6 Types of Sustainability Software that Meet Any Company's Needs

It's been clear for some time that sustainability is moving from the periphery toward the center of many companies' strategic agendas, and that IT systems and software will play a crucial role in accelerating that movement.

But what's been missing — until now — is an overarching framework for understanding who the stakeholders (and buyers) of IT-for-sustainability (ITfS) systems are, what motivations and barriers they face, and which categories of products, services, and solutions can help them. With the research report that we will publish next month, Forrester takes a giant step towards providing that framework. Based on interviews with sustainability leaders at more than a dozen large global enterprises, we developed three company archetypes of sustainability adoption (see Figure 1):


Marketer: Improving branding and transparency with advanced reporting. Companies that fall into this category are either early in their sustainability maturity or just do what they have to do when it comes to regulatory compliance.

However, in common is that marketers use sustainability primarily to drive more awareness and transparency, which has a positive side effect on the company's branding and positioning. IT's role is helping to gather and report non-financial information, but these companies drive sustainability principally from their marketing and CSR departments.

Transformer: Improving the bottom line with positive sustainability impacts. Companies in this category go further and use sustainability as a lever for increasing operational efficiency.

Lower energy consumption decreases both costs and carbon footprint. Hence, sustainability for these companies is seen as an opportunity to lower a company's cost base. IT is helping to identify opportunities to reduce costs, but is subject to its own improvement too.

Companies in this category are driving sustainability investments on an enterprisewide basis, driven by the management of lines-of-business and owners of key processes like supply chain and real estate.

Innovator: Improving the top line with a sustainable portfolio approach. Companies that fall into this category are the most mature and have shifted their approach from cost to revenue.

Innovators are looking to improve their top line through a sustainable product/services portfolio approach to differentiate better in their existing markets or enter new ones. IT is helping here not only to design and produce greener products from scratch, but also to better manage the entire portfolio via integrated analytics and dashboards. The boards and executive officers of companies in this category are pushing sustainability strategy from the top of the organization.

On the supply side of the equation, we identify six categories of ITfS solutions, each aimed at a different set of customer stakeholders and seeking to solve a different facet of the corporate sustainability challenge: 

Sustainability performance and project management (SPPM) software. For executive roles. Improving understanding of corporate sustainability performance and tracking progress of sustainability projects. Example providers include MetricStream and SAP.

Enterprise carbon and energy management (ECEM) software. For executive and operational roles. Monitoring, managing, and reporting corporate carbon footprint and resource consumption. Example vendors are CA, Enablon, Enviance, ENXSuite, Hara, SAP, Verisae, and others.

Sustainable product development software. For R&D and product management roles. Improving the design and development of greener products. Example vendors are Autodesk, PTC, and Siemens.

Collaboration and communications systems. For information workers, IT, and HR roles. Helping reduce travel and improve workforce efficiency by using collaboration and communications technologies. Example vendors are Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

Smart infrastructure management software. For facilities, operations, and building management roles. Software helping manage smart infrastructure and improving utilization of hard assets such as buildings and vehicles. Example vendors are GE, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric, and Siemens.

We'll have more from our research in future posts. In the meantime, are you using IT-for-sustainability software in your company, and where do you fall in these categories? Let us know in the comments below.