Around the world, Excel spreadsheets are used by many businesses to organize their operations internally. But imagine the number of man hours needed to collect and input information on the amount of energy consumed, waste generated and the related carbon footprint for a company operating in not one or two, but 32 countries.
This was the challenge that Hong Kong-listed seafood supplier Pacific Andes Group faced not too long ago when it embarked on its first sustainability report in 2011.
While going through a tedious data-collection process for their report, the firm also discovered gaps and inconsistencies due to human fallibility, and realised that it was not easy analysing the large amount of data gathered to make strategic business decisions.
All these factors led the firm - which owns more than 60 vessels and 20 processing plants worldwide – to turn to automating its data collection and sustainability process last year with an innovative solution developed by Hong Kong-headquartered Turnkey Solutions.
The global network provider of sustainability management and reporting offered Pacific Andes a web-based platform to monitor the resource usage and emission data of its global operations, including its processing plants, offices, warehouses, trucks and vessels.
Pacific Andes group director of public affairs and communications, Geoff Walsh, said that Turnkey stood out as having the requisite industry experience in sustainability data management.
Walsh told Eco-Business in a recent interview: “The industry faces several challenges, including the generally fragmented nature of the seafood supply chain, the impact of disease on cultured species, and retaining continuous control over the provenance of products.”
“In order for us to be effective in our sustainability efforts, we decided that we needed a data management partner to collect and illustrate accurate data as our business continued to expand.”
He explained that using the Turnkey platform is easy as no hardware or software installation is required.
All Pacific Andes’ employees have to do is log in to the online platform from anywhere in the world and input data. Turnkey’s system then automatically standardizes the measurement units, collates and calculates the figures to generate an updated carbon footprint of the company’s operations.
Turnkey Solutions business development director, Ian Catley, said that the platform enables companies to save a significant amount of time.
“You do that on a spreadsheet and you have people sitting for days, ploughing through spreadsheets, pulling numbers, trying to make them fit. We’ve seen some of the most creative and beautiful spreadsheets, but it takes days to administer.
“With our online platform, everyone has the same point of reference. Once you go into the system, you instantly have the view of things as it stands today.”
Pacific Andes, which has a market capitalisation of about HKD$1.88 billion as of end September, has so far trained over 20 employees across its global operations to use the Turnkey system, which Walsh says is “straight-forward, easy to understand, simple to use and customised to our own operations.”
This has helped the firm to raise the game in sustainability reporting, added Walsh, who noted that the industry lacked leadership and transparency in communicating three important areas: the environment, social compliance and product responsibility.
“In 2014, we took our reporting one step further by providing a detailed break-down of all species of fish that we source, and the country and ocean of origin. We are one of the first companies to provide such a level of transparency,” he said.
Turnkey’s platform is designed to comply with the ISO 14001, a set of criteria for an environmental management system, and the Global Reporting Initiative 4 sustainability reporting standards.
Pacific Andes has two Singapore-listed units: Pacific Andes Resources Development and China Fishery Group. It is one of only 19 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange that uses internationally-recognised sustainability reporting frameworks.
In fact, only one in three companies, or 160 out of 537 companies, have put out some form of sustainability reporting, a survey released in July by the Singapore Compact for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the National University of Singapore Business School revealed.
Singapore Compact executive director Christopher Ang underscored the increasing importance of such reporting: “More companies need to communicate and report on their sustainability activities to gain a deeper understanding of their exposure to social and environmental risks, and demonstrate corporate transparency and accountability.”
Part of the reason why so few companies are reporting on the sustainability of their operations might be the lack of a simple and efficient way to collect and analyse data.
Catley noted that Turnkey Solutions and its data management system was set up in 2010 on the realisation that “in Asia, there was little, in fact, no software that allowed companies to do data collection.”
“When companies started to do sustainability reporting, they didn’t have any good way of collecting data to drive their reporting, for example, when it came to reporting how initiatives they had undertaken had been effective in reducing the amount of electricity or water they were using. We saw there was a big gap in the market,” said Catley.
There are still a great many companies who are very happy to talk about sustainability, but then pass responsibility to their marketing department. That is changing now because governments, stock exchanges, shareholders and even consumers are starting to say, ‘We want to work with a company that’s ethical, that does things the right way’.
Ian Catley, Turnkey Solutions business development director
Turnkey’s data management system is now in its fourth iteration. Besides Hong Kong, the company has offices in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Singapore. Apart from Pacific Andes, its customers include the BSR’s Clean Cargo Working Group, a global business-to-business initiative comprised of leading cargo carriers and their customers that represents more than 85 percent of the global ocean trade.
Tony Wines, chief executive officer of Turnkey Solutions, noted that measuring information, such as the amount of emissions and waste material produced as well as the electricity and fuel consumed, allows companies to find out where they can make changes in order to green their supply chains and achieve cost savings.
For example, a company can compare emissions across suppliers. If one factory is doing particularly well, the company can see how this factory’s practices can be implemented across the other factories.
Walsh said Turnkey’s platform enabled the company to report the group’s carbon dioxide emissions for the first time. Using the system, the firm also identified reductions in energy and water consumption due to changes in business operations.
These initiatives helped Pacific Andes reduce electricity consumption and labour requirements by 55 per cent and 25 per cent per tonne of finished product respectively.
Companies can also use Turnkey’s platform to upload qualitative data, such as certification levels, and a CSR and environmental assessment module that documents initiatives, like sponsoring an eco-fashion show or implementing smart label air conditioners across all offices, said Turnkey consultant Serena Li.
This helps companies monitor how they are treating their organisation internally and how they are giving back to society and the environment.
Catley added: “There are still a great many companies who are very happy to talk about sustainability, but then pass responsibility to their marketing department. That is changing now because governments, stock exchanges, shareholders and even consumers are starting to say, ‘We want to work with a company that’s ethical, that does things the right way’.
“The time is right for companies to start sustainability reporting because if they don’t do it now, they will get asked to do it tomorrow and told to do it the day after.”