Why use a sustainability software? Hugh Molyneux, President, Refined Risk explains.

Over the past 20 years, I have made a lot of mistakes in building and implementing enterprise grade Sustainability, Environmental and OHS software solutions. In spite of these mistakes (maybe even because of them,) Refined Risk has grown to be a successful company with happy customers. A lot of that has been from learning to avoid 4 pitfalls in selecting and implementing a Sustainability software solution. Some of the pitfalls are obvious and others maybe not so much. Here is what I think really works.

Refined Data: Hugh Molyneux1. KISS but don’t make up!

Keep It Simple Stupid and don’t make up things you think the software should do. It takes courage to build and implement a simple software system. When we first started building software systems in the mid-1990s, we were breaking new ground. At the time we were driven by a concern “what if we miss something obvious or don’t meet every single need a user might have?” In following this thought, we ended up with software that was complex, difficult to use and inevitably was not being kept up-to-date because users simply didn’t have the time to keep the software fed. When you are evaluating a software tool for your organization start with the basics – make sure you are clear on the top three or four critical business cases the software is being acquired to solve.

2. Measure Twice, Cut Once

This is an old carpentry tip; know exactly what you want to end up with before you start acquiring software. The most important first step is to create a System Design Document. Key elements of this document should include:

  • A description of the business cases for the software
  • The out-put that is required – what reports do you need to generate from the software?
  • Tables showing the data fields that need to be in the software to give you the reporting you need
  • What is the application workflow (e.g. once someone completes a questionnaire, does it need to be reviewed by a manager)?
  • What other systems (if any) does the software need to draw data from or export to?

You must clearly document the Scope (what you need to track) and Functionality (what you need the application to do) of the software. A great benefit of creating the System Design Document is that it forces you to work through how you currently do things in your organization. Very often this analysis prompts you to change inefficient practices and processes that ultimately make your organization work more effectively.

3. Leverage what you have!

Examine your organizational assets. Are there foundational databases (accounting and HR, for example) that you can draw from or feed to, that will complement and enhance what you are looking to accomplish? One cardinal rule is to avoid double entry of data or duplication of work effort. Virtually every database nowadays supports import and export of data using common formats and standards. Connecting to your business’s core accounting system, for example, will allow you to format the data in your Sustainability system in a way that keeps all your reports in sync with the company’s organizational hierarchy (always a key requirement). Also as your company grows and develops, changes in the structure of your organization will be reflected in your accounting system (for example), which will then flow seamlessly into your Sustainability application, keeping your reporting in sync.

4. Select Your Software Platform Carefully

Once you are clear on what you need, what you have and where you need to get to, it is time to start looking at what each of the different software vendors are offering. Essentially it breaks down to three basic types with various benefits and drawbacks.   

  1. a.            In-house Developed Sustainability Application


  • Can be highly customized to meet your exact requirements
  • Can be extended from your existing IT infrastructure
  • Do not have to compromise as you start from a blank slate


  • Takes a very long time to build (starting from a blank slate)
  • Usually very expensive to build and maintain
  • Support and training is generally challenging
  1. b.            Vendor Developed Software Application that You Customize and Integrate


  • Flexible: can be optimized from an existing vendor software platform to meet your general requirements
  • Can be integrated on to your existing IT infrastructure
  • You can review different vendor offerings and start with the best fit


  • Once you customize you move off the main development branch and your implementation can be difficult to upgrade and maintain (gets orphaned)
  • Usually expensive to build and but relatively inexpensive to maintain
  • Reliant on vendor viability for upgrades and support

1. c. Software as a Service Application


  • Relatively Inexpensive: Cheap and Cheerful
  • Usually the application is well thought out and easy to use
  • Often supports connections to utilities to allow import of utility data


  • Cannot be customized
  • Cannot be tightly integrated with your legacy data systems
  • Data exists as an Island

In future articles I will look in more detail at the various types of software platforms on the market.  In the meantime if you have any questions or thoughts – please let us know!


Hugh Molyneux is President and  COO of Refined Risk, a division of Refined Data Solutions Inc. Hugh has 20 years of experience implementing Enterprise Grade Sustainability, Environmental and OHS Software to Fortune 500 companies in Canada and the United States. His passion is working with clients to implement innovative solutions that are simple to use and deliver breakthrough in organizational performance. He can be reached at [email protected].


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