4 Ways to Remove the Headache of a Sustainability Audit

The mere mention of the word audit is usually enough to send sustainability managers into a spin.

Most are already busy in their day jobs. The thought of countless questions, endless meetings, and trying to tie down all the information needed, is the source of many a headache.

But it shouldn’t be like that. Not only are sustainability audits really useful, but they are also a quick and easy way to understand how the business is performing compared to best practice across a broad range of areas, including energy, water and waste, and employee programs. If anything, they are an opportunity to find long-term savings on utility bills, identify cost-saving behavioural changes, and create new marketing opportunities.

So why is it so hard?

Set clearly defined sustainability goals in advance

A sustainability strategy is a set of actions. It provides a framework through which to focus on investment and drive performance, as well as a starting point for engagement with internal and external stakeholders.

When it comes to getting the business to embrace sustainability, goals are essential. They trigger behaviour, guide focus, and sustain momentum. Without them, the various areas of the company will more than likely be pulling against each other. And achieving net-zero isn’t something that can be done without a coordinated, cross-company approach.

Developing these goals requires a clear strategy over the short, medium, and long term. It means being able to define the business’ sustainability priorities and creating a clear set of guiding principles. Doing so provides a clear roadmap and influences the way employees make decisions.  But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a set of goals is a strategy, it’s not. Think of the goals as the what, and the strategy as the how.

Decide what gets measured and what doesn’t

Metrics are the lifeblood of strategy. They allow a business to take what is an abstract concept and give it form. Perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring the two are aligned because the tangible and measurable nature of KPIs is what directly influences performance.

Going one step further and incentivizing them cements the focus of every employee. Get the balance wrong, however, and the results can harm your business. If the only KPI you implement and incentivize is around reducing electricity usage, there’s a chance you’ll walk into the office one day and find the entire team doing the same things they’ve always done—but with the lights off.

Utility bills are audits saving grace

No energy audit would be complete without a detailed analysis of utility bills. It provides a useful check and balance to the audit process. Bills contain so much information that can help unlock savings through energy efficiency, so being able to harness the information opens the door to significant cost savings.

But that’s easier said than done; producing 12-months’ worth of utility bills for hundreds of sites is likely to be a laborious process and could take weeks, if not months. If your teams have to track down the information from the utilities themselves, it may take even longer. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, when Costco asked its utilities for historic bills in 2003, they were handed them in paper format!

Of course, those are the hard ways to find information. The easy way is to use a Utility Bill Management platform. In just a few clicks, a sustainability manager can hand a years’ worth of bills for the entire portfolio to an auditor. Need we say more?

Automate as much as you can

If your business processes bills manually, simple keystroke errors will compromise your data. Even the best data-entry specialists make errors but, often, the skills of those keying the complex and mundane information lie elsewhere. Give an experienced accounts-payable team member a broad set of utility bills to input the charges, invoice number, and contract terms manually, and they’ll likely make an error somewhere down the line.

If those errors make their way into your sustainability reports, you have a problem. Once the auditor finds it, there’ll be a good number of people involved in fixing and tracking the issue. Plus, of course, it doesn’t look good to make mistakes on sustainability reports. After all, sustainable branding matters. Get the messaging wrong, and your customers may well buy from your competitors.

But it’s a problem that doesn’t need to exist. Automating as much of the process as possible means ensuring your data is as good as it can be. The sooner you do this, the more confidence you’ll have at audit time. An early rollout will make finding information for the audit a breeze. You’ll have a single solution across your global portfolio, and your processes will be more efficient. Wait until a month before the auditors arrive to automate processes and, well you can probably feel that headache coming on already.

Learn more about which sustainability metrics to track with Bill Identities eBook on The Future of Environmental Metrics, download your copy today!

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