How to measure employee carbon footprints: Part 2: Putting the concept to the test

This series of articles describes an IBM® project created to track employees' carbon emissions, using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) solution with IBM WebSphere® Business Monitor, IBM WebSphere ESB, IBM WebSphere Integration Developer, and IBM WebSphere Process Server. This article examines the results of the pilot project based on the concepts described in Part 1. This content is part of the IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal.

Hicham Badawi (hbadawi@us.ibm.com), Development Manager, WebSphere Services, IBM

author photoHicham Badawi is a certified IT Architect and Practice/Development Manager within the IBM Software Services for Websphere Organization (ISSW). Hicham has led many enterprise-wide software development and deployment projects. Hicham is also one of the innovators and thought leaders in the "Green" space within IBM Software Group.



20 May 2009

Also available in Chinese Spanish

Introduction

Part 1 of this article series explained how many organizations in the world today, large and small, private and public, are trying to understand their environmental impact. In doing so, many have solicited expertise and counsel from companies who have been trailblazers in this space -- such as IBM -- as they look at every aspect of their operations, including but not limited to supply chain management, manufacturing, logistics, energy management, and waste management. Each area has a set of defined and measurable green house gas (GHG) emissions, on which the majority of these organizations tend to focus their resources and energy.

In the first article, we leveraged our SOA foundational products to create a solution to track an organization's employee carbon emissions and juxtapose the data against other key performance indicators, such as financial goals and metrics. All collected data was rolled out to a dashboard intended to give a decision maker an overview of how the organization is performing against ecological and financial goals, as well as a view of the overall impact the company's workforce has on the environment.

It is well understood that in the exercise of their functions, employees have a significant impact on CO2 emissions. Whether they telecommute, work from a traditional office, or travel to meet with customers, employees have direct and indirect emissions associated with their activities. This paper articulates what those emissions are, and suggests how you can measure, track, and manage them. Our solution is based on an open SOA architecture that allows for not only measuring the carbon emissions, but also tracking other key performance indicators that are vital to running any successful business.

To put our solution to the test, we decided to run a small scale project with volunteers from two separate organizations, one in the U.S. and the other in Europe. The sample population amounted to about 100 or so employees, evenly split between the two geographies. The volunteers were asked to log in their travel, commute, and telecommute data once a week for a period of 5 weeks, during which we also tracked how the organization was doing against one of its key performance indicators (namely consultant utilization). In addition, data for IT infrastructure usage for each consulting project was also loaded into the application.

Figure 1 illustrates the functional architecture that was deployed for this small scale project.

Figure 1. Functional architecture
Figure 1. Functional architecture

During the first four weeks of the project, the volunteers were asked to log their data as is without any attempt to influence their behavior. This was done to build awareness and get the participating population to make the reporting task part of their weekly routine. Once they became comfortable with the concept and the tool, we started encouraging that they observe some measure of conservation. We also made sure that each individual's productivity and effectiveness were not impacted. Here are some of the conservation measures that were promoted:

  • Telecommute if it is feasible and makes sense for your personal situation.
  • Consider riding public transportation, if it is safe and convenient.
  • Carpool if possible.
  • Use only that equipment which is needed, with regard to to laptops, servers, and so on.

Pilot results

Figure 2 shows that the per person carbon footprint measurement decreased by 50% from week 1 to week 5 for the U.S. portion of the project. This is explained by some clear and measurable trends that are best illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 2. Carbon footprint per person, week-to-week comparison
Figure 2. Carbon footprint per person, week-to-week comparison

Figure 3 shows the observed trends in commute patterns that led to this significant decrease. As evidenced from the data shown in the figure, encouraging the use of less carbon-heavy modes of transportation can have the overall effect of decreasing a sample population's overall footprint. The data shows that for the first four weeks, even though fewer people telecommuted and more people worked directly from an office. But the increase in public transportation ridership and the elimination of travel more than offset the aforementioned increase. When conservation measures were rolled out on week 5, the participating population rose to the challenge and significantly reduced its carbon emissions by taking the recommendations made to heart.

Figure 3. Commute type analysis
Figure 3. Commute type analysis

One of the main objectives that we had set out to achieve was to run the project without impacting productivity or business objectives. This was definitely achieved, as evidenced by Figure 4 below for the U.S. portion of the project.

Figure 4. Consultant utilization
Figure 4. Consultant utilization

In Europe, similar decreases in carbon emissions were also measured. Figure 5 shows that the per person carbon emissions decreased by 40% over a three week period of data collection in Europe. To some, this was quite surprising, arguing that the European sample population was predisposed to having a lower emissions footprint by virtue of the generally high usage of the excellent public transportation systems to which they have access.

Figure 5. Carbon footprint per person, week-to-week comparison
Figure 5. Carbon footprint per person, week-to-week comparison

While the European commute patterns are different from what was experienced in the U.S., they are still a viable combination that can help significantly reduce an organization’s carbon emissions as shown in Figure 6.

In this case, the organization is more traditional in the sense that it requires a higher office presence. But the data shows that, as the weeks went by, more and more people commuted using methods with the smallest possible emissions footprint.

Figure 6. Commute type week to week comparison
Figure 6. Commute type week to week comparison

Summary

The limited deployment of our solution has shown that it is possible to closely manage, track, and even significantly reduce an organization's carbon emissions while still maintaining a high level of productivity, and meeting previously set business objectives. One could argue that the implementation period was too short and that the sample population was too small to conclusively deduce that it is possible to lower emission and still reach aggressive financial goals. These would be valid points to argue.

But one thing that is undeniable from this experiment is that when people are presented with data that scientifically represents the impact their behavior has on their immediate surroundings, it sparks a willingness to enhance the positives and mitigate whatever negatives might exist. By creating an interactive emissions dashboard, everyone can clearly see how they can improve their environmental behavior. This type of approach can help any organization understand its labor force's impact on the environment as it is today, and how it can take mitigation steps to help reduce that impact.

Finally, this solution was built on out of the box IBM WebSphere SOA foundation products, namely WebSphere Modeler, WebSphere Process Server, and WebSphere Business Monitor. The skills of our consultants in these products and in this space can help your organization take on this solution and expand upon it to create something that fits your specific requirements.

The next installment in this series will discuss how to take what was done here and create a next version architecture that is:

  • Visual and intuitive in its reporting.
  • Modular, extendable, and smart!
  • More precise in its emission calculations.
  • Location aware and dynamic, without the need for UI and data entry.

Stay tuned!

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