Four Lessons in Corporate Water Efficiency

by Susannah Harris, 2014 Climate Corps Fellow

I received quizzical looks from family and friends when I told them I was working on water efficiency projects at Verizon this summer. They paused, racking their brains about where water is used within the telecommunications industry. “Like in the bathrooms?” they’d ask.

Susannah Harris pictured here on site at Verizon headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ

Susannah Harris pictured here on site at Verizon headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ

The reality is that domestic telecom companies rely on billions of gallons of water per year to cool, clean and maintain the buildings and equipment that support their expansive networks. And because customers require networks to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, much of that equipment is running around the clock. From cooling tower adjustments to grey water recycling, there are a number of water-saving opportunities available for the telecommunications industry. Implementing these practices – thereby reducing municipal water, sewer and energy bills – can also make a noticeable impact on the company's bottom line.

As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, my job was to chart a path forward for Verizon’s water efficiency efforts. The company has already made significant strides to reduce its carbon intensity – by 37 percent through 2012 over a 2009 baseline. “Verizon is taking a deeper dive into water efficiency to save critical resources for future generations,” says James Gowen, Chief Sustainability Officer and vice president of supply chain at Verizon. “Reducing our utility bills and increasing the effectiveness of our assets is a win-win for our business and the environment.”

Here are some lessons learned from my time at Verizon, which I hope will help other professionals developing corporate water strategies. The key is to gain a better understanding of how and where your company uses water – a critical building block for an effective program:

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Can a Climate Change Film Be As Memorable As TERMINATOR?

by Alex Duff, Corporate Affairs Manager, Kingfisher – Net Positive

Can you tell a story about climate change that’s as memorable as Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, Titanic or Avatar?  James Cameron, the acclaimed director of all of those blockbusters, clearly thinks it’s worth a shot given his involvement in a nine part docu-series that had its premier screening in London this week.  He’s not alone – a long list of movie stars, movie makers and many others have joined him in creating "Years of Living Dangerously" which has already been launched to critical acclaim in the USA.

Hollywood glamour

Whilst we weren’t at the Leicester Square Odeon, there was no red carpet and not a Hollywood movie star in sight, for those of us in sustainability more familiar with finding our stories knee-deep in a peat bog or skip-diving, the London premier held at the Soho Hotel certainly provided more than a glimpse of Hollywood glamour.  Perhaps more importantly though, it served as a powerful reminder of how clever interventions and effective storytelling can reach an audience beyond (excuse the pun) "The Usual Suspects."

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Co-loading Your Way to Green

By Homayoun Taherian

As transportation costs continue to rise, many companies are searching for ways to reduce spending by looking beyond their supply chain boundaries and collaborating with like-minded peers.

This type of horizontal collaboration – sharing supply chain assets with competitors – is known as co-loading in the freight transportation domain. Co-loading allows multiple companies to share space on the same transportation vehicle. It’s like ride sharing for freight. Co-loading does not only help save on transportation costs, it reduces carbon emissions, wear on transportation infrastructures and air pollution, in turn, creating healthier living environments across the nation.

To better understand the significance of co-loading, we need to look at the traditional utilization of truck capacities in the US. According to various DOT statistics:
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  • 15-25% of all the miles traveled in the US by freight trucks are empty miles. That means the vehicle carries no load while traveling. These are due to empty backhauls and deadhead miles.
  • The utilization of the remaining 75-85% of the non-empty miles is on average 64%. Another way of looking at this is that we are leaving 36% of our capacity for moving freight on the table. Co-loading is a way to get the full value of each move – leading to an overall reduction in necessary trips. Read more

Walmart Puts Consumer Product Suppliers on Notice: The Chemical Phase-out Starts Now

By: Michelle Mauthe Harvey and Sarah Vogel

Today dozens of consumer product makers will get a letter from Walmart detailing new requirements on phasing out a list of toxic chemicals found in goods sold by the world’s largest retailer. The comprehensive initiative is by far the largest and most ambitious of its kind. It reflects a growing trend in which consumer and wholesale purchasing power are combining to change the chemical makeup of the products we see on store shelves and bring into our homes.

Walmart_Stores

The policy and its implementation guide can be found here.

Walmart worked closely with vendors and non-profit advisors including Environmental Defense Fund. Together they spent several years developing the policy, and figuring out how to implement the unprecedented measures across a sprawling global supply chain with hundreds of suppliers. The solution had to be robust, credible and transparent. It also had to set an ambitious goal for suppliers without creating impossible hurdles. Read more

U.S. drought: is this the new normal?

Guest post by Tim Fleming, Director of Sustainability Operations, AT&T

By now most of the country is aware of the severe drought conditions impacting California. Now entering its third year, it is also affecting neighboring states and is an increasing cause for concern.

Last month, Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency and called upon all Californians, including homeowners and businesses, to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent. President Obama reiterated this call last week and AT&T asked its more than 34,000 California employees to reduce their company water usage by 30% until the drought declaration is lifted.

California is not the only state suffering from dangerously dry conditions. Last week, Governor Perry in Texas renewed his July 2011 proclamation extending the drought emergency. Leading me to ask – is this our country's new reality?

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What’s Your Corporate Water Management Plan?

Jennifer Dudgeon, Principal, Sustainability, CA Technologies

How much water does your organization consume? This is a question that CA Technologies has been asked more and more frequently. Customers want to know, investors want to know. Let’s not forget the CDP is scoring water disclosure next year, raising the importance of being able to articulate how we use and dispose of this very precious resource.

As a software company with no manufacturing operations and the bulk of our offices located in multi-tenant buildings, it’s challenging to answer this question. An added complication is the fact that the cost of water is significantly undervalued. This makes it difficult to craft a business case to install the necessary water meters, which would allow us to be smarter in this area. But these roadblocks didn’t stop us – innovation is at the core of our business and that extends to the sustainability realm. In the summer of 2013 we took on an EDF Climate Corps Fellow, Jonathan Hempton, to investigate how we can transparently and inclusively account for our water use practices.

As it turns out it was good timing, since around that time EDF and AT&T were finishing a project that’s aimed to help companies like ours figure this stuff out. The Water Efficiency Toolkit provides businesses with guidance on what questions to ask their facilities teams and ways to evaluate a building’s water efficiency and possible areas for improvement. Jonathan took this material and modified it to suit our needs, developing both a water audit tool and a water scorecard, which we will be rolling out this fall.

Good news for your company or organization: AT&T and EDF are hosting a free webinar on October 2nd than can help you dive into using the tools too. To find out more and register, click here.

In May 2013 we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can understand our water use, and in September we have a strong foundation that will allow us to develop a corporate water management plan. Not bad for a summer’s work!

What's In Your Home? New Walmart Policy Promises Safer Ingredients In Household And Personal Care Products

By: Sarah Vogel

This content was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Ever worry about what's in that cleaner you just sprayed all over the house? What about the shampoo your kids use each night? Today, an overwhelming number of products on store shelves and in our homes contain chemicals known to pose health risks to humans. Thanks to a new chemicals policy just announced by Walmart, American consumers are a step closer to having safer, healthier items in their homes.

It may surprise you that Walmart is leading the retail industry in eliminating hazardous chemicals from household products. Under the guidance of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Walmart has committed to taking steps that will move the entire industry — from manufacturers to retailers — towards producing and stocking safer products on shelves across America.

At Walmart's Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting, the company unveiled a new policy on chemicals, calling for expanded ingredient disclosure and targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with safer ingredients. It also plans to take its private brand consumables products through a rigorous screening process for these chemicals.

The commitments made today will impact some 20 percent of the consumables sold at Walmart stores nationwide — the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in and around your home or car. This includes everyday products like shampoo, baby lotion, cosmetics, paint, spray cleaners and air fresheners.

Regardless of your views on the company, Walmart's ability to transform how business does business is unprecedented. EDF has been working with Walmart since 2006 to protect people and the environment. Harnessing the massive scale of Walmart's business to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and off store shelves will have ripple effects across the entire industry.

Consumers today demand safer products; scientific research points to serious risks of chemical exposures to our health, including cancer, diabetes and infertility. Several years ago, EDF challenged Walmart to remove toxic chemicals from thousands of products on its shelves. Walmart's announcement marks an important step toward doing just that.

Since 2006, Walmart suppliers have submitted chemical ingredients for consumables to The Wercs, which allows Walmart to see exactly what chemicals are in suppliers' products. Using a screening tool called GreenWERCS, developed by a working group of industry, government and NGO representatives and co-chaired by EDF, Walmart will now be able to measure the progress it makes towards these commitments over time.

In our view, taking action on chemicals is a timely and practical response to growing public concern about toxic chemicals and public interest campaigns directed at many retailers and product manufacturers to remove hazardous ingredients from their products.

Over the past several years, major companies like SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson, and most recently, Procter & Gamble — some of Walmart's biggest suppliers — have all taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals.

This commitment promises to make thousands of healthier and safer products available to the 80 percent of Americans that shop at Walmart. It is a first and important step that must be followed through with meaningful implementation. At EDF, we will be closely monitoring and verifying the reduction of hazardous chemicals and shift to safer ingredients, ensuring the promise for healthier products becomes a reality.

This will not be achieved overnight or by one single retailer. Industry and government are both responsible for continuously improving the safety of chemicals in the products we bring into our homes every day. But Walmart's initiative marks a major step forward, and we hope to see other retailers follow suit.

Water Efficiency Planning: It all starts with good data

By: Caroline Goodbody

Nearly two thirds of the country remains locked in severe or higher level of drought and there is no end in sight.

I began to understand the scale of the problems facing our water systems while working for US Senator Ben Cardin. Senator Cardin is chairman of the Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which exposed me to the policies that surround water issues. When I wrote speeches or talking points, I would write broad umbrella statements like, “Water is essential to life, economic development, and growth,” and follow with a few facts and figures to impress whatever audience he was addressing. I knew that proper water management was important, but my understanding was only surface deep. I never had time to really explore the issue in depth and had to assume what the experts were telling me was correct.

After completing my first year in Yale’s MBA/MEM program, I had a couple of goals in mind when I looked for my "dream” internship this summer. The first was to learn the hard facts and specifics behind those grand statements I had written: I wanted to know where the numbers came from. The second was to learn how water issues are addressed outside of government, especially in the corporate sector. I was lucky to find a near – perfect fit with the EDF/AT&T Water Efficiency Project.

When I joined the team in May, AT&T and EDF had already completed the pilot phase of the project to identify opportunities to reduce water (and save money) by improving the efficiency of cooling towers on its buildings. AT&T’s Senior Energy Manager Tim Fleming explains the project in more detail here.

The next phase of the project was scaling up implementation of these findings within AT&T and more broadly. One of the tasks I was asked to take on was estimating the potential water savings that could be achieved if buildings in a dozen specific cities improved the efficiency of their cooling tower operations. These estimates help in making the case for why these cities would want to add this approach as part of overall water reduction plan.

While I knew this task would take time, I thought it would be doable and – since we were just aiming for ballpark figures – I believed would be fairly straightforward. Given how important water is to “life, economic development, and growth,” I was sure that the USGS and local governments keeps track of how much water is being used and who is using it.

So I was pretty surprised at how difficult it was to find data that allowed me to make “apples to apples” comparisons. Sometimes regional water demand would be broken down by sector; other times not. Even if water use was broken down by sector, states did not always use the same methods or definitions in determining water withdrawals and consumption. Sometimes there would be city estimates, and other times, the best I could find was regional or county level data. Finding recent data was also a challenge.

As I was combing through state and regional reports I was convinced that I was missing something. But when I dug further, and looked into methodologies, I would often find researchers making statements like, Quantification of water demand and its significance is limited by significant gaps in available data and analysis. Water has no federal data agency comparable to the Energy Information Administration that projects alternative demand scenarios,” or something along the lines of, Although the power sector is the largest user of water in the nation, national statistics on the consumption and withdrawal rates of individual power plants are characterized by inconsistencies and scarcity.”

Really?

Even though there is a universal understanding that water is essential to our economy, we have remarkably limited understanding of water use at both local and national levels. We cannot count on our water resources being reliable and predictable without accurate and comprehensive data. Water is important not just because we need it to drink and grow crops, but also because of the big role it plays in energy production. My colleague Kate Zerrenner covers this in a recent post.

The problem this lack of knowledge poses to policy makers and city planners is obvious – as populations grows, cities need to understand the constraints of local resources. But this information is important for decision makers in other sectors – including businesses. Businesses need to be able to count on a reliable source of water and a predictable source of energy.

Conquering our water challenges will be a challenge no matter what we do, but it will much easier if we have better data. And – as cliché as it sounds – will require every sector and company to look into its own facilities and find ways to reduce its water footprint. AT&T has already stepped up the plate and shown that tracking its water use and making small adjustments can save it money and mitigate future risk. The question now is, when will other businesses and government step up?

Caroline Goodbody is a joint MBA/MEM student at Yale University.

Your Morning Routine and Industrial Energy Efficiency – Not so Far Apart

By: Hana Kajimura

The buzz of your alarm against the bedside table jolts you into consciousness. You rise, shower and dress. Habitually, you squirt some Olay into your palm and Crest onto your toothbrush. A few minutes later, you shove a pair of heels in your bag and strap your favorite Adidas to your feet. Armed with a Wall Street Journal in hand, you’re out the door and on your way.

It’s just another Monday morning. You might be surprised though. If your routine sounds anything like this, you‘re taking part in an industrial energy efficiency revolution before you even get to the office.

The global industrial sector uses a third of all energy consumed in the United States so industrial energy efficiency projects hold huge promise. Only recently though have we seen examples of that promise being realized.

Over the past six years, EDF Climate Corps has placed specially trained graduate students in corporations to develop energy efficiency plans that save energy, money and the environment. The results speak for themselves. See some examples below.

Proctor & Gamble

EDF Climate Corps fellow Julia Li devised a plan to cut 18 million kWh in a P&G manufacturing plant and signed the company up for a state-wide incentive plan that will pay back $100 for every kW reduced during peak demand periods.

adidas Group

EDF Climate Corps fellow Elizabeth Turnbull worked in adidas Group’s distribution centers and recommended energy efficiency projects that could save $1.5 million by managing existing systems with no upfront cost.

News Corporation

EDF Climate Corps fellow Jay Stone led the charge to retrofit lighting at Dow Jones’ Bronx Printing Plant, where it prints the Wall Street Journal each morning. Stone developed plans for the plant to drive up lighting quality and worker productivity while driving down costs and CO2 emissions.

Because EDF Climate Corps fellows have demonstrated proof of concept, companies like these keep coming back for more. Collectively, EDF Climate Corps fellows have found more than $1.2 billion in potential energy savings.

EDF recently teamed up with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NiSE) to source the collective brainpower of 31 experts from energy service companies, finance, retail, NGOs, government and academia. Together we generated The Supply Chain Coordination and Energy Efficiency Symposium, a report that provides a roadmap to accelerate industrial energy efficiency initiatives. Among its key findings, the report called for more examples of successful energy efficiency projects to prove to investors and industry that energy efficiency projects pay back.

EDF Climate Corps has already provided hundreds of these energy efficiency success stories, many in the industrial sector. Stay tuned to our blog to hear stories from the 116 fellows sleuthing out energy savings across the nation this summer.

Walmart's Sustainability Trilogy: A Close-Up Perspective from EDF's Office in Bentonville

By: Alisha Staggs, Bentonville-based project manager at Environmental Defense Fund

In Marc Gunther’s recent article "Walmart’s index: a real life toy story," he calls the Walmart supplier Sustainability Index, "the biggest environmental initiative in the company's history," and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) agrees. He also questions whether "Walmart is taking this too far”"and "how the world's largest retailer is exercising its market power."

With a 25-year track record challenging companies to make decisions that are good for the environment and the economy, we at EDF are used to asking these types of tough questions.

That's precisely why we have an EDF office based in Bentonville dedicated solely to working together with Walmart to advance sustainability. Because we don't take money from the company, we can push hard to achieve the kinds of transformational change of which it is capable.

When it comes to the Sustainability Index, we're on board. And here’s why:

With over 100,000 suppliers, Walmart has the ability to use the Sustainability Index to move entire industries to go beyond what is required by law, benefiting consumers, workers and the planet.

The recent launch of the Index marks a highly anticipated milestone three years in the making for Walmart. Put it this way, if Walmart's sustainability journey were a bestselling trilogy, we'd be starting the second book. In the first book, the goals were set, the groundwork built, some smaller battles were won and lost. ..but now we're getting to the real action.  As the environmental advocate in the room, this is a book I don't want to put down.

If you missed the first book (where were you?), Gunther gives a nice recap here.

For the first time, environmental outcomes truly worthy of Walmart's scale seem achievable: Major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Improved efficiency across supply chains and sectors. Improvements in water quality and human health. The list goes on.

Beginning this year, Walmart will use The Sustainability Index to influence the design of its U.S. private brand products and will require its buyers to set specific sustainability objectives that will be tied to their annual reviews. For example, Gunther zooms in on Walmart’s senior buyer for baking commodities, Tim Robinson, in another recent story to show how this is happening in real time. Of course, Robinson's story is one of many.

By the end of 2017, Walmart will buy 70 percent of the goods it sells in U.S. stores and U.S. Sam’s Clubs from suppliers who use The Sustainability Index to evaluate and share the sustainability of products.

And while we see the Index moving in the right direction, EDF continues to ask the tough questions.   How do we keep the momentum going across hundreds of buyers and thousands of suppliers?  How do we avoid unintended consequences?  How do we track and measure the true impact of progress on the ground? What is the full potential of the Index?  Is incremental change enough to get us where we need to be by when we need to be there?

These are the questions to be answered in the second part of this sustainability story, and I have my fingers crossed for something truly epic.

This content is cross-posted on Walmart's The Green Room.