Software special: Critical analysis

8th October 2013


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IEMA

Five GHG accounting software solutions are put through their paces by IEMA members

To test the carbon accounting solutions offered by some of the leading software vendors, the environmentalist invited five companies – Best Foot Forward, CRedit360, Ecometrica, Greenstone and PE International – to showcase their products before a small group of IEMA members. The vendors were asked to demonstrate the capabilities of their software using data and a client scenario developed specifically for the review, and IEMA members have provided their feedback on each.

Testing capability

For the review, we created Demo plc, a global ICT company with 20 locations across 10 countries, including the UK, Australia, China and the US. Demo collected varying amounts of business data at each location between September 2010 and August 2012, using mainly spreadsheets, and the company now requires a software solution to move the process online. Vendors were asked to upload the data for all countries and indicators, configuring their solution in line with Demo’s organisational structure.

They were then required to provide: a profile of overall greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions across different levels of the business and over different time periods; a profile of resource consumption, for example, kWh of electricity; and an intensity ratio for both the consumption and GHG emissions totals using annual global employee figures.

The providers also had to generate reports for Demo that complied with several mandatory and voluntary reporting schemes, such as: UK mandatory GHG reporting; UK carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme; the Bilan Carbon report in France; and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

Our reviewers (see below) gave their verdicts on the five offerings, commenting on what they perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of each solution.

Strengths

The review panel describes Footprint Reporter from Best Foot Forward (BFF) as a “good entry level software solution”. “It will do what most companies need when they are starting out in carbon management,” says John Buckley. Both Kimberley Greed and Clare Topping agree that its simplicity is a key strength of the BFF solution.

“Comprehensive” and “customisable” are words used by the reviewers to describe the carbon accounting solution from CRedit360. “For a company seeking an integrated approach with the potential for expansion into other areas, this is certainly a more suitable system than some of the other solutions,” says Greed.

Topping comments: “The best feature of the software is the variety of ways to present reports. The degree to which reports and dashboards can be customised will be of interest to organisations with a range of different stakeholders. This is for organisations requiring good quality, robust emissions reporting.”

Buckley highlights the level of assurance provided by the Our Impacts solution offered by Ecometrica. “The vendor’s experts provide quality assurance for the inputs and the audit-ready output is verified by PwC,” he says. “Other nice features include comparison of year-to-date results on a year-by-year basis, so you can see how well the company is performing compared with the same period last year.”

Greed says Ecometrica’s software demonstrated an impressive balance between functionality and simplicity. The best features, according to Topping, are the questionnaire-style data entry point, which makes it easy to upload data, and the simple layout.

Greenstone has just revamped its carbon accounting software and its new “tiles” layout takes its design cues from Windows 8. “It’s easy to use and has good functionality,” says Buckley. Topping says: “For those looking for a comprehensive piece of software with all the essential functions and a simple, smart user interface – this is it. The ability to use the software on a tablet is probably the standout feature, which means the layout is uncluttered.”

Greed agrees: “For busy people who are constantly on the move or who are entering data while onsite, the ability to do so on smartphones and tablets makes life a lot easier. Greenstone’s solution has some really unique and useful properties that set it apart from anything else we saw.”

Topping, meanwhile, found the “drag and drop” feature of the PE International software, called SoFi, particularly useful. “This is the outstanding aspect, enabling users to easily configure reports and customise dashboards.” Greed focuses on the solution’s ability to integrate with building management systems and meters. “Overall, this is an impressive solution,” she concludes.

…and weaknesses

Price will be a major consideration for organisations seeking to purchase carbon accounting software. The average price of an Ecometrica solution for a large company ranges from £20,000 to £30,000 a year, depending on its size and global footprint. The price for smaller organisations is fixed at £12,000.

Greenstone confirms an annual cost of £20,000 to £30,000 for a company similar to Demo plc, while the annual licence fee for the base system from CRedit360 (for up to 50 users) costs £30,000. The PE International pricing model for its base solution (for 20 to 30 users) is split between an annual fee of £8,400 and a one-off implementation cost of around £12,500.

There is concern among the panel that the price of some of the products will be prohibitive for some firms. In that respect, Footprint Reporter from BFF scores highly, with the basic package costing £5,000–£12,500 a year depending on the number of users and conversion factors installed; the relative low ongoing price of PE International’s SoFi software also attracts praise.

Other factors, however, are important. The reviewers believe that because Footprint Reporter is targeted mainly at small and medium-sized enterprises, it is less sophisticated compared to some of the other solutions.

Buckley considers the CRedit360 solution more complex to use, warning that it may take more investment in staff training to set up. Topping, meanwhile, comments that the GHG reporting capabilities of the software from PE International does not appear as rigorous as some of its competitors’ products – though of the five products reviewed, only PE’s and CRedit360’s receive a gold standard from the CDP.

The solution from Ecometrica is based on financial reporting models, which could be a potential drawback, according to the panel, as it might not appeal to all sustainability professionals, even though it should ease the process of including GHG data in companies’ annual reports and accounts. Similarly, the Windows 8 design of the Greenstone solution may not be universally embraced, given that users’ reactions to the new Microsoft operating system have been mixed, with many opting to stick with the previous version, Windows 7.

To read the reviews in full click here.


The reviewers:

John Buckley, managing director of consultancy Carbon Footprint, a corporate IEMA member

Kimberley Greed, AIEMA, an environment consultant at Workplace Law

Clare Topping, AIEMA, the energy and sustainability manager at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust

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