Sharing of best practices is central to the mission of the California Sustainability Alliance, so we were particularly thrilled to observe the many organizations openly sharing their experiences and learning from one another at this year’s Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) Environmental Sustainability Symposium. This is the second posting in our two-part series documenting this great event. In part one, we discussed the keynote speeches; here, we’ll be delving into the panel sessions.
But first, we’d like to share with you a few of the big takeaways from this year’s event, themes we heard numerous keynote speakers and panelists bring up repeatedly throughout the day:
- Take a long view – align your company around important human challenges, rather than around next quarter’s earnings; make sure everyone agrees on what’s coming in the 21st century economy and what goals the company should pursue
- Use sustainability as an opportunity to better understand your business processes and improve both economic and environmental performance
- Collaborate – internally, with competitors, with non-competitors, and with policy-makers
- Engage employees and customers; be transparent
- Get specific, both in terms of what each individual can do to contribute, and in terms of metrics
In addition to the keynote speeches discussed in our previous post, the symposium included several panels addressing frameworks for implementing initiatives, the benefits of collaboration, procurement issues, reporting, and more.
Collaboration Shaping Sustainability
This panel focused on collaboration in datacenter energy efficiency. However, we believe that many of the lessons learned in the IT industry are more broadly applicable to corporate sustainability. In particular, panelists emphasized collaboration both within an organization, and across organizations.
Within an organization, panelists expressed that any sustainability initiative is highly dependent on collaboration between the energy buyer, facility manager, and IT manager. All three individuals need a common language and strong communication to adopt a holistic approach to sustainability.
Across organizations, panelists stressed the importance of standards and open communication to enable economies of scale and innovation that would be impossible to achieve if each organization acted alone. This communication should be both between competitors, who can benefit from the economies of scale and regulatory stability that standards provide, and between companies operating in different market sectors, which can benefit from adopting innovative technologies developed elsewhere.
Procurement Drivers: Demands from the Supply Chain
The main driver for sustainable procurement is customer demand, particularly from large volume purchasers. However, there is a great deal of ambiguity as to what makes a product sustainable or unsustainable: How much recycled content is enough? What efficiency is enough? Whatever standards are adopted, moderator Alicia Culver of the Green Purchasing Institute suggested several options for performance verification including third party verification, site visits/photographs/data, and trustworthy eco-labels.
As representatives of large corporations (NVIDIA, FlexTronics, and HP), the panelists agreed that first-hand verification from site visits, photographs, and electronic data are essential to ensuring environmental performance at a large scale. However, they also trust eco-labels such as ENERGY STAR® and WaterSense®, which can simplify the green procurement process for organizations of any size.
Panelist Judy Glazer, Director for Global Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER) Operations at HP, stated that sustainability in procurement is similar to quality in procurement, which we thought was an interesting perspective. In both cases, investment is necessary, but the organization gets something important back in return. The other panelists agreed with Glazer, but emphasized that sustainability can save money in addition to providing other benefits. Panelists also stressed the importance of understanding an organization’s processes and practices (such as through carbon inventorying) in order to identify ways to be more economically and environmentally sustainable.
Operational Innovation: Greening Your Operations
EBay, which served as the event host, was an active participant in the green operations panel. Amy Skoczlas Cole, Director of the Green Team at EBay, began by commenting on how essential it is to approach sustainability from both the top down and the bottom up. For example, EBay once replaced office trash bins overnight with recycling and compost bins. There was significant blowback because employees had not been given any training and were confused as to what is recyclable or compostable. Had their grassroots Green Team been involved earlier, and training been given to all employees, Cole believes the process would likely have gone more smoothly. Cole also emphasized that every employee can innovate in sustainability, so it is important to integrate sustainability into regular job function, rather than considering it a side project.
Also on the subject of gaining buy-in from diverse stakeholders, Michael Jordan, Sustainability Practice Leader at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) suggested calculating the theoretical minimum energy required to conduct a task such as heating and cooling a building, in order to establish reach goals and see how far the team can get. Lisa Neuberger-Fernandez, Strategy and Policy Lead for Global Corporate Citizenship at Accenture, agreed that goal setting is important to focus attention. For example, Accenture has a goal of 40% carbon reduction per employee by 2012, relative to a 2007 baseline. Additionally, Neuberger-Fernandez feels that it is important to set up a framework so that as sustainability ideas come in from employees and the executive committee, it’s easier to prioritize. We agree that a goal-oriented, holistic, and structured approach is essential to success.
Travel is a major concern for certain types of businesses, in terms of both carbon and quality of life. Lisa Neuberger-Fernandez of Accenture spoke to this issue, which can be difficult for companies such as Accenture that regularly deliver business services on-site. As a first step, Accenture tries to eliminate unnecessary travel. While Accenture finds videoconferencing to be somewhat helpful, office communicator and WebEx-type applications are more helpful in achieving this objective. However, sometimes on-site interaction and data access is necessary. In these cases, Accenture staggers client visits whenever possible, so only one person is on-site at any given time. This saves on travel costs, carbon, work-life balance, and travel time/productivity. Accenture’s practices are great examples of how small, simple changes can contribute significantly to the triple bottom line.
Because facilities represent a significant percentage of most corporations’ greenhouse gas emissions, panelists also spent some time addressing the complex issues of green leasing and retrofitting. Numerous resources are available documenting best practices in these areas, including the Alliance’s own Green Leases Toolkit, yet each organization’s approach to sustainability in its built environment will be unique to its business practices and corporate culture.
For organizations looking for inspiration – and specific information on sustainability measures and economics – Adobe, a participant in this panel, provides information on all 85 of its LEED certified buildings for free to anyone who requests it. Pushing the envelope, Adobe is not just retrofitting buildings where it is the owner-occupier. For example, the company is a full-building tenant at an office building in Seattle. Two years into their ten year lease, they decided to pursue LEED EB Platinum, without landlord assistance. This didn’t just make environmental sense – it turned out that the payback for achieving LEED Platinum was only two years, making the retrofit a good economic investment as well.
Michael Jordan of JLL agreed that simple things like window replacement and placing of heat shields between radiators and exterior walls can achieve significant progress towards reach goals, without requiring significant investment. And, he added, working towards reach goals can result in unexpected savings. For example, JLL’s Empire State Building retrofit was originally designed to include a new $20 million chiller, but in the end it wasn’t needed due to increased efficiency. That project had a $13 million total incremental cost, but achieves $4.3 million in annual savings, yielding a terrific three year payback.
Having recently recognized Jones Lang LaSalle with the 2009 Commercial Buildings Sustainability Showcase Award, we at the Alliance were thrilled to see JLL sharing its perspective and best practices with symposium attendees. Whether you were able to make the SVLG conference or not, if you are interested in more details on how JLL is demonstrating holistic adoption of sustainability best practices, we hope you’ll visit our JLL Showcase and watch the video of JLL’s Southwest Sustainability Practice Lead discussing how the organization is paving the way for sustainability in California’s built environment.
Goal Setting and Performance Reporting
Reiterating a common theme of viewing inventorying as an opportunity, panelists in this session emphasized that CSR reporting has value beyond the basic act of reporting – it is a good way to develop and articulate a sustainability strategy. They also discussed the importance of buy-in from the numerous staff members at an organization whose leadership or data is required to conduct rigorous reporting. Offering some practical advice, panelists mentioned some of the arguments they have successfully used to persuade colleagues and leadership to contribute:
- Customers are doing similar reporting
- Competitors are doing similar reporting
- Inventorying helps an organization understand operations and save money
- It’s better to stay ahead of the regulatory curve, and to play a part in shaping forthcoming regulation
Panelists also stressed the importance of defining a vision and guiding principles at the start, in order to have a framework for any initiatives. Some recommended websites and resources for individuals interested in exploring innovation in sustainability reporting, including:
- Ceres.org, an investor-driven non-profit looking at the intersection of economics and corporate social responsibility
- Feltron.com, website of graphic artist Nicholas Felton, who does an annual report on himself
- Presentation by Saul Griffith, an entrepreneur who has also done a personal GHG inventory and analysis of what it would take to get to 80% reduction
We certainly enjoyed attending this event, and believe that businesses of all sizes can benefit from the best practices shared to better integrate sustainability into their operations, products, and services. For those of you who couldn’t attend, we hope the above discussion gave you some useful tips as you devise your own corporate sustainability strategy and adopt measures to green your operations. And please stay tuned for our next blog entries, to cover the recent LA Business Council Annual Sustainability Summit and Stanford Electric & Fuel Cell Vehicle Showcase!