December 2, 2009
Five Ways to Use (Green) Data to Make Money
If you put an energy meter inside a home and show people total usage in real time, a miraculous thing happens: they use about 10 percent less energy. The simple act of placing data in front of people changes their behavior. Data makes people smarter and inspires them to make small changes to save money and energy. You can use this powerful tool in business not only to cut costs, but to drive innovation and revenues.
Some are calling this phenomenon the "Prius effect," referring to how people respond when they see real-time fuel-efficiency data while driving the popular Toyota hybrid. As the described it, the Prius effect "can change driving in startling ways, making drivers conscious of their driving habits, then adjusting them to compete for better mileage." Similarly, making footprint data more accessible to those managers that can do something about it can create real value. As they say, you can't manage what you don't measure. It's amazing how often I hear that phrase — and how often people need to hear it. Tech leaders will tell you that one of the best possible solutions to the rapid increase in energy use and cost in data centers is simple: Add the power bill to the CIO's budget!
You can put your green data to use in five ways that will help your bottom line:
1. Saving money — a lot of it. As we've seen, if you give your operational people information on resource use, they will be inspired to find ways to cut back.
2. Driving internal competition. Share footprint data broadly and transparently and you'll see how badly people like to win. When PepsiCo Chicago ran a floor-by-floor energy reduction competition, the results were staggering. In one three-month period, electricity use dropped 17% (and paper use 22%). Energy use on the winning floor plummeted 31%. Factory heads at a number of companies have told me that they'd rather miss their financial targets than their green or energy goals — it's just too embarrassing to be at the bottom of the list.
3. Answering your customers' pressing questions. Wal-Mart, along with many other companies, is asking suppliers and vendors very tough questions about their environmental and social impacts. Those that can gather their data and tell the best story will get the most shelf space and mind space (see my previous post on Wal-Mart's eco-ratings for more on this point).
4. Prioritizing initiatives. Resources remain very tight — you don't want to spend money on the wrong things. With all the pressure to go green, it's easy to get lost in the weeds and pursue avenues that may not yield the most benefit. When companies really look at their full value-chain impacts, they're very often surprised at the results. Green leader Stonyfield Farm discovered that 95% of the ecological damage from its packaging occurred during production and distribution. So the company has made light-weighting (which is what it sounds like) the top priority — use less stuff and the footprint goes down. Stonyfield has made the deliberate choice to not use a recyclable, yet heavier, plastic; this counterintuitive and seemingly non-green choice makes the most environmental and fiscal sense given the real data.
5. Finding new market openings and focusing innovation. Procter & Gamble went through a similar lifecycle exercise and made a similar discovery about its laundry products. The vast majority of energy use was not in sourcing, production, or distribution, but in the use of the detergent in homes. And the majority of that was not the washing machine turning, but heating the water. This insight led to Tide Coldwater, a reformulated product to help customers wash in cool water, using less energy and saving money. Coldwater is one of P&G's seven original "sustainable innovation products" that generated $2 billion in sales in the first year.
Operating your business without environmental and social metrics leaves part of your management "dashboard" blank. How well can you run your company without complete information? But don't worry — you're not that far behind if you don't have a perfect handle on your value-chain footprint, or even your direct impacts. It's getting easier and easier to gather this data, and you can accomplish a great deal with even "back of the envelope" calculations (more on this in my next post).
[This blog was originally posted on Harvard Business Online]