Preventing climate change is obviously a formidable challenge – one that is global in scale and is not amenable to easy solutions. An interesting characteristic of this problem is the extent to which it is multidisciplinary in nature. For example, it has economic, legal, political, scientific and technological dimensions. Political pundits can comment on the arguments surrounding the Waxman-Markey climate change bill on Capitol Hill. Business managers can discuss how to achieve carbon reduction in their organizations. Lawyers and accountants can opine on materiality, assurance, and the need for effective guidance. Technologists can devise better ways to generate energy and improve efficiency. Investors (and taxpayers) can fund it.
That multi-disciplinary flavor was apparent to some degree in the cross-section of presentations and panel discussions at the Enterprise Carbon Accounting event held recently by Groom Energy and Greentech Media in San Francisco. CA was part of that event as an exhibitor, and we took part in one of the many panel discussions. Practitioners working in several professions participated in the event and provided perspectives based on their specialties and interests. A relatively new aspect of the climate change discussion, readily apparent at this event – and perhaps fitting for a debut in Silicon Valley – was the role of enterprise software applications. Specialized software has the potential to become important in helping to account for and manage carbon.
Each discipline contributes a valuable set of competencies and techniques and, to be sure, a bit of baggage. Politics, for example, provides a powerful means of setting a public agenda, a way of building alliances and a means of enacting legislation that can have widespread and tangible effects. But it has baggage too: Decisions about the effectiveness of a carbon tax versus a cap and trade system can be determined as much by the taste of the word “taxation” in the political arena as the real advantages or deficiencies of carbon tax as an approach.
In another example, life cycle analysis experts have been focused on creating the GHG Protocol standard for product and supply chain accounting. Pankaj Bhatia of the WRI and GHG Protocol Initiative told the symposium of an interesting episode during which the participants – who used different approaches – were reportedly so vehement in their arguments and so emotionally tied to their own viewpoints that an email had to be sent out to place the discussion on hold. I hope they resumed quickly.
Software can contribute tremendously too. It can help bring consistency, security, auditability and automation and can assist by accelerating time-consuming tasks. The software industry also has its baggage, such as a historical tendency to become weak or complex with scale and a reputation for taking time to show value. It is incumbent upon those of us in the software industry to provide high value products, as well to create software that can be implemented quickly.
So now software – among the other perspectives and disciplines – is to play its part in the management of energy and carbon in the enterprise. As is apparent in other fields, this is a time of challenge, opportunity and change.
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