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Users share successes, challenges with manufacturing sustainability software

Using “IT for green” is a far trickier strategy than green IT, but the environmental and economic payoffs could be huge, say two manufacturers that are attempting it.

For many organizations, manufacturing sustainability is a two-pronged effort to optimize energy, water and waste in buildings while making green products that help customers reduce their own carbon footprints. Some are applying it not just to their real estate, but to their manufacturing processes, materials and equipment.

Increasingly, they’re turning to sustainability software to monitor and plan energy use, convert it to carbon equivalents, and report the results to shareholders, customers and regulators. The choices vary widely, ranging from basic, spreadsheet-like tools to full-blown, ERP-driven suites that link core financials to shop-floor subsystems.

Two manufacturers identified by the analyst firm IDC Manufacturing Insights in Framingham, Mass., as leaders in sustainability shared their experiences in trying to employ what IDC analyst Kimberly Knickle calls “IT for green.” Their stories are reminiscent of the early days of ERP, when having a single version of the truth was a good enough goal.

Diebold tries to get cash out of energy savings   

At Diebold Inc., the Canton, Ohio-based manufacturer of automated teller machines, sustainability started, like it does at many companies, with outside pressure.

“We did not have an all-encompassing environmental program,” said Jim Merrell, the company’s director of environmental stewardship. “I couldn’t answer questions.”

Diebold’s customers, many of which are financial institutions with their own sustainability programs, wanted to know its carbon “footprint.” Merrell also needed to meet the reporting requirements of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a clearinghouse for voluntary, standardized measurement and reporting of emissions.

We learned very quickly that there are only 256 columns in Excel.

Clay Nesler, vice president of global energy and sustainability, Johnson Controls Inc.

So, Diebold, which occupies 408 facilities in 53 countries, made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 15% in five years by collecting and analyzing its energy data, turning first to Microsoft Excel.

“Most people start with spreadsheets and quickly realize it’s more of an effort than a spreadsheet system can do,” Merrell said.

Diebold’s requirements were clear: capture energy consumption, convert it to greenhouse gas equivalents, analyze and report the results, and model the system to plan further reductions.

“I didn’t want to try to integrate right into our larger [Oracle] ERP system because that would be slow and painful and time consuming,” Merrell said.

He and representatives from the legal and procurement departments chose Hara Environmental and Energy Management (EEM), a Software as a Service (SaaS) application from Hara Software Inc. in San Mateo, Calif., and had it running by early last year. More than 130 people worldwide use the software. It’s premature to quantify its effect, since Diebold had already claimed a 7% energy reduction in 2008, long before the deployment. But Merrell is impressed with how the software has already helped to make sense of the company's greenhouse data.

“It has a very robust set of dashboards,” which eliminates much of the hassle of creating pie charts in Excel, he said. “It’s a real-time solution.”

Merrell enters Diebold’s targets into Hara EEM, which monitors progress against goals and provides if-then choices that help in planning. He said its real value is in how the software organizes energy consumption by type and location, which makes underperforming facilities and savings opportunities easier to spot.

Though the software automates some steps, Diebold still has a partly manual process that requires workers to use the browser interface to enter utility bills, which correlate closely with greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., entry and payment of bills is centralized, while overseas, local customer service handles those tasks. Merrell would consider adding technology to automate data collection, including software to aggregate utility bills. The company plans to move tracking of water and recyclable waste off spreadsheets to Hara EEM, along with emissions from product shipments and employee travel.

Merrell said appointing regional stewards was key in Diebold’s global effort.

“Make sure that you have someone in each region that is a collaborator -- someone you can depend on,” he said. Software that eases data collection and analysis is also critical. “You’ve got to have a solution that has data in it, and you’ve got to get that data out and make decisions instead of taking a shot in the dark,” Merrell said.

Walking the talk on sustainability

IT’s role in sustainability began in a similarly inauspicious way at Johnson Controls Inc., a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of equipment for buildings and vehicles. In 2002 it set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gases by 30% over 10 years.

“We learned very quickly that there are only 256 columns in Excel,” said Clay Nesler, the company’s vice president of global energy and sustainability. “Fewer and fewer people could reliably enter and reuse the data.”

The company switched to an energy-management tool from PWI Energy Inc., a Philadelphia company it later acquired. Called the Energy and Emissions Management System, the SaaS application tracks Johnson Controls’ energy, water and waste. The company also uses Metasys Sustainability Manager, middleware it bought from GridLogix, to collect and aggregate data from such building subsystems as heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting into an Oracle data warehouse with Hyperion analytics.  

“We use BusinessObjects as the final platform for generating dashboards and final reports.” Nesler said. Lower-level managers use the dashboards to benchmark plants against best practices. “We have about 300 facilities that we are tracking around the world.”

Like Diebold, Johnson Controls gets its data from utility bills but hands over the process to a service provider that receives, pays and enters them. It runs its own service center for overseas facilities. Nesler said service providers catch errors that can muck up greenhouse gas calculations and pay for themselves by catching overpayments.

As a maker of building-efficiency systems that sells some of the software it uses internally, Johnson Controls stands to profit if sustainability software gains traction. It wants to set an example for customers, Nesler said, and IT plays an important role in sustainability at its new, state-of-the-art campus.

But Nesler sees room for improvement. He wants better analytics to spot trends and events without human intervention and verify energy savings over time. “No one is staring at information from 400 sites real time,” he said.

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