U.S. and international corporations are increasingly taking steps to address climate change and sustainability. During the Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee (CEEPC) meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), local officials convened a panel of corporate leaders to share best practices in sustainability programs and discuss how government and businesses can work together to promote sustainability.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability seeks to create and maintain conditions in which humans and the environment can exist in harmony to support present and future generations. The panel presented a range of sustainability initiatives, from recycling to renewable energy, to CEEPC members – representatives from government, environmental, energy, transportation, utility, academic, and business organizations.
Scott Johnstone, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) Executive Director, emphasized the importance of engaging employees in a company’s sustainability efforts. VEIC provides benefits for employees, such as public transportation stipends and home improvement loans, to meet sustainability goals. “At VEIC, we share the responsibility with employees to reduce their carbon footprint at home, not just at the company,” said Johnstone. Over the past seven years, VEIC employees have reduced their carbon emissions by 24 percent, Johnstone said.
Similarly, National Geographic believes that sustainability is everyone’s job from employees to suppliers. Through employee stewardship programs, National Geographic employees can make their ideas of how to be greener a reality, said Susan Kolodziejczyk, National Geographic Senior Manager of Sustainability. Additionally, as a result of a product life cycle assessment, National Geographic has helped partners identify ways to reduce waste, Kolodziejczyk said.
The panel also discussed the impact of embedding sustainability into the organization’s culture. “At Siemens, every corporate function is involved in sustainability and it is a common theme across leadership,” said Alison Taylor, Siemens Vice President of Sustainability-Americas. To share progress of sustainability efforts, Taylor suggests including sustainability metrics in a company’s annual report, which Siemens has been doing since 2006.
Another key to making sustainability a success is collaboration, said Rachel Goldstein, Mars Global Sustainability Director for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs. “To help us achieve our goals, we collaborate with a range of NGOs, charities, and scientific institutions,” Goldstein said. For example, Mars and its partners built a wind farm in Texas that will produce enough wind energy that could make 13 million Snickers or power all 70 of the Mars U.S. sites.
Although companies may have different priorities or approaches to sustainability, the panel concluded that there are a number of reasons that organizations should consider implementing such programs. Not only does sustainability help the environment and future generations, but there are also significant business benefits, such as employee retention and long-term cost savings.
To continue to drive action on climate change and sustainability, CEEPC will evaluate how the panel’s discussion could influence the region’s plan to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals. Additionally, CEEPC members can apply the information to their jurisdictions’ sustainability programs, said Penny Gross, CEEPC Chair and Fairfax County Supervisor. Finally as part of its commitment to sustainability, COG plans to develop a report to measure its sustainability practices.