time upfront to determine exactly what data needs to be collected and what is the value of such measurements – not just to EHS, but to other departments and stakeholders (customers, government, etc.), as well. For example, you may need to collect fuel usage data to compute emissions, but that data is also useful to your production and business departments. You don’t want to waste your time and resources collecting useless data. In this effort it is critical to involve the right people from other departments, such as IT, finance, production, etc., so everyone is on board with the data, how it is collected, and its potential meaning.

Make sure that your data adds value to achieving everyone’s ultimate goals. Understand what other departments need and determine if you have information that is of value to them. Likewise, although rarely required by an environmental regulatory agency, there may be important information about production and revenues that give perspective to your environmental data. Ask for it, evaluate it, and see if there may be reasons to make changes (for example, you determine that emissions as a function of production is changing and may result in different compliance strategies.)

Make sure collection and treatment methods are consistent with those used by other departments or company facilities, as well as with global standards, so your data and results are not questioned.

You and your company will benefit in 2012 if you can devote some time to assess and optimize your environmental or sustainability data planning and gathering system. This is a good time to begin meeting with IT and other department reps to overhaul your environmental data management system, to modernize it, and add business value.

Marc Karell is the owner of Climate Change & Environmental Services. Read more useful material in the company’s blog: www.CCESworld.com/blog. CCES has the technical experts to assist you in assessing your environmental or sustainability data and to recommend ways to bring more value to the data available. Our experts are familiar with a number of different software to manage your data reliably and save you time and money.

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