In searching for carbon footprint tools online recently, Daniel Aronson, MBA ’99, stopped counting when he got to 200.
It’s great news that there are vast resources for sustainability practitioners, but distilling those resources down to a manageable number for comparison’s sake is challenging, said Jason Jay, the director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan. Discovering those tools, which include articles, e-books, and online calculators, is just part of the problem. Choosing the best tool can also seem overwhelming and slows companies down in the journey toward sustainability. It is also overwhelming for master’s degree students and recent graduates who are learning their way around the sustainability field, Jay said.
Enter SHIFT — short for Sustainability Help Information Frameworks and Tools — an online aggregator that Jay and Aronson, with support from founding sponsor Biogen, have developed. SHIFT helps its users find, compare, and choose the correct sustainability tools for research and business purposes.
The first category of resources that Jay and Aronson curated includes tools for quantifying the economic value of sustainability.
In addition, SHIFT comprises a community of sustainability practitioners and researchers who will help curate information, frameworks, and tools. Jay said eventually, SHIFT will become a consortium organization.
“The field needs SHIFT because a lot needs to be done to make the world more sustainable and there isn’t a lot of time. This makes it a challenge to do enough, fast enough. To the extent SHIFT can help sustainability efforts be more efficient and effective, it can help us cope with that challenge,” Aronson said.
SHIFT launched at the Sustainable Brands New Metrics ’16 recently.
Four solutions SHIFT will offer:
“There are a lot of resources out there that can be helpful for sustainability practitioners and [practitioners] don’t always know they exist. Often times, we’ll find people are reinventing the wheel. So, finding what’s out there is important,” Jay said.
SHIFT’s online search function will include environmental, social, and governance tools, searchable by books, articles, and online calculators. Users can look up tools by price, ratings, and author.
As a way to condense the massive proliferation of sustainability tools, SHIFT will have a comparison function, much like what CNET offers — a platform where users can read and write reviews and compare tools.
“We have this comparison set which is a way of viewing a table of features and comparing and contrasting what these different tools can offer,” Jay said.
“We want to grow a community of users around the platform so your choice can be informed by other people’s experiences,” Jay said.
Aronson said SHIFT will help in choosing resources, because the glut of resources sometimes prevents companies from implementing sustainability measures.
“And having access to a community of practitioners and potential sources of help will also make it easier for corporate sustainability implementers to take action, and as it grows, SHIFT will also help with this,” Aronson said.
Learning about options
Often, it’s not just one tool that a business needs, but rather a sequence of tools to be able to advance a sustainability strategy, Jay said. These tools could involve benchmarking against other organizations, and then identifying areas where your business needs to change before making the business case to advance sustainability. The SHIFT platform includes curricula that combine resources into a sequence that supports individual and organizational learning.
“What this all adds up to, is a shift in management practice, so we like that acronym,” Jay said.
Companies will not have to pay to use SHIFT initially. The revenue model has two layers of sponsorship — sponsorship of the platform (which Biogen has donated to) and sponsored curation. The goal is to keep much of the content free, Jay said.
The primary users will be graduate students, corporate sustainability officers, and entrepreneurs who are creating new enterprises based on sustainability, as well as investors, and real estate developers.
“This will be an important catalyst for sustainability, helping to scale and speed improvement,” Aronson said.
Other SHIFT collaborators are CSRHub, the MIT Press, and MIT Sloan Management Review.