At what sustainability level is your company?

The good people at Siemens Building Technologies, Buffalo Grove, IL, recently issued their first corporate sustainability report. I won’t drag you through it. If you’re interested, click here to download and read the report.
   What was of interest to me was the way they broke down sustainability so they could figure out where they fit and where they needed to go. Their starting point was to identify five stages of sustainability progression. Stages one and two view sustainability as a cost; stage three begins to see sustainability as a lever of economic advantage; stages four and five embrace sustainability as part of organizational strategy.
   “We view[ed] our company as a solid stage three, and then set our goal to become a stage four to stage five organization,” said Brad Haeberle, Siemens vice president and sustainability committee chair. “With that in mind, the committee’s first task was three-fold: to learn from other industry leaders in corporate sustainability, and to gather information on what we were doing today, and to brainstorm what we could and should be doing as a company.” This led the sustainability committee to interview a number of leaders and pioneers in corporate sustainability, many from industries unrelated to Siemens, to provide a fresh perspective of the role that sustainability can play across the enterprise and its people. From this work, they were able to define four pillars of success against which they could measure their corporate efforts (quoted from the Siemens report):

  • Pillar One―Products: Reduce the negative environmental impact of our products, specifically in manufacturing, packaging, and labeling. Siemens Building Technologies now includes an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) on every product released, which identifies all materials used in the manufacturing of the product
  • Pillar Two―Operations: Minimize the environmental footprint of Siemens Building Technologies’ operations. For example, emissions associated with fuel consumption by the company’s vehicle fleet were reduced, and the company introduced a water-reduction plan that [reduced] water use by 8.4% in FY2008, [compared with] FY2007, and 15%, [compared with] FY2005. The company also reduced air travel directly associated with our business activities and similar downstream activities, [such as] parcel shipping. The company also worked hard to [decrease] electricity consumption at the Buffalo Grove campus and manufacturing facilities, reducing it in FY2008 by 5%, [compared with] FY2007, and 13%, [compared with] FY2005 levels.
  • Pillar Three―Solutions: Develop industry-leading solutions that generate a positive impact on the environment for our customers. Since 1994, Siemens has been involved in more than 1,300 energy-efficiency projects, saving some $2.1 billion in energy costs while reducing the amount of CO2 released by 700,000 tons per year. In addition, we have negotiated more than $3 billion in energy supply contracts on behalf of our customers.
  • Pillar Four―Transparency: Siemens Building Technologies understands that the company’s sustainability initiatives and activities are relevant to many different audiences, both inside and outside the organization. In 2008 the company publicly announced its Sustainability Committee to employees and published “Sustainability Initiatives,” an eight-page e-brochure outlining key aspects of the program to select customers. Since 2007, we have institutionalized a number of communications tools, including webinars, internal blogs, email and newsletter updates, to ensure that all employees understand our mission and objectives, as well as our commitment to making sustainability an intrinsic part of our company’s DNA.

   If your company is serious about reducing its impact on the environment and being able to market your products/services without resorting to “green wash,” the Siemens approach appears to provide a good starting point.—Gary L. Parr

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