The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Data–No. 1: Your site and data are unique. Nothing off the shelf can handle it

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

In next 10 weeks or about I will discuss some industry misconceptions about EH&S and sustainability data management and software selection process that, I hope, will help companies considering replacing their home-grown or silo systems with modern enterprise software. There are many options when it comes to selection of enterprise EH&S and sustainability management software. Many companies decide to go through expensive evaluation processes typically led by small army of consultants that may take months and often cost companies more than the software they are considering purchasing. There is a better way.
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Enterprise EHS Information Management

The way companies  manage and store their environmental information and data stands in marked contrast to the model they have adopted for all their other key enterprise data. Historically, companies have used narrowly focused applications built on spreadsheets and client/server databases to serve the complex software requirements of this market. Time is now  to change.

The way companies manage and store their environmental information and data stands in marked contrast to the model they have adopted for all their other key enterprise data. Historically, companies have used narrowly focused applications built on spreadsheets and client/server databases to serve the complex software requirements of this market. Time is now to change.

Despite impressive growth of environmental and sustainability management industry, some troubling trends persist within the industry. Most notably is the industry’s failure to embrace the information management cloud revolution. Not adopting the latest technologies for storing, distributing, and managing information increases costs and delays implementing cost-savings resource management initiatives and management of climate change information necessary to better understand causes of climate change phenomena.
The way companies with environmental liabilities manage and store their environmental information and data stands in marked contrast to the model they have adopted for all their other key data. Historically, companies have used narrowly focused applications built on spreadsheets and client/server databases to serve the complex software requirements of this market. Today’s landscape of available technology options has consolidated; new and better options exist. While planned IT spending on environmental software is rising, organizations are still struggling to identify software that can scale and service providers that can support environmental information management in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed with other enterprise initiatives and enterprise software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management (SCM). Why is this the case?

Air Pollution Linked to Seven Million Deaths in 2012

Environmental and sustainability managers should focus on reducing their company's liabilities, not building and maintaining software applications.

According to BBC News, The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution. The organization also claims that this translates to one out of eight global deaths being associated with air pollution—making it “the world’s largest single environmental health risk.”

Further WHO statistics state that nearly six million deaths out of the seven occurred in low to middle-income countries in South East Asia and the WHO’s Western Pacific region, with approximately 2.6 million people dying as a result of outdoor air pollution, and 3.3 million from indoor pollution.

What are the main causes of death for outdoor verses indoor air pollution? The WHO found the two top causes of death from outdoor pollution to be heart disease (40%) and stroke (40%), and the top three for indoor pollution were stroke (34%), heart disease (26%) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (22%). Lung cancer and acute respiratory infections in children were also linked to both outdoor and indoor air pollution.

According to the WHO, reducing air pollution could save millions of lives. The WHO’s estimates were based on ground-level monitoring, satellite data, pollution-emissions data, and modeling how pollution drifts in the air.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

EPA Takes Cross-Country Road Trips for New Climate Rules Targeting Coal-fired Power Plants

Ms. Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and chief architect and emissary to President Obama’s plan to fight climate change, has recently taken to the road to pitch new climate change regulations.

While these EPA regulations set limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and are meant to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the rules could also be so strict that they result in a large number of plants being shut down and mining jobs lost.

The EPA is set to roll out the two new rules by the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency. This past September the EPA announced the draft of the first rule, which would limit carbon pollution from future power plants, and this upcoming June 2014 the EPA will release the draft of the second rule, which is said to require emission cuts at existing coal-fired power plants. Final versions of both rules are expected by June 2015, and states will have until mid-2016 to submit compliance plans.

While the EPA will establish a federal standard for reducing carbon emissions, individual states will be in charge of carrying out these new rules. This is meant to give each state the flexibility to configure its own plan. However, this creates the possibility that states who oppose these new rules may attempt to refuse or delay them from taking effect.

These trips to various U.S. states are a new ploy for the EPA and Ms. McCarthy, who is well aware of how cutting-edge these set of rules are and the intense scrutiny that they face. The rules will impose additional cost to the coal industry in order to stay in compliance and will require better information management and reporting tools.

Exxon Mobil to Report on Asset Risks Due to Evolving Climate Policy

Sustainability  glosaryExxon Mobil just became the first oil and gas company to agree to publish information about the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would place on their business. According to the New York Times, this decision stems from increasing pressure from shareholder activists to warn investors of the possible consequences. The energy giant has agreed to publish this information by the end of the month.

The agreement comes from an effort by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists interested in making companies more environmentally responsive. The Ceres campaign started with a letter that was sent to ask 45 of the top fossil fuel companies if they were addressing the risks posed by the changing climate policy. What gave this letter such influence is the fact that it was sent by shareholders representing $3 trillion in assets to these companies.

These risks come from a growing realization that the changing policies on global warming and the value of fossil fuel assets may not by synced with one another. For instance, if carbon emissions are reduced by 80 percent, a goal stated by President Obama, then extracting oil reserves in certain areas where it is more expensive will become uneconomical. The concept that the two goals of extracting reserves and reducing carbon emissions are in direct conflict is undoubtedly coming to light.

Exxon Mobil has also agreed to project how further carbon emission restrictions would affect its future projects, and explain why new fossil fuel reserves that it invests in are not at risk of decreasing in value. Overall Exxon Mobil’s reporting agreement should provide for a better stewardship of sustainability and will help other companies come forward with their reporting.

Accounting for carbon emissions will put more focus on environmental software companies that can scale and provide solid platforms for an integrated approach to not only carbon management but all of their other environmental and sustainability risk management activities such as water quality and air emissions.

Coal Mining Operations Face Record Fine for Water Pollution

slow-water-river-1013tm-pic-1292Following the recent series of coal-related spills in places such as West Virginia and North Carolina, the largest fine ever for violations of water pollution limits was proposed by the Obama administration last week.

The nation’s third largest coal supplier will pay a fine of $27.5 million dollars. On top of this, they will spend $200 million to reduce illegal toxic discharges from 79 mines and 25 coal processing facilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Although the EPA states there is no evidence that any of the company’s violations contaminated drinking water, the extent of their pollution remains alarming. According to the government, between 2006 and 2013 the company and many of its subsidiaries violated water pollution limits in state-issued permits more than 6,000 times, and discharged contaminants that were harmful to fish and other wildlife from approximately 800 outfall pipes straight into rivers, streams, and tributaries.

Under the settlement agreement, the company must have mine operators install wastewater treatment systems and take other measures to reduce discharges at 79 active coal mines and 25 coal-processing plants. The $27.5 million fine will be split in half- with one half going to the federal government and the other to be split between West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

Following the announcement of the consequences, officials with the EPA and Justice Department claimed the fine was large enough to send a clear message to deter others in the coal industry from disregarding the law. However, advocacy groups called for more to be done to prevent the pollution in the first place; being proactive instead of reactive in order to preserve our environment and its resources.

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A Planet of Environmental Data

Today, every discussion about changes in environment must begin with data. In its exponentially increasing volume, velocity and variety, environmental data is becoming a new corporate and natural resource. It promises to be for the 21st century what steam power was for the 18th, electricity for the 19th and hydrocarbons for the 20th. This is what we mean when we say environmental data management.

A Planet of Environmental Data

Today, every discussion about changes in environment must begin with data.

Big Data will change the way how environmental data are consumed.

Today, every discussion about changes in environment must begin with data. In its exponentially increasing volume, velocity and variety, environmental data is becoming a new corporate and natural resource. It promises to be for the 21st century what steam power was for the 18th, electricity for the 19th and hydrocarbons for the 20th. This is what we mean when we say environmental data management.

Thanks to a proliferation of measurement devices, lower detection limits,  and the infusion of technology into all things and processes, the environmental industry is now generating huge amounts of data and 80 percent of it is “unstructured”—everything from images, video and audio to social media and rivers of data from embedded sensors and distributed devices. Managing these data in databases built only 10 years ago is either not possible or is very expensive.

Managing this data at enterprise level is our core business. To capture this growth potential, we have built the world’s broadest and deepest capabilities in environmental and sustainability Big Data and analytics—both technology and domain expertise. Two-thirds of Locus Research’s work is now devoted to environmental data, analytics and automated reporting. Locus provides the full array of capabilities our clients need to extract the value of Big Data. They can mine multiple structured and unstructured data sets across their business. They can apply a range of analytics—from descriptive to predictive to prescriptive. And importantly, they can capture the time value of data. This matters, because the battle for competitive advantage in this new world can be lost or won in fractions of a second.

Our data and analytics portfolio today is the deepest in the industry. It includes decision management, content analytics, planning and forecasting, discovery and exploration, business intelligence, predictive analytics, data and content management, stream computing, data warehousing, information integration and governance.  “Traditional computing systems, which only do what they are programmed to do, simply cannot keep up with Big Data in constant motion.” For that reason late last year we launched the all new Locus EERP platform. In the process, we believe Locus will change the nature of environmental management and reporting.

At the same time that industries and professions are being remade by data, the information technology infrastructure of the world is being transformed by the emergence of cloud computing—that is, the delivery of IT and business processes as digital services. It is estimated that by 2016, more than one-fourth of the world’s applications will be available in the cloud, and 85 percent of new software is now being built for cloud. Locus pioneered cloud computing in environmental industry since its inception in 1997. No other company has a track record of 15 years of managing enterprise environmental and sustainability data in the cloud with no down time.

New Sustainability & Environmental Reporting Standards for Banks

half earth covers with city and grassUnder recently published accounting standards, banks will now be called upon to report on their social and environmental impact. These new Sustainability Accounting Standards are backed by large investors, including the California state teachers’ pension fund, Calstrs, and were drawn up after negotiations with shareholders, accountants, and banks including Deutsche Bank, TD Bank, and Goldman Sachs.

According to the Financial Times, the new standards require “reporting of measures such as the greenhouse gas emissions of companies in which banks have investments, as well as the number of complaints handled by their compliance departments.”

Author of these new standards, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), is backed by non-profit donors and was launched in 2012 to create standards for reporting on non-financial data. The SASB writes standards industry by industry- last year it was for pharmaceuticals companies, and next month standards are due for the technology and communications industry.

The Financial Times states that further details on the financial services standards include “measures of the companies’ possible losses on insurance or mortgage lending from weather-related events, the number of data breaches involving customers’ information, and details of the results of stress tests under adverse economic scenarios.”

Chief executive of Calstrs, Jack Ehnes, recognized that there may be some initial hesitation about the new standards, but believed they would eventually come to be accepted. “There is a market need for these data, and as soon as investors start talking about them and looking at them… then I think we will move to that,” he said.

Conversations with Data

Visualization technologies couple with augmented reality will change the way how environmental data are consumed.

Visualization technologies, coupled with augmented reality, will change the way how environmental data are consumed.

I was amazed with this presentation about data visualization by National Geographic Emerging Explorer and data artist Jer Thorp. We are witnessing a new revolution in data visualization and one of biggest possible benefactors of these new technologies will be environmental and sustainability professionals. But before data can be put to a good use and hard work it needs to be 1) owned, 2) organized, and 3) socialized. With Cloud-based technologies all three are now possible. Data is the new oil!
Jer Thorp translates unimaginable blurs of information into something we can see, understand, and feel—data made human through visualizations that blend research, art, software, science, and design.