New solution tracks carbon footprint throughout the product lifecycle

Running manufacturing sites accounts for plenty of carbon emissions, but in reality, it's the process of making and shipping goods that generates emissions, not strictly the buildings themselves. This basic perspective reflects the functionality of the Eco-footprint Management tool from ERP vendor IFS.
By Roberto Michel, Senior Contributing Editor July 1, 2009

Running manufacturing sites accounts for plenty of carbon emissions, but in reality, it’s the process of making and shipping goods that generates emissions, not strictly the buildings themselves. This basic perspective reflects the functionality of the Eco-footprint Management tool from ERP vendor IFS.

The carbon management module was added to the IFS Applications software suite this spring.

The solution aims to track the environmental impacts of a range of production and logistics activities, and also can be applied to use of an end product in the field. According to Pär Hammarström, director of manufacturing solutions for IFS, the tool can be configured to capture environmental impact data for processes and products in much the same way the suite’s financial functions capture cost against activities. This sets it apart from simpler approaches that extrapolate an emissions tally from utility payments.

"We modeled this the same way we did with the accounting system," Hammarström says, "because if you think about it, every process or activity that has an economic impact usually also has an environmental impact. It’s the same principle."

Many factors—regulations covering carbon emissions in Europe, and a proposed U.S. cap & trade policy, as well as green mandates from large buyers—have manufacturers turning to software companies for carbon management functionality. Besides a host of start-up vendors in carbon management, ERP vendors increasingly offer the ability to track and manage greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. Besides IFS, ERP giant SAP made a move in this area by acquiring specialist vendor Clear Standards earlier this year, and Microsoft recently unveiled emissions tracking functionality for its ERP product line.

The IFS tool features a dashboard and drill down reports that examine emissions and other environmental trends, and can export data to Microsoft Excel. Because the tool can configure down to individual activities and product lines, says Hammarström, not only do users get high-level trends, "but if you want to see [which processes or products] are the worst contributors" to emissions, the tool can pinpoint that.

IV Produkt, a Swedish manufacturer of environmentally friendly air handling units is an early adopter. The company is using Eco-footprint Management for compliance and internal tracking purposes, as well as to project the environmental impact of its end products in the field. According to Leif Svensson, production chief for IV Produkt, the ability to configure the tool to calculate the environmental impact of end products is one of its key benefits.

"Today there is big environmental awareness in our industry," Svensson said in an email interview. "A tool like this can be a big help in showing the environmental benefits of using our products. We also think this gives us an advantage in the market."

For internal improvement goals, the tool’s ability to assign environmental impact supports continuous improvement. The tool, says Svensson, "will give us the opportunity to improve our environmental goals according to energy consumption, and to break down the goals in relation to smaller individual processes."