Eco-Tracking

An excerpt from Green to Gold (p.166):

"We start here with the elements of the toolkit that help companies understand where they are. Getting the lay of the land requires thinking and analysis that might not come naturally. Eco-Tracking helps to answer fundamental but sometimes unfamiliar questions:
  • What are the company’s big environmental impacts?
  • When and where do those impacts arise? During manufacturing? During shipping and distribution? Upstream in the supply chain? Or downstream in the hands of customers?
  • How do others view the company’s environmental performance?"

Footprint and LCAs

The fundamental tool for understanding a product or company's environmental impact is Life-Cycle Analysis. LCAs look at environmental issues from far upstream with suppliers to way downstream when products have reached the end of their useful life. Good LCAs estimate, for example, the total greenhouse gases produced throughout the product's value chain. But LCAs can get overly complicated, so treading carefully with good tools makes sense. A number of helpful resources can guide companies through the basics:

In addition, a range of companies have developed detailed software packages to help with the heavy lifting. One that we've used is called TEAM from a company called Ecobilan. Pre Consultants also offers a variety of LCA software as well as general information on LCAs and Design for Environment. Finally, the EPA lists 30+ software options here including LCAiT 4 and GaBi 4 software systems and databases.

Metrics

The environmental realm is sorely lacking the structure surrounding financial metrics (FASB, GAAP, etc). But a norm on what nearly every company needs to track is gradually evolving. There will always be industries or companies that need to tailor their focus, but we see more calls for tracking metrics in a few basic categories: greenhouse gases, energy, water, air, waste, and legal compliance. One good starting point is the Global Reporting Initiative, which describes performance indicators and what makes for good reporting and tracking.

While there may be no one norm, certainly some best practices are emerging. Furniture maker Herman Miller, for example, developed a materials database to track every substance going into the Mirra Chair (and subsequent products). Every element is given a score based on environmental dimensions (like toxicity) and tracked closely. Knowing all aspects of your environmental footprint makes it much easier to cut costs, reduce risk, and find new opportunities.

Systems

The best way, and perhaps the only way, to really know your footprint, and track it carefully is to have some kind of environmental management system (EMS) in place. Not every company needs as structured a system as the prevailing international standards advise, but something that describes processes and practices to follow is necessary.

Systems can vary as much as companies do, but a few standards are out there to help guide you, mainly the ISO 14000/14001 standard and the European EMAS program. Both describe the major steps to implement a management system, and both provide detailed guidance.  We suggest starting in a few places:

For a brief summary and comparison of the two programs (and a third) see the Quality Network.