28 Mar 2018
Herzliya, Israel
Communication for sustainability

As more regulators, investors, and customers ask critical questions about the sustainable practices of companies, those businesses need data to support their environmental stewardship claims. This is not always straightforward, and data collection often becomes a mess of Excel spreadsheets, a departmental scramble, and a hiring of expensive external consultants. ECO-OS is the first cloud-based operating system to empower companies of all sizes to collect environmental data on its own.

Before founding ECO-OS, Noam Gressel was working as one of those external consultants. A pioneer in the sustainable management and cleantech field, he saw the amount of time consumed by manual data input.

“We looked back at our Gantt Charts and figured out that 70% of our time was being wasted on very basic data collection and quality checking,” Gressel explains. “Humans are not good at this. Machines do it much better.”

That may be true, but when Gressel and his team looked, they could not find a software explicitly created to collect and process environmental sustainability data. In September 2015, they founded ECO-OS to fill the gap, and commercially launched their operating system one year later.

Big data and environmental sustainability:

When it comes to the effects of climate change, qualitative anecdotes are not enough.

Businesses need hard data on their environmental impact, and this comes through the fine measurement of metrics such as air pollution, energy consumption, hazardous materials use, and more. This data is what ECO-OS enables its clients to capture and contextualize.

The operating system captures data in a few ways, including direct network connections between a client’s sensors and ECO-OS, and the ability to semi-automatically upload spreadsheets containing environmental data. The result is a single source for a company’s entire environmental data, with a tool that presents it in a way that sustainability managers, regulators, and auditors can use for reporting. Gressel calls ECO-OS the “single point of truth for sustainability professionals.”

Taking a deep dive into its data has allowed companies to correlate environmental impact with social and safety benefits. For example, in working with power utilities, Gressel says they noticed a correlation between the increase in renewable energy and a reduction in injury rates. Anecdotally, this makes sense: photovoltaic panels are static and contain no hazardous materials, as opposed to other means of energy production, such as coal plants.

“The reduction of injury rates can now be included in the calculation for the ROI on renewable energy,” explains Gressel. “Everybody in the industry knew that this correlation existed, but they had never put numbers on it. That is problematic.”

Digitizing data collection:

Previously, Gressel says these kinds of analytics were reserved only for companies that could afford to hire high-end consulting firms. By automating and integrating with a company’s existing workflow, ECO-OS makes quality data available for much smaller operations.

Still, there are further roadblocks, including the reality that the sustainability field has been slow to digitize. “Environmental and social data was so undervalued, and was just waiting to be digitized,” says Gressel. “Once [digitization] happens, it leapfrogs the effectiveness of what you can achieve.”

The World Economic Forum suggests using data to monitor and improve the environmental impact of supply chains is one of the key ways digitization could make companies more sustainable.

Since launching the operating system commercially 18 months ago, ECO-OS has taken on 30 clients, and 250 sites, primarily in western and northern Europe, and, most recently, in South Africa. A desire to improve their environmental impact is not always the first goal of companies, and often ECO-OS is brought on more as a tool to manage data. “Some clients are quite clearly overwhelmed by the barrage of data requests, and any system that will allow them to cut that clutter is welcome,” Gressel explains.  

Creating circular economies using data:

From Gressel’s perspective, the next big environmental leap is to close the material flow loop — to create circular economies where every waste or byproduct becomes a resource. This is what ECO-OS is working on now.

Imagine a mining company that is producing liquid waste containing a high concentration of certain metals. Rather than that company sourcing a way to dispose of or process that effluent, ECO-OS envisions a closed loop system where that mining company is matched with another company — say a water processing plant — that is interested in extracting the metal components from the liquid.  

“This could become the Tinder for sustainability,” says Gressel, referring to the popular dating app. As long as a company was an ECO-OS client, they would have the ability to be paired with another industry who could utilize their waste.

To foster this sustainability matchmaking, ECO-OS has developed partnerships, including one with the European Water Stewardship (EWS). The initiative works with organizations and companies such as Coca-Cola and Heineken to reduce their water usage. Prior to partnering with ECO-OS, EWS had expertise on circular economies and water conservation, but no technology that they could recommend companies use to track their progress. Partnering with ECO-OS gives them this access.

“[ECO-OS] lets you build a reference scheme for your performance that you can use to continuously improve on, and this is an important aspect of water stewardship,” says Tom Vereijken, Director of EWS. “It can often be very difficult to create a business case for sustainability initiatives, and having data and specific performance indicators make this easier.”

Vereijken says this business case is made easier still by the fact that ECO-OS is a lower cost solution, and that it allows for the benchmarking of sustainability efforts worldwide. “You need tools available that show your footprint and where you can progress, and they need to be presented in a really accessible way. That is exactly what Noam’s company offers,” he says.

External data lets companies compare and stress test:

In addition to the internal data that comes from monitoring a company’s operations, ECO-OS also helps companies recognize the external factors that could affect their success.

Companies can use ECO-OS’ stress test feature to analyze how their business performance may be impacted by the trends and issues facing the geographies in which they work. Take Cape Town, for example, where residents are flirting dangerously with a city-wide water shutoff as a result of climate change-induced droughts and poor water management.

“If you’re a beverage company in Cape Town, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are as a business if there is no water,” says Gressel. “ECO-OS considers these risks in your environment, and lets you understand if your company is vulnerable.”

Assessing external data that comes from government bodies and corporate sustainability reports — as well as the anonymized data gathered from ECO-OS clients — the operating system has created a series of competitive benchmarks. Companies can use this data to compare environmental metrics, such as whether its carbon footprint is comparable to similar operations. Once it has contextualized its own operations, a company can use this data to improve its performance.

Beyond benchmarking, ECO-OS is also in the midst of integrating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) so clients can measure their progress towards reaching those targets. “We are slowly translating the environmental and social data from corporations into SDG language,” Gressel explains.

By taking away the monotony of data input and collection, Gressel and his team want to make it as easy as possible for clients to focus on analyzing the environmental performance data that comes out the other end.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of behavioral issues we need to overcome for businesses to be more sustainable,” Gressel says. The ECO-OS operating system is offering a solution through good design.



Learn more about ECO-OS through their website or Facebook page.  

Photos: Courtesy of ECO-OS.

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
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