Sustainability dashboards such as the Sustainability Dashboard Tools are now used in various types of facilities, from schools and office buildings to churches and convention centers.
For those who are unfamiliar with the technology, a sustainability dashboard is designed to help administrators monitor and manage the use of such resources as electricity, natural gas, fuel for company automobiles, water, and other “metrics” in order to reduce consumption and, along with it, related costs.
These dashboard systems are relatively complex software programs. However, while they are complex, some of the latest versions are fairly easy to learn and use. Further, many companies offer training programs that help guide users through the system. But, like any software program, it does very little until it gets input and instructions from you.
The first step in using these systems is to become familiar with the technology. Some dashboards are designed to work on any desktop or similar computer. You will most likely need to create a login.
Once online, you should find that the more advanced dashboards are very intuitive and typically easy to use. However, as referenced earlier, it is often an astute idea to ask the service provider to familiarize you with the system and how it works. We have found that not only is this helpful, but it also helps administrators uncover more of the benefits, power, and potential savings that can be derived by using the dashboard.
The next step is to start gathering bills from utility companies, water companies, and other vendors. Many utility companies will have this information readily available online. The initial information that is generally needed, often referred to as the “low hanging fruit,” is the amount of water, gas, electricity, etc. used for each month and, very important, how much water, gas, electricity, etc. was used.
Further, a few months of this data will not suffice. What is best is to go back two or three years so a solid benchmark is established, plus patterns and trends can be noted. For instance, one pattern we would expect in a school is for energy and water use to be higher from September to June and then drop off significantly in July and August. But, what if one or more metrics do not come down during one or more summer months? Administrators would want to know why this happened to see if there is a possible problem and if so, how it can be corrected and avoided in the future.
Also, you should note trends. While the cost of energy may be increasing, the amount of energy, for example, used in many facilities tends to remains about the same over time. What if both costs and usage are increasing? Once again, this information may indicate a problem or very simply energy consumption is increasing in the facility. In this case, using a dashboard system may be able to better monitor consumption and, in so doing, find ways to reduce it.
In addition to recognizing patterns and trends, this benchmark serves as a reference point. Putting the dashboard program to work and incorporating systems and procedures that reduce consumption, administrators can track their progress, reduce consumption of key natural resources, and reduce their environmental footprint.
While this might seem like a lot of data entry, it typically moves along fairly quickly. In fact, in some cases, information can be downloaded into the dashboard system, making entry essentially accomplished for you.
The next step in the process is simply to keep entering data each month. In order for the system to be most effective, and help facilities reduce consumption and cut operating costs, this must be an ongoing process. However, once the original data has been entered, updating the system each month is typically very quick and easy.
After a few months, it is time to start referencing the dashboard’s charts and information. This should give you a very thorough and concise picture of how much energy, water, and other resources are being used in the facility. Most managers find this is the first time that all of this information has been presented to them in one place, at one time, and in an easy to understand format.
Next, look for ways to reduce consumption. Since we began with “low hanging fruit,” that is a good place to start in our efforts to be more sustainable and reduce operating costs. For instance, many managers are surprised at just how much water their facility consumes. On some dashboard systems, tips and suggestions will be provided to help reduce water consumption as well as the other metrics listed.
Once reductions are reported on the sustainability dashboard, it encourages administrators to find more ways to reduce consumption and opens the door wider to looking into other metrics as well. This is when you know your investment in a sustainability dashboard is truly paying off.
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies