Trenton Miller, Senior Software Engineer
How can a software development company conceivably measure its environmental impact? Here at Commerce Architects, that was the question we found ourselves wrestling with last year. After some consideration, our solution to this problem was to do what we do best - we built software.
In Case You Missed It
Before we dive into this post, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read our last blog on sustainability, it should provide great context for this one. Out of our desire to achieve B-Corp certification came the need for us to measure our business’ environmental impact, which meant capturing information on how much electricity, water, and gas we use and how much emissions we produce when flying for business purposes.
Here’s the problem, when it comes to measuring how much electricity, gas, and water we use, there is no single, reliable source of this data. Roughly half of our employees work from home full time—the other half work in a hybrid situation, sometimes at home, and sometimes at the office.
So let’s break each piece down, starting with the office. Last July, Commerce Architects moved office locations to Spokane’s Catalyst Building, one of North America’s most significant zero-energy buildings. In addition to minimizing energy use, the building utilizes low water flow plumbing fixtures. Due to the zero-energy nature of the Catalyst building, combined with the fact that it is more common for our employees to utilize their home office workspace, we determined that the Catalyst building is a negligible source of our environmental impact as a business.
Not measuring resource output at the Catalyst has allowed us to focus wholly on measuring the environmental impact of our home office spaces. To further simplify this process, we have decided to measure our company’s environmental impact as if all employees worked from home every day and accept any overages from that assumption as a way to overcorrect for the potential of inaccurate estimations. Due to the efficiency of the Catalyst building, we think it is a fair assumption that employees working from home are likely to have a more considerable environmental impact than those working from the office.
We are collecting measurable information about employees’ utility usage by asking them to gather this information from their utility bills and provide data on how much electricity and water they’ve used in a given month. Finally, team members are strongly encouraged to record information about flights they take for company business.
How We Can Measure
Here is where our software expertise comes in handy. To simplify the collection of this data, we built the Dashboard for Energy and Water (DEW) usage application.
DEW is a user portal designed exclusively for our employees to be able to log in and perform three primary functions.
Enter data about their home electricity and water usage.
Enter data about their flights taken on behalf of the business.
View a dashboard displaying their use, how it changes over time and how it compares to their fellow employees.
To ensure we are capturing data on the footprint of a team member’s work hours, we divide the monthly utility measurements by the number of household members and the percentage of time a team member is working (24%).
To not pry into the personal lives of our employees, providing home utility data is optional. However, we recognize that many employees will not offer their home environment impact, so our application will determine the average employee footprint from all data collected and then multiply that number by the number of employees we have. This calculation gives us a reasonably accurate estimation of the energy and water our employees use during their time working for Commerce Architects.
Once the data is in the system, we have a process that performs the needed calculations, determines the total company footprint for electricity, water, and flight emissions, and then outputs that data.
Assumptions And Further Improvements
The data from DEW is an estimation of our company footprint and not a perfect measurement, but at this point, and due to the nature of our work, it is the most accurate way to come up with an estimation. It also engages our employees in the process and provides them with a platform to view and understand their home environmental footprint.
We have many feature improvements we would like to perform, including;
tracking gas usage,
creating green tips and suggestions for our employees to utilize to reduce their environmental impact, and
adding display widgets of company-level usage metrics or gamification elements.
Finally, as a software company, we extensively use servers to run the code we write. These servers use enormous amounts of electricity to run, operate and keep cool. We recognize that this is an essential element of our environmental footprint. As a result, we are researching and hope to begin incorporating tools such as the Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, which will enable us to measure our carbon footprint for the servers and technology we are using as part of our business practices.
The DEW Application Unlocks Opportunities For Commerce Architects
Now that this application is available, we have opened the door to many more opportunities Commerce Architects can pursue. First and foremost, with a rough estimate of our company footprint, we can begin purchasing carbon, renewable energy, and water restoration credits. In fact, we already have! As of the summer of 2022, we have collected data for 2021 Q4 and 2022 Q1. These two quarters combined for an estimated 15,919 kWh of electricity, 78,235 gallons of water, and 1446 miles flown. With this data available, we donated funds to purchase 17 Renewable Energy Certificates, 79 Water Restoration Certificates, and 8 Carbon Offsets. These certificates supported projects such as a wind farm in Breckinridge, Oklahoma, improving water quality in the Middle Deschutes River, and refrigerant management ODS destruction in Canada.
That is only the beginning and the bare minimum of what we want to accomplish with this tool. With data at our fingertips, we now have the means to further our mission of being a zero-impact, environmentally sustainable business.