Excel is used across different job roles, companies and countries – but when is it the right choice to manage your ESG data, and when is it best to use a specialised software? Our Principal Sustainability Data Consultant Katie Gibson runs through the pros and cons of using Excel to manage your sustainability data – from data validation to usability.
Excel is a widely used and versatile application. However, it often gets a lot of criticism when it comes to dealing with sustainability data. A lot of this is warranted and the general consensus is that a specialised software or a large powerful system is usually better suited to the job. However, small businesses just starting out on their sustainability journey shouldn’t feel discouraged if Excel is all that’s within your budget or is what you feel most comfortable with. In this blog post, we highlight some of the benefits of Excel, why it could be the right choice and where it’s limited in its application.
Ease of use
Compared to a complex EHS system, Excel is intuitive to use. The chances are most people on your team are proficient in using Excel, and won’t need much training to be able to use it for sustainability data management. This is highly beneficial if you require data input from lots of sources, from people who aren’t technical specialists. It’s also simple to store data in Excel, and it can store a lot of information easily.
Access to raw data
Putting the raw data straight into Excel means that you can build calculations and formulas straight from the source. The integration of Excel and other Microsoft suite applications means it’s easy to create visually pleasing graphs and charts that can be input straight into presentations and Word documents. This can be quickly done in your brand colours and fonts and can be edited directly in the other applications.
Excel is a universal application, so most companies will have access to this system. This means that files can easily be shared internally and between organisations. Version control used to be an issue, but now with SharePoint storage, a single file can be easily edited by multiple users. However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword – multiple-user access without proper data protection rules can mean that data can be changed accidentally and there is very little audit trail to show where that happens. It can also be a risk to the security of your data.
Data validation and protection
Excel is often prone to human error, and as we just mentioned the data can be accidentally changed. However, it does have lots of built-in, easy-to-use (or Google) functions that allow control of data entry, such as data validation rules. It’s also possible to lock sheets/rows/columns to prevent data from being changed.
Protecting your data and using data validation rules can help to reduce the risk of human error. However, it does not eliminate it completely! Data validation rules can be overridden with improper data entry, such as pasting over the cells. It can also be hard to immediately spot errors, as formulas can look like they are functioning but without careful testing, it may be producing the wrong value. The same goes for data entry and deleting of data formula cells accidentally. Even when a formula does show an error, it can be difficult to trace the source of the problem.
Overall, it’s clear that Excel has come a long way – with the ability to easily visualise data, create validation rules and share information with other users. If used properly and carefully, it can be a good way to process your ESG data. For example, our carbon calculator tool Insights is carefully built using Excel to give you an accessible and affordable way of measuring your carbon footprint. Perfection is the enemy of the good, so don’t be put off measuring non-financial data by the size of large EHS systems.
But, as we noted, excel definitely does have its drawbacks. If you feel like you’re ready for something more secure and with more capabilities, we can help you choose the right software for your company. To get started, read our Q&A on ESG software with Senior System Support Manager Oliver Boulton. However you’d like to manage your data, we can help support you with data mapping, collection, checking and analysis – from Excel to Enablon.