SAS Institute is using its business intelligence experience to offer a tool to allow businesses a way to analyse their own carbon footprint.

The company has announced SAS For Sustainability Management, describing the product as a decision support software system that tracks the cost of carbon emissions, for example, or energy consumed within an organisation. SAS said the product would allow customers to participate in a 10-year-old framework called the Global Reporting Initiative, which is used to measure and report environmental as well as economic and social performance.

Alyssa Farrell, SAS Institute's marketing manager for sustainability solutions, said the project got underway last Autumn when a telecommunications customer expressed difficulty in measuring its carbon footprint. Farrell's own role was created in part as a response to an emerging customer need. She noted that indirect energy consumption, water use and other indicators can have a significant bottom-line impact.

"Some companies are very interested in getting a handle on sustainability reporting. They're collecting better information around their organisation to have a more consistent performance report," she said. "They might only publish that once a year, but internally they want to see it more often."

SAS already offers a number of business intelligence products that enterprises use to gauge how well their marketing campaigns worked, for instance, or predict how many sales they'll make in the next quarter. SAS took an application called Activity-Based Management, which it acquired through a company called ABC Technologies, and retooled it to track sustainability data, Farrell said. The product also makes use of the SAS Intelligence platform, which analyses things like server capacity to allow IT managers to improve job scheduling.

Aaron Hay, an analyst with Ontario-based Info-Tech Research Group who specialises in the so-called green IT market, said the SAS tool could help some companies take a more proactive approach to sustainable business practices.

"One thing that paralyses people to make decisions in this area is not the lack of data but the lack of actual measures," he said, noting, however, that every business is unique. "Even if you do have analytical tools available, that should just be one part of the decision. (What that tool shows) may not be the most optimised position for your business."

While traditional BI draws from electronic systems that manage transactions or even spreadsheets, Hay said that green BI may not be quite so automated. "Now we're talking about getting the metre reading from the company's utility metre. How do we get those figures? That is going to be one of the big challenges," he said.

Farrell acknowledged that SAS For Sustainability Management requires data from unusual sources, including building management systems. Green strategies are also often driven by the CFO or COO, she added, who are focused on getting access to more capital or attracting and retaining younger, more environmentally-minded staff. Focusing on sustainability might mean IT professionals have to be more engaged with senior management teams.

"In some instances the CIO is relegated to the realm of the datacentre, when in reality they can impact the IT that can alleviate drains on electricity and travel, and optimise operations," she said.