Simply making environmental change isn't enough. You have to be able to show people what you've done.
That's the idea behind Toronto-based Parachute Software's products. The firm's custom-designed, Web-based software allows environmental programs to track and measure their progress - and hence, their success.
"People need to see the end results," says David Linton, who, along with his partner Elvin Sotto, founded Parachute in 2005. "We need to be able to show the outcome of the money being used to fund that program."
Take, for example, the federal government's Retire Your Ride program, in which car owners are encouraged to retire vehicles from 1995 and earlier. These vehicles produce 19 times more smog-forming pollutants than those made in 2004 or later.
The program diverts a vehicle's hazardous materials from landfills and reuses parts that can be salvaged. Participants are offered a reward, such as a public transit pass or money toward a new bike or newer car.
All of these people and processes need to be tracked, and that's where Parachute comes in.
"We manage all of that data," says Mr. Linton. "From being able to sign up online and choosing which reward they want ... to having a number of bike shops that person can go in to and then getting the bike shop paid."
The result is transparency, and, at the end of the day, says Mr. Linton, improved efficiency and reduced costs.
"We've seen a number of programs that have very inefficient processes," he says. "We know that when someone is working with us, they're able to run the program as efficiently as possible by optimizing people and reporting on data appropriately." It all adds up to greater good for the environment and a greater bottom line.
Ersilia Serafini, CEO of Summerhill Group, an environmental organization based in Toronto, has seen the effects of Parachute's programs first-hand. They've worked on several initiatives together, including the Retire Your Ride program.
"Sure, this is doable without Parachute," Ms. Serafini says. "But would it have cost more to run these programs? Certainly without the ease of software you'd add extra bodies to begin to track and generate reports you use."
Parachute may not be driving the change directly, but the company's role is instrumental, she says, because reporting concrete results back to the public helps to convince them to make choices that help the environment.
Effective communication is critical in the environmental space, says Peter Love, Ontario's former chief energy conservation officer and now owner of Love Energy Consultants.
"Being green and sustainable are becoming more important for every industry," he says. "This is not a fad. It's here to stay."
Parachute has been involved in programs where the environmental effect is readily visible and easily understood by the public. But they have also been involved in programs that, for example, upgrade lighting or heating fixtures in order to save energy.
"Most pollution is very visible - air pollution, water pollution, litter," says Mr. Love. "But when you're talking about energy consumption and climate change, it's much more difficult for people to grasp because it's not so in your face." And that, he says, makes what Parachute is doing important because it measures a change that could easily go unnoticed.
Energy programs in general should allocate 5 per cent of their budgets to evaluation, measurement and verification, he recommends, a standard that's already used in some places, such as California. For that reason, the need for Parachute's work is indisputable.
It's a mentality that's catching on. Recently, Parachute, along with a major partner, won a six-figure contract with a major Canadian electrical utility, beating out several large IT organizations, including global companies. (The deal has not yet been made public.)
"I don't know that I can aptly describe how that felt," says Mr. Linton of the moment they received the news that they were chosen to complete the work. "We thought it was a long shot because of the competition and the size of our company and the size of the company we were winning the bid from."
He chalks it up to the calibre of their partner, but also his firm's ability to be quick and flexible because they're so small (they have a full-time staff of three, plus a roster of about half a dozen contractors they call on regularly). The company's previous experience on a similar project didn't hurt, either.
Since Parachute's inception, business has picked up as more funds are allocated to environmental initiatives, Mr. Linton says.
"In the early going, our challenge was finding budgets to do as much as you wanted," he says. "Now the challenge is just responding to all the different types of programs and making sure we're focusing on the ones we feel are beneficial."
There's also the pesky problem of companies using "green washing," where they make an environmental claim that's nothing more than a marketing ploy. "We have dealt with these and graciously declined those opportunities," he says.
But nonetheless, true opportunities abound.
"We're seeing that companies want to get involved because of the shift of perceptions and the choices of the average consumer based on the environmental positions of these companies," Mr. Linton says. "Being a market leader and maintaining that position has to include social and environmental responsibility."
By the numbers
Number of vehicles recycled through programs that use Parachute's software. This is equivalent to removing approximately 10,000 tonnes of smog-forming emissions.
The amount, in kilowatt-hours, that programs using Parachute's software have reduced energy consumption. This is equivalent to powering approximately 20,000 homes a year.
The number of mercury switches that programs using Parachute's software have recovered from cars and homes. This is equivalent to about 200,000 grams of mercury. A single gram of mercury can contaminate an eight-hectare lake.
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