Written by Jacky Habib
The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
If you ask most people what their environmental footprint is, they would likely have no idea. Andrew Simpson, however, can show you a spreadsheet to explain the data behind his footprint, and tell you how he is carbon neutral.
Simpson has spent the last 25 years helping companies use software to do everything from track their inventory to manage their payroll. In 2010 he founded Ecotone Software Consulting, to leverage his expertise in helping companies implement software to track and improve their sustainability.
“Right now, the sustainability folks don’t even know they should be talking to the IT folks and IT folks don’t know anything about sustainability,” Simpson says. He sees his role as a bridge between these two worlds, helping companies achieve their sustainability reporting and goals in a more efficient way.
Aligning work with the Sustainable Development Goals
Currently, Ecotone links their work to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 15 and shows how they’re contributing to these goals through their annual report. For example, for SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), Ecotone outlines how in 2020, it worked with farmers markets to respond to pandemic closures, supporting them in reopening quickly and starting a new market with the Toronto Farmers Market Collective.
To contribute towards SDG 13 (climate action), Ecotone aims to have a net zero environmental footprint. Their annual reports provide a candid look at what is involved in striving towards sustainability.
“Ecotone held our CO2 steady versus 2019, but missed [our] 5% reduction targets for our direct emissions,” the 2020 annual report reads. It continues: “By purchasing green power from Bullfrog Power we have more than offset our carbon footprint.”
Inspired by Bob Willard, a leading corporate sustainability expert, who publishes his own sustainability reports, Simpson developed a system to track his social impact. Currently, he is tracking his personal and corporate donations, volunteer time, partnerships, spending (to determine spending on local independent suppliers) and other metrics that factor into his environmental footprint.
Determine your indicators and build tracking into your daily routine
When determining what indicators Andrew would use to determine his impact, he looked at what data he would have accessible, such as his own activities, timesheets, emissions from his travel, home operations, and office at the Centre for Social Innovation — which involves tracking electricity, gas and water at those locations.
Simpson uses a spreadsheet to track his hours, (whether he’s working on client work or pro-bono work), mileage (which indicates how he commutes daily using a bike, car, or transit), and finances.
“If you try to do it once a year, it’s just a complete nightmare. The first time I did this, I had to do it retroactively. It was [an immense challenge], but if you do it every day… it’s five minutes a day or less.”
Leveraging your sustainability data into your reporting
Ecotone, which helps companies understand where their gaps are, supported the Centre for Social Innovation earlier this year with a gap analysis of their SDG impact dashboard. According to Simpson, many companies already have important data which speaks to their sustainability, but the key is leveraging this data and incorporating it into their reporting. Sometimes, this simply involves collaborating with a company’s IT team.
In order to determine which indicators to track when working with clients, Simpson helps them first determine which framework they would like to use to track their impact — which may include the SDGs, B Impact Assessment, or Global Reporting Initiative (GPI) frameworks. Based on this, they can determine the metrics and corresponding data they need to collect.
“A lot of indicators are going to come right out of whichever framework they use,” Simpson says. “The value that I can add is helping them choose which ones to focus on, because what you want, in my mind, is an alignment between sustainability strategy and the overall business strategy.”
Creating an actionable intelligence
By using software to track sustainability efforts, Andrew says companies have “actionable intelligence” which can show trends and identify opportunities for improvement. While many companies spend intensive efforts creating sustainability reports annually, he laments that these reports often sit on shelves and don’t have an impact, whereas using software to track data in real time can help companies push sustainability policies that actually impact the business.
While following news about climate change and environmental issues are important, Simpson says it can often leave people feeling overwhelmed.
“People just kind of shut down to a certain extent,” he says. “I think a lot of people just don’t know where to start. It is overwhelming.”
He suggests just taking the first step, which in Ecotone’s process, often involves creating a roadmap.
“[Eventually], we want to get to this beautiful report that measures every single thing that your company does, but you can’t get there tomorrow. So let’s just start with something really easy, and just start to build that into the culture of the company.”