Salesforce, Accenture and a tipping point for carbon accounting

The events of 2020 thrust the issue of corporate sustainability front and center in many C-suites. With that heightened visibility comes questions about accountability and accounting — specifically carbon accounting. It’s a dilemma decades in the making: How to properly track and declare a company’s carbon dioxide emissions in real time, not just in lag time after an annual data hunt.

One year ago, cloud software powerhouse Salesforce began touting its answer with the general availability of the Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, a platform for providing real-time access to ESG data such as energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The application was first developed internally for the company’s sustainability team and then spun out into a product meant to help companies collect data for sustainability reporting purposes.

This week, Salesforce turned to digital services firm Accenture to accelerate its push to get more companies — especially those already using its Customer 360 platform — to adopt its carbon accounting platform.

Their pitch is that businesses need a digital platform of this nature in order to truly embed ESG metrics and considerations into business decisions. It’s a push to produce “investor-grade” climate data. And, with the leap forward in digitization over the past year, they’re amplifying their push.

The announcement also dovetails with a declaration of support this week for “universal” ESG reporting standards advocated by the World Economic Forum. More than 60 big companies have endorsed the framework — including Accenture and Salesforce, but also the likes of KPMG, Deloitte, EY, Dell, Mastercard, IBM and PayPal (it’s a long list).

This initiative can help customers on this journey by letting them capture relevant ESG data as well as manage and measure performance against their sustainability targets.

By teaming with Accenture, Salesforce hopes to help companies add industry-specific considerations to their dashboards. What’s more, Accenture and Salesforce intend to work together to expand the platform so it can be used to track other metrics that are front-of-mind for companies, including waste management, water consumption and diversity and inclusion data.

“Our research shows that more and more companies realize that a sustainable business strategy means more than just ‘doing good’ — it means ‘doing well by doing good,'” noted IDC senior research analyst Bjoern Stengel in a statement. “This initiative can help customers on this journey by letting them capture relevant ESG data as well as manage and measure performance against their sustainability targets.”

Salesforce is clearly the biggest cloud software company staking a claim in the emerging carbon accounting software category. While few players are on the field, it’s certainly not the only one positioning to score. I fully expect this year to be abundant with declarations of funding and such by cloud software companies focused on making sustainability reporting more accessible and investor-friendly.

Here are four players I’ll be watching more carefully. (I’ve excluded those linked to energy consulting services or those focused on compliance or managing safety regulations.) Refreshingly, none of them are from Silicon Valley:

  • Accuvio, an accredited CDP reporting partner, hails from the U.K. and many of its clients are there, including Cobham, West Fraser and Babcock International.
  • ClearTrace (formerly SwychX), which automates carbon emissions and energy data collection for enterprises, investors and real-estate firms, in December raised $4 million. Among early users of its platform are Brookfield Renewables (also an investor) and JPMorgan Chase.
  • Envizi, an Australian firm with customers including Microsoft and Qantas. Its partner list is impressive and includes Accenture, CBRE and Cushman Wakefield.
  • FigBytes, which last year integrated the reporting metrics from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, cites customers including Akamai and Taylor Farms.

My question from last week’s column bears repeating: When was the last time you spent time with your company’s CIO? If companies with net-zero goals have any hope of making those targets, the metrics need to be part of core business IT systems — and the carbon accounting software for supporting that progression is finally starting to emerge.

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