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Online Tool for Gauging Sustainability in Corporate Operations


Glaciers melting

Source: Patrick Notley

I recently ran across a cloud-computing based application that is a user-friendly tool for medium-sized to enterprise level companies seeking to comply with international norms and standards for green manufacturing and sustainability.[i] The tool gives companies a way to track ongoing operations and measure such factors as:  waste generation, energy usage, health and environmental impact of raw materials and products, and safety of processing steps.  The tool, called iSystain, was developed by Systar Pty Ltd, an Australian-based software development, hosting and consulting company.

About eight years earlier, founders Don Smy and Jenni Mulligan developed a software solution for an external client that gave them a tool for global sustainability assurance auditing.  Retaining key aspects of their intellectual property they expanded the concept to the cloud-based tool available to other companies today.  Some of the operational aspects that the tool reports on include:

  • Carbon management
  • Sustainability reporting
  • Incident & hazard management
  • Compliance monitoring
  • Inspections and checklists
  • Audit management
  • Complaints management
  • Behavior based safety
  • Action management

Given the regulatory drivers, it is evident that the target market for this tool are companies that are high energy users and/or companies that are emitters of environmental contaminants that need to be recycled or controlled.  However, according to Jenni Mulligan, more and more of their clients are in retail and recreation as these clients are seeking to “green-brand” themselves and a self-auditing tool that is easily accessible by employees from multiple locations is a perfect solution.

The hardware used by Systar is managed and provided by Softlayer[ii] an on-demand data center and hosting services from facilities and partners around the world.  It has a total of 6 data centers with over 147,000 servers worldwide.  They have also achieved SAS70 Level 2 Certification for systems management.  The developers of iSystain are very adamant about the importance of reliability, redundancy, and security in their hardware infrastructure.

An example of the dashboard for the system is given below as an example of what their clients work with to quantify their data.


Example of a control panel for iSystain

The stated mission of iSystain is “to provide organizations with an affordable and accessible solution to manage the non-economic driven requirements of sustainable development. “ I emphasize the term ‘non-economic’ because I see this as an important element of overlap with some of the other issues I’ve pointed out in previous articles.  Although much of the emphasis on auditing the outputs of an industrial process is placed on the environmental elements, I see an equally important application to the social or community-based implications, as well.  The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, the social enterprise (or social business movement), and the efforts by many leading edge companies to develop product lines for bottom of the pyramid (BOP) workers are three ways in which companies are seeking to enhance brand strength through non-economic means.

Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR has become a buzzword in the corporate sector over the past decade.  CSR encompasses a broad set of policies and practices, some of which are regulatory driven, but, many of which are internal, that seek to systematize business processes such that environmental and socially-responsible actions are taken as a matter of corporate policy.  It is a term-of-art for a wide range of corporate activities aimed at balancing economic and non-economic actions.

Social Enterprise/Social Business

This is a phrase that was coined by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus in his book Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.[iii] In this book the author shows how the economic drivers within most companies tend to make the corporation responsive to investors and shareholders and not, necessarily to other stakeholders such as employees and community members. It is a model that has been shown to be effective for maximizing short-term profits and resource use, regardless of the externality costs, but it is not necessarily useful to long-term viability when taking into account broader environmental concerns such as carrying capacity.

He contrasts this to non-profit entities or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that seek to implement socially- or environmentally-beneficial objectives that are responsive to the broader community.

His use of the term ‘social enterprise’ is meant to advocate an amalgam of these two contrasting business models that represents an entity that has the efficiency and effectiveness drivers of profit maximization, like a standard for-profit corporate entity, but at the same time seeks to implement a socially-beneficial mission.  In the U.S. this concept is being advocated through the group known as B-Corp which seeks to advocate the legal changes within the state governments and quantify the progress towards such objectives.  According to the B-Corp website, at the time of this writing, there are, in the U.S., 381 B Corporations generating over $1.82 billion in revenues.  Further, some states have, indeed, implemented the legal changes necessary for companies to incorporate within their states as ‘Benefit-Corporations’ (e.g., Vermont & Maryland).  Several other states have legislation pending to add the B-Corp structure to their state systems (e.g., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Colorado).

Bottom of the Pyramid Products

The term BOP was coined by the late C.K. Prahalad in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits.[iv] In this book Prahalad argues that much of the future growth in corporate earnings can be attributable to the development, production and successful distribution of products that are specifically targeted towards the needs of the poor.  In this way, companies are addressing their own needs for profitability and growth, while at the same time addressing a significant societal need.

The iSystain tool represents a mechanism for quantifying and expanding on the vision of each of these business models.  Further, through the cloud-based deployment, it is one that is affordable to medium-sized firms that seek to be socially responsible corporate citizens in this world of rapidly changing political, economic, environmental and social pressures.

Further, since the tool is web-based it is easily extensible to mobile platforms.  Expanding this vision to mobile technology will make it even more accessible to smaller firms in the developing world where many of the resource management and environmental contamination issues are most pronounced.

[i] Such as AA1000 from AcountAbility and the Global Reporting Initiative
[ii] Softlayer website: http://www.softlayer.com/
[iii] (2007) Published by PublicAffairs.
[iv] (2006) Published by Wharton School Publishing.