Thursday, September 22, 2011

Energy Experts gather for panel on Data and Sustainabily Implementation

On Tuesday, September 21st, executives from companies leading the way in Sustainability reporting met at Foley Hoag in Waltham as part of the MassTLC Sustainability Series, Without Data, Sustainability is an Empty Suit. Daniel Aronson, Director and Practice Leader of Sustainability Transformation at Deloitte, moderated a panel that included, Mark Greenlaw, VP Sustainability & Educational Affairs at Cognizant; Chris Davis, Schneider Electric's Building VP Global Strategic Alliances; Peter Gilbert, VP of Strategy for CA Technology's ecoSoftware; and Mark Buckley, VP Environmental Affairs at Staples. The Event Chair was Vanessa Fox, Partners In Productivity.

The take-away themes of the panel reflected:
- The relative newness of this area in business and the opportunities out there for new products.
- Issues around collecting and reporting the right data are difficult, but the panel represented four companies who are out there trying and benefiting from what they are learning.
- Finding a connection between the data and materialization in dollars will get the most impact out of your Sustainability projects.
- People are an important tool in Sustainability. Educating employees and building sustainability into each role of a company is the way to sustainability success.

The first question that Daniel asked was about defining Sustainability data how each of the panelists uses it. Peter Gilbert said that CA Technologies includes everything from building energy usage to employee commute time. Staples has a much larger supply chain to consider and is also very aware that their data has to be translated for different audiences. For example, a CFO will want the raw data presented differently than Facilities Manager. Former Cognizant CIO turned VP Sustainability and Educational Affairs at Cognizant, Mark Greenlaw stated that they try to follow the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as far as Energy consumption, carbon footprint and water usage. He went on to say that Sustainability goes beyond the environmental impact of a company and is also about the social and economic impact of that company. All panelists agreed that there is no ERP system (beyond buildings) for Sustainability yet.

Two of the biggest challenges in pitching any Sustainability project are budget and return on investment (ROI). Mark Greenlaw of Cognizant said that conservation measures are easy; it is the intangible benefits that are tougher to determine the ROI. Projects that include renewables are harder to justify since they have fluctuating ROI’s due to the political and price instability here and in other countries. At Staples, Mark Buckley looks at projects from a portfolio perspective and tries to find non-traditional funding for projects. One example was a PPA (power purchase agreement) for solar arrays on leased buildings. This allowed Staples to fund 35 MW of power rooftops. Interestingly, 80% of solar arrays in the US are owned by a third party.

During the audience participation a question was asked about employee engagement with regards to Sustainability. Chris Davis gave an example how in a deal with GE, they were very surprised that the employees wanted to be as involved as they did. Folks that had worked there for 40 years became reenergized as they cared about this stuff 'to solve the world's problems'. Chris also talked about how we can embed this thought process in the everyday to change behavior. He gave another example of how Lucid Designs created a dashboard to make energy consumption visible and accountable in college dorms. Staples works to build Sustainability into their corporate DNA and empowers employees to be accountable. Mark Greenlaw noted that much of Sustainability is about the people factor. Cognizant had a full featured buildings system installed, but found out that only half of the features were turned on!
Panelists were asked if there were standards and how they go about collecting data on their supply chain. All felt that standard forms for collecting and reporting are still lagging. Mark Greenlaw said that it is more effort right now to fill out the plethora of forms than to do the actual work of sustainability. Panelists felt there is a need for online tools to enter data one time and then be able to reference it for themselves and their supply chain.

Sustainability is a new field with lots of new opportunities for business to learn and work together. The process of data collection and reporting is evolving and will take unconventional, multi-disciplinary collaborations to start to yield real-world results. There is an economic benefit to more data and taking a long term holistic approach. We applaud these thought leaders who are putting their companies out there as pioneers in Sustainability.

MassTLC will continue the conversation at our next Sustainability Series panel on December 6th entitled, Sustainability: Don't Market to Key Audiences- Motivate Them!, where a panel of executives led by Jim Nail will further discuss how to engage employees and stakeholders in your Sustainability efforts. Click Here to Register!

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