Less carrot and more stick is the driving factor that may compel many U.S. manufacturing firms to mind their carbon footprint and more, according to a new report from AMR Research and software giant SAP.

The survey of 189 companies in both energy-intensive and non-energy-intensive industries paints a slightly different picture than a recent Johnson Controls study of more than 1,400 companies as to what is pushing companies towards energy and carbon efficiency.

When it comes to drivers for sustainability, one-third of those surveyed said corporate branding and staying competitive were high on their list in 2008, but that figure plummeted to 12 percent in 2010. Compliance to regulatory requirements, however, jumped up from 11 percent to 27 percent of companies that identified it as a factor driving sustainability.

The larger Johnson Controls study, however, found that energy cost savings and brand image were the most significant drivers for investing in energy efficiency.

"Sustainability is alive and kicking," said Peter Graf, SAP's chief sustainability officer, who qualified the results of the survey by noting that the real motive that is fueling interest in energy efficiency is the bottom line. "It's not because of climate change. There is money to be made and money to be saved."

No matter the reason, investment and consideration of efficiency at all points in the business chain are being considered at every level in a way they have not been in previous years, according to the survey.  

That translates into potential profits for SAP, which also announced its acquisition of TechniData on Wednesday. TechniData makes software to help companies with environmental, health and safety compliance. The acquisition will boost SAP's offerings for companies that are increasingly focusing on sustainability and carbon compliance given the EPA's Mandatory Reporting requirements and other drivers to focus on carbon and efficiency.
Both surveys found that the most prevalent approach to saving energy is through building management and reducing on-site energy consumption. Looking beyond buildings, there is expected to be a growing focus on re-engineering manufacturing processes, sub-building smart grid upgrades, and on-site energy production in the next three to five years.

Steven Stokes of AMR Research said that business sustainability will become fundamentally more sophisticated in the coming years, as real-time data replaces Excel sheets to track the organizational metabolism of a company, rather than simply its output.

"If a week is a long time in politics," he said, "boy, a year is a long time in sustainability."