February 10, 2009

News Update - Microsoft Launches Environmental Sustainability Dashboard

Microsoft has just announced the release of an Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics. Dynamics is a set of software products designed for businesses; specifically, it offers "financial, customer relationship and supply chain management solutions". The general selling point is that Dynamics "helps businesses work more effectively".

The Environmental Sustainability Dashboard, like the rest of Dynamics, helps a company track its operations, but in this case, it focuses on inputs and outputs related to the environment. It tracks what the company is using up and what it is releasing, enabling the company to cut back. (In more detail: According to Microsoft's press release, this product "will enable midsize businesses to capture data needed to measure key indicators related to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as part of everyday business processes from within their enterprise resource planning solution, helping them pinpoint ways to cut their energy consumption and costs.")

I find this announcement interesting for two reasons. First, this is business. Microsoft is doing this not through a philanthropic arm, but through a business unit. It is selling the product not to its customers' CSR groups, but to the people that manage finances and customer relationships and supply chains - the business processes that keep companies going. Of course, these two motivations certainly are not incompatible - in fact, the press release cites a Forrester Research poll finding that 55% of IT procurement and operational professionals (presumable a close match with this product's target market) want to cut energy costs, while 50% want to do "the right thing for the environment".

Second, I'm struck by the fact that the product is targeted at midsized businesses. We don't hear all that much about CSR at midsized companies. Is that because the CSR initiatives aren't there (at least at a newsworthy scale), because the smaller companies can't (or don't feel the need to) communicate their initiatives, or simply because I haven't been paying attention? In the press release, Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president, Microsoft Business Solutions, suggests it may be the former: "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."

So will the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard push sustainability initiatives down into smaller companies, that couldn't afford to take on this challenge in the past? If so, is this an innovation that could potentially have a major impact on who has the "luxury" to commit to CSR? Or am I failing to give midsized companies the credit they deserve?


  1. I think this a warmly positive sign that the CSR agenda is creeping down to the smaller operator. I'm a big fan of encouraging and motivating the smallest of business to plant seeds that will grow as they do. Microsoft has its failings (especially IE8 on my laptop right now!) but its size provides a power and opportunity to stimulate innovation.
    Midsized companies need much more support and communication in their language, with a much stronger enterpreneurial approach. Let's take CSR to the masses!

  2. Are there other resources available that make CSR easier for small and mid-sized companies? There are big economies of scale problems - most large companies have only a few people working on these issues, so I can imagine that the salary expenses would be a lot for a smaller company to handle. Tools like this Microsoft program, however, that automate some of the CSR functions, seem like they would address that problem. Are there other ways that smaller companies can use their collective size to overcome the scale barriers?