At the SDForum Green and Clean Evening Series quarterly event held on February 2, 2011 at Orrick in Menlo Park and sponsored by Orrick and Deloitte, Mitch Zuklie, leader of Orrick’s energy industry group, led a panel discussion on the state of corporate sustainability.
Panelists included Michael Beutler, Global Director, Sustainability, Social, Mobile and Web, SAP; Scott Coleman, Partnership Development Principal, Google.org; Joyce Dickerson, Director, Sustainable IT, Stanford University; Brian Goncher, Director, Alternative Energy & Clean Tech Practice, Deloitte; Bruce Klafter, Managing Director, Environmental, Health and Safety, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Applied Materials; and Andrew Williamson, Director, Physic Ventures.
Asked how to define sustainability, Klafter, who has led the efforts of Applied Materials to achieve sustainability, argued for a broad definition that encompasses social, health, economic, as well as environmental issues. Goncher, a leader in Deloitte’s Clean Tech practice, agreed with this broad definition and explained that Deloitte has created a set of metrics to capture a wide range of sustainability issues. Dickerson, who leads Stanford’s university-wide program to reduce energy use and carbon emissions from the campus IT infrastructure, emphasized that Stanford University uses a cadre of scorecards to track multiple sustainability issues, with emphasis on the long-term.
Among the drivers of sustainability, panelists agreed that recruiting was a major factor. Goncher said that Deloitte’s sustainability practice serves as a major recruitment tool. Coleman, who leads the partnership teams for Google Earth Engine and Google PowerMeter, stated that younger recruits in particular enthusiastically support the firm’s sustainability program and are eager to make an impact. Beutler, who leads reporting efforts for SAP’s drive for sustainability, agreed that prospective employees really do care about the firm’s sustainability efforts.
According to the panelists, supply chain pressures also drive sustainability. Klafter explained that Walmart pressures manufacturers such as HP and Dell, which in turn pressure Intel, which then pressures Applied Materials, a chain reaction that begins with the retailer and reaches through the entire supply chain.
Williamson, who invests in companies that enable consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, stressed that for companies to make a real difference, a difference that moves the needle, they must go beyond greening their own organizations to changing the behavior of customers. He pointed out the potential of social media sites such as GoodGuide.com to educate consumers on the environmental impact of products.
Beutler stated that SAP wants to assist its customers with sustainability, which has far greater potential than the greening of SAP itself, since the carbon footprint of its customers is easily ten thousand times that of SAP. Klafter pointed out the importance of product lifecycle analysis to discover the points of greatest environmental impact, whether manufacturing, distribution, use, or disposal.
In their concluding remarks, the panelists agreed that sustainability will become a necessity for corporations. Coleman argued that sustainability will become essential for any organization needing to attract talent. Williamson emphasized that sustainability will become essential for cost control. Goncher predicted that all corporations will develop sustainability programs and that those who act early will gain competitive advantage.
(For photos, visit DJ Cline’s site.)