'Grow a Smarter Company’ with Energy Data: Q&A with Accenture’s Mike Nicholus

September 22, 2016

In this in-depth interview series, speakers from Enablon’s keynote panel offer fresh insights on EHS management, risk and resilience. Mike Nicholus is the Global Environment Director at Accenture, responsible for measuring and managing the environmental impact of operations around the world. Here’s how his global professional services company harnesses data to drive energy efficiency and organizational performance across 600 locations.

Mike, on our panel in Houston you summed up your role at Accenture as the “Galactic Environment Guy.” What does that work entail?

My job within Accenture is to work with smart and passionate people around the world to figure out ways to deliver for our clients with less environmental impact today than we did yesterday. In this role, I get to channel all of the enthusiasm and drive that our people bring to bear into finding creative and innovative ways for Accenture to minimize our footprint while maximizing business value.

You seem to be making progress. Accenture’s most recent citizenship report referenced a reduction in carbon emissions per employee by 47% toward a goal to reduce emission per employee by 50% by 2020. How do you calculate and reduce GHG emissions per employee?

As a professional services organization, Accenture does not have the same impact as some other companies. Like I said in Houston, we don’t dump unpleasant things into the water supply or step on endangered frogs on the way to work…but we do have an impact. More than 80% of our carbon footprint consists of emissions our people generate from air travel for business purposes and from the use of electricity in our office locations.

Focusing on electricity for a moment, our people around the world enter the electricity consumption for our offices quarterly. Then, those kilowatt hours are converted into CO2. We look at the quarterly results as we go, and make decisions around where to improve energy efficiency.

Since we’ve started looking at this in 2007, we’ve improved our energy efficiency by 28%. These improvements add up over time, helping us cumulatively save an estimated 740,000 megawatt hours of electricity and more than 450,000 metric tons of CO2 since 2007. For perspective, these emissions savings are equivalent to a reduction in oil consumption of more than 1 million barrels. These efficiency gains also saved more than US$96 million in energy spend over the same time period.

How does software support this process at Accenture?

Everything we do starts with data, which is where Enablon helps Accenture.

Staying with electricity for a moment, using Enablon is much more efficient than doing things manually in a spreadsheet or something like that. Enablon converts the kWh into CO2 directly, based on where the electricity was produced. Enablon checks to see if the electricity data “makes sense” based on the data from the same time in the prior year for that office. Enablon then totals up the results, and generates reports on which offices are most efficient, and which ones need a little more focus.

Doing all that somewhere else is possible but would almost certainly take longer. Time is valuable in the environmental management game. I’d rather our people spend an hour managing our carbon emissions rather than measuring them.

What type of customization did you do?

Straight out of the box. It’s pretty easy for us to get data in. We have people around the world entering thousands of data points from hundreds of locations all over the world.

Even more valuable is the ability to drive analysis on the backend. We love to tinker with reports. We use Enablon reporting to overlay locations with high energy consumption and high energy intensity (kWh per square meter) in order for us to figure out where we should put our sustainability investment dollars/euros/rupees. The ability to use the same report period over period is valuable, as is the ability to take an existing report and tweak it a bit, to show a particular leader something they didn’t know about their portfolio.

And what sort of org chart did you create around the implementation of this system?

Each lead is responsible to collect the data. Our environmental leads are responsible to take our central environmental strategy and apply it locally to measure and manage Accenture’s performance. It’s handy that Enablon can reflect our organizational structure, so that if, for example, someone is in charge of managing Germany, they can quickly access German data. If they’re in charge of a geographic region that includes Germany, they can quickly see that level of data, and drill down to Germany or Austria or Switzerland and see the component data as needed. Being user-centric and function-centric can be hard to do at the same time, but it works well in Enablon.

Mike, you’re a creative thinker. Can you share some insights from one of the unique initiatives that you created to engage people in energy savings activities?

As I said, Enablon helps us decide where to make investments. We rent our offices – we don’t own them, so our investments are usually focused on ways to operate our space better.

One area we’ve been focused on is where to install “smart meters” in some locations, using the live energy data to make better decisions about how we use the office space. We can even use them for some fun competitions. We’ve run some energy efficiency contests in our offices – pitting floor against floor to see which group of employees can improve their energy efficiency the most compared to the previous month. We’ve even started to compete internationally – floor 3 in country A against floor 5 in country B. Our people love it, and it’s a great way to drive environmental improvement.

Figuring out which locations would benefit the most from installing smart meters is important – it helps us prioritize our programs. This is one example of the analytics we use to help us reduce our emissions and achieve our targets, including our target of getting down to 2 tons per person by 2020, as well as achieving the other business outcomes that driving environmental stewardship brings. All of this translates into a more competitive cost profile, a more engaging environment for sustainability–minded people, and a clear demonstration to our clients and investors that we share their focus on environmental stewardship.

In Houston you spoke about the coming risks in a post COP21 world. How will the Paris Agreement and global changes affect companies?

Climate change presents challenges and opportunities for Accenture and the business community. 195 countries came together and said “we must take action to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (or even to 1.5 if we can). Those same countries are now preparing regulations in order to meet the targets they committed to, respectively. Those companies that take steps today will be better prepared to thrive in the low-carbon economy tomorrow.

Mike, you’ve attended 4 SPF conferences since you started using Enablon. What is the greatest value you gain from attending these events?

I love seeing where the software is going next; hearing ways my clever counterparts have thought to use it. I love to see the expansion into the digital realm – the geek in me loves to see other geeks take something really wonky and turn it into something really beautiful.

will take place on October 4-5 in Chicago, and will bring together more than 500 EHS, Sustainability, Risk and IT professionals from the world’s largest corporations. Register today and don’t miss out on 50+ sessions and countless opportunities to network with your peers.

Sustainable Performance Forum Americas 2016