Microsoft follows Access Accounting’s lead with environmental accounting functionality for the mid-market.

16th February 2009

The pursuit of environmental accounting capability in the mid-market is gathering pace following Microsoft’s announcement last week that it is releasing an Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009. The new toolset, enables midsize businesses to capture data needed to measure key environmental indicators related to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as part of everyday business processes. It follows on from a similar initiative by the UK software house Access Accounting, which launched its own capability almost exactly a year ago.  Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor reports.

Over the last few years there has much discussion about environmental accounting, prompted in part by increasing regulation coupled with consumer and employee pressure for businesses to be more environmentally aware.  To date the debate has largely been theoretical with companies of all sizes left wondering how to implement even the simplest measures and bereft of the tools and guidance necessary to support such an initiative.

It is a situation familiar to John Beech of Access Accounting. He said, "When we looked at the means by which customers could easily and cost effectively measure carbon emissions, it was clear there was a lack of practical tools out there. It soon became apparent that the existing infrastructure of Access Dimensions offered a perfect solution, as it already held most of the data necessary to calculate the carbon footprint. All that was needed was for our development teams to incorporate the DEFRA and Carbon Trust figures to close the loop on measurement. "

However, the environmental bandwagon is gathering pace and the entry of Microsoft into this space marks an important turning point for the mid-market giving environmental pioneers such as Access Accounting more legitimacy in this increasingly important market space.

With the new Microsoft solution, (available to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 customers at no additional charge) companies can collect auditable data on four of the core environmental performance indicators identified by the Global Reporting Initiative for energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, including direct on-premise fuel consumption and the carbon footprint of their power usage with utilities and other vendors. Based on this information, organisations can monitor their carbon footprint and institute business practices that are both environmentally and economically sustainable, minimising their exposure to fluctuating energy costs, for example.

Talking to FSN, Jennifer Pollard, Senior Product Manager, Microsoft Dynamics said that the new functionality introduced in Dynamics AX would be migrated across to Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP.   “We are seeing a paradigm shift in sustainability away from squandering shareholder value and instead looking at the business through the lens of sustainability, running business more efficiently.  This launch marks a sea change within business applications helping them to capture the information on the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ in their business applications,” she enthused.

The new dashboard takes advantage of Microsoft Dynamics’ RoleTailored design, which equips employees with a personalized Role Center based on the information they need to do their job. The dashboard itself serves as the environmental manager’s Role Center, delivering the information crucial to performing that job. These reports can be easily surfaced within employees’ individual Role Centers within Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 or other familiar productivity tools, such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.

Alongside the launch of the dashboard Microsoft also released detailed instructions on how businesses can implement environmental management accounting principles within Microsoft Dynamics GP and Microsoft Dynamics NAV to gain greater visibility into their environmental footprint. The resource complements Environmental Management Accounting Guidance issued for Microsoft Dynamics AX in July 2008.

Within the product users can create and track their own greenhouse gas inventory to understand their environmental impact and how that might affect their business in a carbon market. For example, it explains how to capture environmental data that is auditable, and based on say, energy consumption, view the carbon dioxide equivalent of emissions automatically in the dashboard which calculates the carbon dioxide conversions and presents the information in an easy-to-read graph.

Access Accounting which includes carbon emissions functionality within the latest version of its Access Dimensions software (also at no extra charge) provides pragmatic guidance on how to collect and use environmental data in its flagship product in a series of useful on-line demos.

Access Accounting’s John Beech, adds, "There is a growing financial and moral imperative to reduce carbon emissions. Increasingly taxes are being levied on high carbon emitting business activities, so the ability to manage them down makes financial sense. There are softer benefits to reducing carbon emissions too. Companies are more attractive to their multi-national customers, employees and the communities in which they operate. The challenge has always been where to start. The answer is measurement; after all you can’t manage what you can’t measure."

“Businesses will find new opportunities for cost savings and improving operational performance by getting a fresh perspective on their operations,” said Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president, Microsoft Business Solutions. “In many cases, midsize organizations can’t retain dedicated consultants to audit their environmental performance. By integrating groundbreaking environmental performance management capabilities with Microsoft Dynamics AX, we are bringing that critical information directly to customers as part of their everyday business management.”

But a recent carbon accounting survey by Access Accounting has highlighted that more needs to be done to make carbon-reduction initiatives a priority in the workplace. 64% of respondents do recognise that their company should monitor carbon emissions, however only 39% of businesses are actively trying to monitor their carbon output.

Kevin Misselbrook, Customer Services Director for Access Accounting said, “There is a significant disconnect between employees who believe their companies should monitor carbon emissions and companies who are actually doing this. The biggest challenge for business is how they actually start this process and who should be responsible.”

Misselbrook continued, “There is certainly confusion on where the responsibility of reducing carbon lies within a company. Part of this confusion is because companies do not have a carbon emissions strategy, however the big challenge for many is where to start and at what cost. The answer is measurement; after all you can’t manage what you can’t measure. By using tools to count carbon, companies can identify a clear strategy to reduce their footprint.”