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:

1. Expect water bills to be a handful: If your company is serious about water tracking, invest in bill paying software that summarizes utility data into easy-to-pull reports. This will help you avoid the data analysis nightmare of manually normalizing billing cycles, units, fees, etc., and make it easier to calculate usage across a range of facilities billed by different water providers. 

 2. Calculate water use intensities: Normalizing a building’s water use by its square footage – or total number of employees for administrative buildings – is a helpful way to prioritize facilities for water savings projects. This is similar to how one might use an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) metric to prioritize energy efficiency projects. Of course, it’s most useful to compare water use intensities among buildings with similar use profiles and climates to account for cooling needs.

3. Leverage benchmarking resources: Some interesting resources are popping up that you can use to compare your buildings’ water use to that of similar facilities. Use these resources to give your key decision makers a sense of where your buildings stand against average buildings of the same type.

4. Make a lot of friends: Water efficiency projects will require data, insights, and buy-in from multiple teams. The sooner you get all necessary parties in-the-loop, the better it is for your project. At Verizon, I am coordinating among the sustainability, real estate, network, facilities, and finance teams to get pilot water efficiency projects in administrative and technical buildings off of the ground.

As the California drought worsens, there is no better time for companies like Verizon to kick off robust water efficiency programs. EDF estimates that improving the efficiency of cooling towers in all large U.S. buildings alone could save 28 billion gallons of water annually. Now is the time to baseline, benchmark and get to know your company’s water use. There is a good chance that water is flowing through many more places than just the bathroom.

Also of interest:

Private Equity Interest in EDF Climate Corps at All-Time High

Summer at EDF is always an exciting time as EDF Climate Corps fellows fan out and begin their placements at organizations across the country. This year we're thrilled to see a dozen fellows working with private equity firms and their portfolio companies, the highest number of such placements in a single summer. In total, EDF has now placed 44 EDF Climate Corps fellows in the private equity sector to date.

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CC 2012 fellow Sarah Stern presents her work to CD&R's Daniel Jacobs, left, and Thomas Franco, right

Managing investment dollars equivalent to roughly 8 percent of U.S. GDP, the private equity sector is critical to sharing, replicating and advancing corporate environmental best practices, so it's gratifying to see the level of activity continue to build. New hosts this year include portfolio companies Associated Materials, Avaya, Floor & Décor, Philadelphia Energy Solutions and Taylor Morrison. Private equity firms KKR and Warburg Pincus are also hosting fellows this year, as they have previously.

Since EDF and KKR first partnered in 2008 to launch the Green Portfolio program, KKR’s portfolio companies have achieved more than $900 million in financial impacts while avoiding 1.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, 4.7 million tons of waste and 19.5 million cubic meters of water use. Out of this work, EDF developed and made available to companies a free tool for identifying and managing environment, social and governance (ESG) issues.

As to Warburg Pincus, for the second year in a row they are sponsoring an EDF Fellow to work with several portfolio companies during the summer on energy efficiency and sustainability projects.

Watch this space later this summer for updates on this year's EDF Climate Corps fellows as they find ways to save money and reduce emissions by cutting energy waste, making the case that what is good for our planet is good for business. Their success is the best evidence of the strategic shift among investors, who increasingly recognize ESG management as a powerful tool for improving investment practices and creating value for both companies and the environment.

Also of interest: Private Equity Firms Realize the Value of Participating in EDF Climate Corps

 

The Benefits of Stringent Trucking Standards

by Kate Rack, marketing & communications intern

The Obama Administration is developing new fuel economy standards for trucks, and last week, Ceres and Environmental Defense Fund hosted a webinar outlining how implementing strong federal standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks would be truly a win-win situation.

Our organizations, along with other leaders, are calling for strong standards that cut fuel consumption by 40%. A recent analysis of such standards shows that they would reduce both greenhouse gas emission levels and expenses to ship goods via freight.

EDF helps freight logistics professionals on the journey to greener freight

Why make truck efficiency a priority?

Currently in the U.S., the trucking sector is the fastest growing single source of greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. businesses spend $650 billion a year on freight trucking services, which equates to over half a billion tons of GHG emissions. It is essential that as fuel efficiency standards for cars becomes more stringent, trucks follow suit, especially since 70% of tonnage shipped within the U.S is by truck. In particular, retail and consumer products are the largest consumers of trucking in the United States. Chances are, the computer screen that you are using right now to read this blog post was brought to you on a truck!

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In New Report, KKR Deepens Commitment to Tackling ESG Concerns

Too often, environmental performance gets labeled as the responsibility of one team within a company – whether that of a dedicated sustainability staff, external or public affairs, legal or compliance, etc. As a result, a company’s staff can often think of environmental and social governance (ESG) issues as what Douglas Adams once famously termed an SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem.

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With the release of its 2013 ESG and Citizenship Report, private equity firm Kravis Kohlberg & Roberts (KKR) shows it’s taking a different approach:  KKR has adopted a new global policy that makes identifying and addressing ESG risks in both the pre-investment and investment phases, for its staff, everyone’s problem.

Notably, KKR’s private equity investment professionals are being integrated into the ESG risk assessment process: first, in assessing risks during the diligence phase, and second, working with portfolio companies, consultants and subject matter experts to set performance goals and measure against them during the typical five to seven years a company remains part of its portfolio.

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Join EDF and Ceres Experts for “Truck Talk”

As July 4th fades away, grills cool down and the remains of fireworks are swept away, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. In my case, I’m preparing for a webinar Ceres’ Carol Lee Rawn and I are holding this Wednesday, sharing the findings of our recent report on how strong medium- and heavy-duty truck standards would cut freight costs and emissions.

It’s a topic we’re both passionate about – and think you should be too —  and with good reason: U.S. businesses spend $650 billion a year on freight trucking services, which account for over half a billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a year, the fastest growing single source of GHG emissions. Fuel is the single largest cost of owning and operating a heavy-truck, accounting for 39% of total costs.

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Our report finds that new, bold fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty trucks could end up reducing the cost of moving freight by 7% and owners of tractor-trailer units could save $0.21/mile, an annual savings potential in excess of $25 billion given that class 8 trucks in the US logged 120 billion miles in 2013.

The Obama Administration is in the process of developing new fuel economy and GHG standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and its determination will affect both your company’s freight costs and GHG emissions.  Join us on July 9th for this webinar, where we’ll walk through the savings associated with strong standards and how you can help ensure that stringent standards are adopted.

Register now for the webinar!

Feeding the Planet—Without Ruining It

Nestle. Unilever. Walmart. Kellogg’s. Colgate-Palmolive. What do these companies have in common? They’re just a few of the global companies that have committed publicly over the last few years to work towards ridding their supply chains of raw agricultural commodities that directly cause deforestation.

Deforestation in Brazil

Global deforestation is responsible for roughly 12 percent of world-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC)—more than double those generated by the entire U.S. electricity sector (EIA). In addition, deforestation is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss in the world, displaces indigenous populations and can drive major regional changes in weather patterns. Agricultural production drives 85 percent of global deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists).

You may be thinking, “Why should that concern my company? We aren’t in a sector tied to agriculture or buy, sell or use commodities from countries engaged in deforestation.” That may be true if you only consider your company’s direct operations. If your company, however, produces or sells personal care or food products, or uses paper packaging, chances are high that deforestation causing commodities like soy, palm oil, timber, cattle, or derivative products of them are part of your supply chain.

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Big Ideas on Display with Verizon Ventures

At the invitation of Alan Scott, Verizon’s leader of energy and sustainability, I was thrilled to participate in the Verizon Ventures Powerful Answers Award Dinner two weeks ago, a gathering of entrepreneurs, sustainability executives from large corporations, and nonprofit leaders.

Verizon Powerful Answers Award

The dinner was part of the run-up to Verizon's multi-million dollar global competition for creative solutions to the world's problems in the areas of education, healthcare, sustainability and transportation. The competition, for which the entry deadline is June 30th, rewards innovators for finding more efficient, sustainable, and accessible solutions that lead to better outcomes.

It was fascinating to hear the variety of conversations in the room, which appropriately was held at Foreign Cinema restaurant, a San Francisco Bay Area restaurant known for its sustainable practices. Across the evening, two key themes resonated with me: cross-learning and networks.

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Save Your Company Costs: Support Stronger Truck Efficiency Standards!

New, bold fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty trucks could end up reducing the cost of moving freight by 7% and owners of tractor-trailer units could save $0.21/mile. These are among the key findings of a new report from EDF and Ceres.

The report, which is based on analysis by MJ Bradley and Associates, examines one potential technology pathway to achieve the stringency target of 40% over 2010 set forth by our groups and other advocates.

PrintFuel is the single largest cost of owning and operating a heavy-truck, accounts for 39% of total costs. Strong fuel efficiency standards will target these costs largely by requiring the use of cost-effective, fuel saving technologies. As the new analysis demonstrates, fuel savings will be significantly greater than increases in equipment costs.

A $0.21 per mile savings, for example, has an annual savings potential in excess of $25 billion given that class 8 trucks in the US logged 120 billion miles in 2013.

Our finding of significant financial benefits of strong fuel efficiency and GHG standards is consistent in magnitude with previous analysis. A recent report by the Consumer Federation of America looked at similar Phase 2 standards and found net savings of $250 to consumers, rising to $400 per household in 2035 as fuel prices and transportation services increase.

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Raising the Bar for Private Equity ESG Reporting

As the old management adage goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” Private equity firm Apax Partners took an important step toward embodying that concept this spring by releasing a sustainability report rich with key metrics from its portfolio companies' progress in environmental, social and governance (ESG) management.

Apax Partners logo

As last year’s Pitchbook survey showed, ESG management is increasingly a mainstream issue for private equity firms. The detailed data that Apax portfolio companies are gathering — and reporting as a group — form the foundation for companies to manage ESG issues, as well as benchmark and then measure any advances.

This is all part of an important, ongoing shift in the private equity industry: from questioning if firms can create value through ESG management, to how can firms capture the value.

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Be humble, be bold: inspiration from the 2014 Shared Value Summit

“Be humble; be bold,” said David Browning of TechnoServe, offering his advice on developing partnerships at the 2014 Shared Value Leadership Summit. By that, he explained, your goals should be aspirational, but that you should “ground-truth” your strategies before getting too far ahead of yourself.

Michael Reading

As a manager in new project development with EDF’s corporate partnerships team, I was drawn to the Summit to learn from other organizations working to harness the power of markets to drive societal and environmental progress, creating “shared value” for all involved. Browning’s talk was just one of the highlights of the Summit, where an inspiring combination of expertise, experimentation and uncommon alliances was on display.

Redefining shared value

Shared value is a still-evolving idea, first defined in 2011 as “a management strategy focused on companies creating measurable business value by identifying and addressing social problems that intersect with their business.” While the terminology is new, the concept of creating it through corporate-NGO partnerships thankfully isn’t.

What is new, as noted in the opening plenary, is the rapid shift of companies from launching many small-scale pilot projects to “developing the playbook”–codifying and scaling best practices across business units and entire sectors.

Honing the playbook

The term playbook itself captures the diversity of efforts that companies at the Summit described as necessary to drive real results. “You have to take a variety of approaches to do something big,” said Beth Keck of Walmart in summing up the company’s wide-ranging efforts with international NGO TechnoServe to incorporate one million smallholder farmers into its supply chains. JPMorgan Chase & Co and the Nature Conservancy announced the launch of NatureVest, an innovative new platform drawn from both organizations’ strengths to drive impact investment in conservation.

Partnerships that require both expertise and experimentation to scale up impacts are never easy and speakers offered their hard-won insights. According to Zia Khan of Rockefeller Foundation, partners need to not only care about the problem to be solved, but see it as important to their organization. Our partnership with AT&T came quickly to mind; water scarcity represents a critical operational issue for the company and an important issue for EDF, which has driven us to work together to help AT&T and other companies in five water-stressed areas reduce their water use.

Applying lessons learned

At EDF, I work with colleagues to develop new models to engage business in addressing critical environmental issues, including efforts to reduce pollution from fertilizer and emissions from deforestation, and EDF’s playbook’s getting richer and more diverse with each new project. At the moment we’re ramping up a competition to identify innovative technologies to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to find and quickly fix methane leaks, as well as working with Walmart to phase out toxic chemicals from their supply chain.

With exciting challenges ahead, I look forward to applying lessons learned from the Summit: to be bold in seeking transformational change; be humble in learning from the expertise around me; and to seek alliances, however uncommon, with those willing to work together.