The day is coming when economics, corporate goodwill and broader regulation will combine in broad adoption of eco-footprint type applications to measure energy and materials use across a whole range of businesses.

The lobbyist groups that mail me weekly about any threat to unhindered production will fret and sweat over this, but many of us are already sensitive to separating recyclables from what ships to the landfill. Others in large metropolitan areas don’t have an easy way to manage their eco footprint, but even the most jaded capitalists I know aren’t holding out for a future of Love Canals or Erin Brockovich scenarios.

A tour of any garbage dump will yield unsettling surprises, but U.S. manufacturers are already more regulated than most people stop to think about and that’s good thing because, honestly, the junk is really stacking up. What’s going overseas to third-world recyclers is a scarier story, but don’t call me a socialist for saying eco-data management is presently much more effective in scale in European countries where tighter spaces and many more centuries of trash have led to a more urgent response.

I had an interesting chat last week with Leif Svennson, production manager, environmental manager and quality manager at IV Produkt (‘eye-vee product) in Vaxjo, Sweden, where environmental engagement is already social doctrine and matter of pride.

IV Produkt manufactures air-handling units, the heating and air conditioning systems contractors install in commercial and residential buildings. Having worked for 15 years on energy efficient products, the company has lately adopted an Eco-Footprint Management Tool offered by its primary technology partner, European enterprise resource planning provider IFS.

The IFS tool is meant to measure raw material impact, chemicals released in production and in use and disposal cost. IV Produkt has been ISO certified for more than 10 years so the company’s agenda goes beyond Swedish regulation. The costs of production and the byproducts released in manufacturing are readily available for standardized measurement. Compared to tasks like SOA or MDM, It’s a pretty easy business to marry production inputs to environmental outputs.

In IV Produkt’s case, lifecycle costs are as relevant to the company’s sales pitch as it is to its regulatory requirements.

As Svennson told me, when a consumer buys a car, it’s not just the upfront cost but the taxes, insurance, maintenance and fuel over the expected life of the vehicle. “Our products are little different though people might not think of all these things they should when buying a car,” Svennson says. “For our products it’s not just the cost, it’s the installation fees, the energy consumption and how easy it is to handle when its life is over after perhaps 20 years. You could say the product cost from when you buy it, when you use it and when t becomes waste.”

Svennson figures that with production and consumption metrics at hand, he’ll have more to offer his customers.

Environmental compliance being a matter of engineering performance and inputs to production, ERP or manufacturing resource planning (MRP) systems are obvious systems of record. But I’m also betting that performance management tools, the like of which are providing increased visibility to U.S. stimulus spending initiatives will serve a similar purpose and stand ready to measure front-office inputs to the costs of doing business.

Since I’m already speaking to businesses that are nursing costs through the slowdown by measures that include curbing paper and printer consumption, a part of the Eco Footprint model is already upon us, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I can’t call the timeline but if you’re still a cynic, call it risk management and try not to ignore that it will eventually reach into your the front office for good reason.

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