Get Smart - Eco Data Archives

August 4, 2009

How the Wal-Mart Eco-Ratings Will Save Money

[Post #3 of 3 on Wal-Mart's activity in the last couple of months. This appeared at Harvard Business Online]

I wouldn't normally focus on the same company twice in a week, but Wal-Mart just keeps making news in the world of sustainability — and in the world of commerce for that matter. With a major PR push, the company announced its latest initiative targeting supplier sustainability performance. After a lot of huffing and puffing, the announcement itself was fairly simple (at least for now).

In short, Wal-Mart will be asking all suppliers 15 questions about their approaches on four key issues: energy and climate, material efficiency, natural resources, and people and community. A few sample questions:

--> Have you measured your corporate greenhouse gas emissions?
--> Please report total water use from the facilities that produce your product(s) for Wal-Mart.
--> Do you know the location of 100% of the facilities that produce your product(s)?

For now, these questions are mainly for data collection, but they represent the first step toward (a) truly comparing suppliers on their sustainability performance and (b) creating a real sustainability index that consumers can use to compare products. Most of the press coverage on this was making it sound like a product green label was around the corner. But Wal-Mart, according to one top exec, is "maybe five years" away from that level of data and consumer communication.

Rather than analyze the announcement details any further, I want to put yesterday's announcement in context within the range of Wal-Mart's sustainability actions and within some larger trends. But first, let's be clear: this kind of sustainability data collection is good for business, and it's definitely good for Wal-Mart. And while it may seem like a total pain to suppliers, it will be good for them as well.

The logic is simple: knowing your business better makes it easier to find hidden value.

Read the rest of this post...

August 22, 2009

Moore's Law and the Environment: An Opportunity

Everything's getting faster these days you've heard it before. Two mega-trends in particular are merging: rapidly accelerating technological change and rapidly evolving environmental issues and pressures. Lucky for us, the first change is going to save our butts from the second. Fast-evolving, smart IT will play a critical role in helping us navigate and profit from environmental challenges. The two trends together are combining to make for enduring change in how business is done, a movement to a permanently higher plane of green and tech-driven activity.

A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Ten-Year Century," makes the well-known case that the pace of transformation in society is accelerating. More has changed, the authors say, in this decade than in the previous century. To be specific,

Changes that used to take generations economic cycles, cultural shifts, mass migrations, changes in the structures of families and institutions now unfurl in a span of years... Game-changing consumer products and services (iPod, smart phones, YouTube, Twitter, blogs) that historically might have appeared once every five or more years roll out within months.

The "Laws" of Technology that the authors highlight Moore's and Metcalfe's perfectly describe how quickly both computational power and networking capacity are growing (double the computing power on every chip every 18 months, for example). It's a "law" in the world of technology that things are steadily getting faster.

But this op-ed and other "tech is changing the world so fast" stories and I'm a sucker for them miss the another big shift that's moving just as fast: the degradation of the natural world and the resulting pressure to green society and business.

[The rest of this blog appears on Harvard Business Online here]

December 2, 2009

Five Ways to Use (Green) Data to Make Money

If you put an energy meter inside a home and show people total usage in real time, a miraculous thing happens: they use about 10 percent less energy. The simple act of placing data in front of people changes their behavior. Data makes people smarter and inspires them to make small changes to save money and energy. You can use this powerful tool in business not only to cut costs, but to drive innovation and revenues.

Some are calling this phenomenon the "Prius effect," referring to how people respond when they see real-time fuel-efficiency data while driving the popular Toyota hybrid. As the described it, the Prius effect "can change driving in startling ways, making drivers conscious of their driving habits, then adjusting them to compete for better mileage." Similarly, making footprint data more accessible to those managers that can do something about it can create real value. As they say, you can't manage what you don't measure. It's amazing how often I hear that phrase — and how often people need to hear it. Tech leaders will tell you that one of the best possible solutions to the rapid increase in energy use and cost in data centers is simple: Add the power bill to the CIO's budget!

You can put your green data to use in five ways that will help your bottom line:

1. Saving money — a lot of it. As we've seen, if you give your operational people information on resource use, they will be inspired to find ways to cut back.

2. Driving internal competition. Share footprint data broadly and transparently and you'll see how badly people like to win. When PepsiCo Chicago ran a floor-by-floor energy reduction competition, the results were staggering. In one three-month period, electricity use dropped 17% (and paper use 22%). Energy use on the winning floor plummeted 31%. Factory heads at a number of companies have told me that they'd rather miss their financial targets than their green or energy goals — it's just too embarrassing to be at the bottom of the list.

3. Answering your customers' pressing questions. Wal-Mart, along with many other companies, is asking suppliers and vendors very tough questions about their environmental and social impacts. Those that can gather their data and tell the best story will get the most shelf space and mind space (see my previous post on Wal-Mart's eco-ratings for more on this point).

4. Prioritizing initiatives. Resources remain very tight — you don't want to spend money on the wrong things. With all the pressure to go green, it's easy to get lost in the weeds and pursue avenues that may not yield the most benefit. When companies really look at their full value-chain impacts, they're very often surprised at the results. Green leader Stonyfield Farm discovered that 95% of the ecological damage from its packaging occurred during production and distribution. So the company has made light-weighting (which is what it sounds like) the top priority — use less stuff and the footprint goes down. Stonyfield has made the deliberate choice to not use a recyclable, yet heavier, plastic; this counterintuitive and seemingly non-green choice makes the most environmental and fiscal sense given the real data.

5. Finding new market openings and focusing innovation. Procter & Gamble went through a similar lifecycle exercise and made a similar discovery about its laundry products. The vast majority of energy use was not in sourcing, production, or distribution, but in the use of the detergent in homes. And the majority of that was not the washing machine turning, but heating the water. This insight led to Tide Coldwater, a reformulated product to help customers wash in cool water, using less energy and saving money. Coldwater is one of P&G's seven original "sustainable innovation products" that generated $2 billion in sales in the first year.

Operating your business without environmental and social metrics leaves part of your management "dashboard" blank. How well can you run your company without complete information? But don't worry — you're not that far behind if you don't have a perfect handle on your value-chain footprint, or even your direct impacts. It's getting easier and easier to gather this data, and you can accomplish a great deal with even "back of the envelope" calculations (more on this in my next post).

For a slightly longer take on this topic, see also my recent e-letter, or the full discussion in my new book Green Recovery

[This blog was originally posted on Harvard Business Online]

December 10, 2009

Gathering Green Data: Tools and Tips

A couple posts ago, I talked about the ways you can use green data — footprinting information on your products and services up and down the value chain — to create enormous value for your company. As they say, you can't manage what you don't measure. And those with the best information can cut costs, reduce risk, answer customer questions on environmental and social impacts, and help customers reduce their footprints.

But it's a fair question to ask how you might gather this data, especially when budgets remain very tight as the economy gradually recovers. Conducting a full, detailed lifecycle analysis (LCA) is likely to be a time-consuming, resource-draining affair. But luckily there are some shortcuts. Here are a few principles and guidelines for getting smarter about your footprint with the least resources possible:

1. Qualitative analysis is good. In fact, it's better to start with a more strategic view on your products or services than to dive right into detailed numeric analysis. Map out your value chain for a quick view on resource use. Then ask really top level questions that aren't part of the normal day-to-day thinking for most functions in a company, like what comes in the door, and what did it take for suppliers to produce it (are there processes energy or water intensive, for example)? What do we do with our inputs, and how much energy and resources do we use? How much energy and resources do our customers use? What happens to our products after customers are done with them?

You're looking for directionally-correct answers on where the biggest risks and opportunities are...or at the very least, where your data gaps are and how best to fill them.

2. "Back of the envelope" analysis is also okay. Top-line numbers on your own impacts and energy use, from departments like IT, facilities, and distribution, can give you sense of where cuts are most needed or valuable. The data may not be readily available at first, but it certainly isn't capital intensive to find it.

3. Use data that's already out there. A truly detailed LCA is, frankly, a pain. Following a product through every stage of its creation and use is difficult. Luckily, the resources available to help you are multiplying. Industry groups and academics have conducted LCAs on many products. You can extrapolate numbers from similar categories to save time and at least understand where the biggest issues lie. For example, let's say you produce food products, some of which have a big dairy component. The dairy industry has conducted an extensive LCA on a gallon of milk. That study can tell you that the methane produced by livestock may dominate your life-cycle carbon footprint as well.

Another option: public (or quasi-public) databases. See the wonky-sounding Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) data at Carnegie Mellon, or the data collected by AMEE in the UK. Without going into too much detail, the EIO-LCA captures data on flows of goods in and out of all sectors of the U.S. economy, along with data on energy use in each sector, and allows for big picture estimates on impacts. It's a back-of-the-envelope calculation — on a very big envelope. But if you don't want to dig into databases yourself (and who does), then you'll be glad to know that some smart developers have embedded these data sources into handy software products, so...

4. Seek out tools to help you. There is also a wealth of options for software that can help you get a handle on your impacts, including those throughout your supply chain. There are a few now classic providers of product LCA software, such as Ecobilan's TEAM and GaBi Sofware. But new niche players and products that focus on a company's carbon footprint include offerings from both the usual suspects and new entrants: Carbon Impact (formerly Clear Standards, now part of SAP), Planet Metrics, SAS for Sustainability Management, Computer Associates eco-Software, and two open source solutions Carbon Counted and Earthster (in beta).

I've worked with, or been taken through demos of most of these players — all are offering good tools and expertise. But I'm sure I've missed many others so please send me tools you've found useful (

On top of these carbon modeling tools, companies are offering a range of other green data-tracking services: a sustainability dashboard from Microsoft, Google PowerMeter to measure energy consumption (for homes, but how far off are business-targeted versions), and a cool new product from AngelPoints (working with Saatchi S) that puts the Wal-Mart Personal Sustainability Project program into tracking software so companies can show employees what all their pledges of behavior change add up to.

Beyond these more self-help methods, there is an ever-growing number of consultants that can guide you (including partners of mine such as Domani). You may need to start small with my guidelines above and estimate if resources are too tight, but if you can, working with experts can provide you with a much deeper picture of your company's data-gathering capabilities.

Finally, a larger investment in getting smarter — building that internal capacity to understand footprints on an ongoing basis, and even real-time — will pay back in ways you can barely imagine. Those with the best data win.

This first appeared on Harvard Business online.

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January 22, 2010

Top 10 Green Business Stories of 2009

Happy New Year all (ok, I'm a bit delayed, but I entered the new year and promptly got really sick -- lost over a week in there). So let's start fresh now!

Anyway, I took a bit of time at the end of 2009 and early 2010, with a couple weeks' perspective, to think about the stories that really grabbed me in 2009. The top 10 is below, but see my brief write-ups and logic on each at my e-letter site here.

1) Copenhagen fails or does it?
2) The debate over climate science rages on (in the U.S. at least)
3) The EPA steps in
4) Wal-Mart keeps the pressure up (and saves the rainforest?)
5) Domino's employees deliver a new kind of openness.
6) IBM starts building a "smarter planet"
7) GM goes bankrupt
8) Some of our biggest capitalists get serious about carbon
9) China emerges as a green tech leader and the world's biggest emitter
10) The bottom of the pyramid becomes a source of innovation

And the bonus, theater of the absurd, wacky story...
10 1/2) Forbes names Exxon green company of the year

May 26, 2010

Greening Pepsi, from Fertilizer to Bottles

[This appeared first on my Harvard Business Review blog]

Pepsi recently demonstrated its commitment to reducing its environmental impacts up and down the value chain with two rapid-fire announcements about new initiatives. The old-school approach to greening is to focus on operations within the proverbial "four walls." But Pepsi, like other leaders, is approaching sustainability more holistically, with much greater impact.

I recently spoke with Tim Carey, Pepsi's Director of Sustainability for Beverages in the Americas, about two big initiatives in which he's playing a key role.

First, on the downstream side, Pepsi looked for ways to raise the recycling rate of beverage containers from a relatively paltry 34% to 50% or higher. Working with GreenOps, a division of Waste Management, Pepsi launched a new program called "Dream Machine." These "reverse" vending machines, now being placed in high-traffic areas such as gas stations and stadiums, take back those often-abandoned and often-unrecycled empty bottles and give users points toward rewards from sponsors or local merchants.

But Pepsi has gone beyond those relatively minor incentives to add on a social mission. The program will also help fund Pepsi's donation to a group called Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which trains vets at business schools around the country. Pepsi expects that the combined immediate points and larger mission will drive new, greener customer behaviors — and help solve one of the beverage industry's most intractable value chain problems.

Second, Pepsi has embarked on a very unusual supply chain effort to reduce the carbon emissions associated with its Tropicana orange juice. After conducting a full life-cycle analysis of the product line, the company was relatively surprised to find that the biggest portion of the carbon footprint was found not in manufacturing, or distribution, but actually back in the agriculture stage — primarily the result of the heavily natural-gas dependent process of making fertilizer (see chart).


The analysis showed Pepsi execs where the largest impacts were, and thus where they'd get the biggest bang for their buck on carbon reductions. The company started working with suppliers and farmers to find new ways to make and apply fertilizer. For example, instead of using natural gas from as far away as Russia (which then requires shipping heavy fertilizer across the world), Pepsi is using biomass from closer to home. Wood waste and agricultural by-products are two sources, but execs are hopeful they can also use the large number of their own orange rinds left over in manufacturing, which would fully close the loop.

The company is also working with scientists on the root chemistry of orange trees, applying fungi and bacteria to increase the uptake of nutrients. All that techno-speak means that the trees will need less fertilizer in total, which means less manufacturing and shipping of that fertilizer and, voila, a smaller footprint.

A 100-acre test run of these new methods of working with new, low-carbon fertilizer is underway. A few years from now, Pepsi and its suppliers will know what's working and what isn't.

But here's the best part: the cost of these changes to consumers and growers will be about zero. And it had to be. Let's face it, this kind of carbon reduction isn't easy to convey to consumers, so the market benefit may be small for now. So the sustainability team needed to find ways to lower the fertilizer footprint without causing any additional cost to suppliers or farmers. How did they do it?

By focusing its efforts on the real footprint — identified through a solid lifecycle analysis and good data — Pepsi found the approach with the highest payback. As sustainability exec Tim Carey put it, "It's not unusual to spend tens of millions of dollars removing some carbon from a manufacturing process at returns that can be 10% or less...or we can take 15% of total carbon out in the fertilizer step without costing anything."

The impacts of these tests — and future rollout — will not be small; Pepsi buys a fairly shocking one-third of the Florida orange harvest. And the recycling work could shift millions of bottles out of landfills. Pepsi's full value chain view on sustainability is deep green stuff — this is how you implement green thinking.

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June 2, 2010

SAP and the Greening of a Service Business

It's always easier to picture how a manufacturing company can go green — just cut back on energy, waste, and material to reduce air and water pollution, for example. But what does it mean for a service-focused business, such as a software company, to travel down the sustainability path?

Last week I got an interesting view on how enterprise software giant SAP is pursuing a green agenda. Sustainability was a core theme at SAP's annual meeting SAPPHIRE NOW, a large gathering of over 16,000 CIOs and tech professionals. (Full disclosure: SAP hired me to speak at the event.)

So how does a company with a seemingly small physical footprint create real value from pursuing sustainability? SAP seems to be pursuing three paths that are a good framework to keep in mind.

First, walk the talk. SAP is first reducing its own impacts. Last year, the company saved $90 million Euros through eco-efficiency, including a 7% reduction in energy consumption. A good portion of the savings came from reducing air travel, which makes up 35% of the company's total carbon impact. SAP also got lean in its IT operations; for the first time ever last year, it had fewer servers when the year ended than when it began.

SAP also worked to engage employees and tackled some smaller, symbolic issues like paper use. Sustainability managers placed large stacks of empty paper boxes in the cafeteria to demonstrate how much employees used in a single day. The company has also asked its 50,000 employees to take "100,000 steps" (that is, two each, or one for each foot) to be more sustainable in their lives.

Second, and far more importantly, help your customers reduce their impacts, a core greening strategy for any company. As co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe put it during his keynote, SAP wants to be "an Enabler." Snabe continued, "We believe transactional systems we have installed in many customers have information that...can help customers manage resources — not just human capital, materials or money but scarce resources like water, energy and CO2...This is the mission we have taken on with sustainability."

SAP took a hard look at its product line to see if it could deliver on this vision. In the last year, the company acquired Clear Standards, a well-respected carbon footprint software company (rebranding it Carbon Impact), and announced it will purchase Technidata, a leading provider of environmental, health, and safety management software. Last week, SAP execs were running around the show floor, gleefully demonstrating how cool Carbon Impact looked on an iPad, and demonstrating how it helps SAP analyze its own footprint data.

As an example of how SAP envisions working with companies to enable sustainability goals, execs describe how the company helped oil refiner Valero harmonize its operational systems. By obtaining much better information on energy use and processes across the organization, Valero was able to save $120 million in energy costs last year (and an expected $200 million-plus in 2010) and slash environmental incidents 63% since 2006. The savings realized from having better data available is a perfect example of the "Prius effect" that I've written about before.

By working in this way with their customers, SAP is able to reduce impacts and create value far beyond what it could just do internally.

Third, communicate clearly with customers and stakeholders about how your products and services help the cause. SAP has developed a view on the key operational focal areas that companies need to manage well to head down the road to sustainability. The company created a "Sustainability Map" that includes 33 topics — such as sourcing, logistics, design, and green IT - across 8 functional areas of the business. These topics map to some broad goals that SAP argues drive sustainable value creation (such as reducing operation risk and improving resource productivity).

The map is a critical part of the company's new CSR report, an innovative, social-media-driven approach to both discussing the company's impacts and pitching its solutions. This dual-purpose report makes sense for a service business.

Dr. Peter Graf, the company's Chief Sustainability Officer, put SAP's shift in large, strategic terms and made it clear that providing customers with solutions was critical to the company's future: "When we look at sustainability we compare it to other fundamental megatrends [such as] globalization and the Internet. Sustainability is going to be similar in the way it fundamentally changes all business as the leader in business process technology, we have to play, and we have no choice but to lead." (See a streaming video of an interview with Peter Graf and me here — you'll have to register, and then look under "keynotes and broadcasts").

For many years, IT companies felt that they didn't have a lot of skin in the sustainability game — they didn't have big smokestacks, after all. But now even service companies like SAP are seeing the deep connection between green and business growth survival.

[This post first appeared at Harvard Business Review Online]

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July 29, 2010

IBM's Green Supply Chain

While the "greening of the supply chain" has been in the works for decades, the movement has really taken off in 2010. In the last few months, a number of corporate giants have announced new initiatives that pressure suppliers to do much more to measure and manage their environmental impacts. The big guns asking the questions include Pepsi, P&G (more in a future post), and IBM.

For years, most supply chain programs have included a similar, somewhat narrow range of demands: stay on the right side of the law, keep operations within regulatory levels of air and water pollution, avoid child labor, and so on. Wal-Mart has already pushed that envelope to dive much deeper into supplier practices (packaging, fossil fuel use, and even how some things are sourced). These new announcements also expand the demands in different ways. In recent years, most of the high-profile supply chain initiatives like Wal-Mart's have taken hold in the consumer products and retail arenas, and Pepsi and P&G are no exception.

But IBM brings a new value chain — electronics and IT — to the discussion and thus broadens the movement. Other electronics companies are also pressuring suppliers; the biggest players in the industry launched the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct (EICC) for suppliers in 2004, and members now include Apple, Cisco, Dell, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sony, Xerox, and many more.

But IBM is helping expand the definition of a green IT supplier by upping the demands. To get a sense of what IBM is asking of its 28,000 first tier suppliers, I spoke with Wayne Balta, IBM's VP of corporate environmental affairs and product safety.

Balta described IBM's work as "just the latest step in a long-standing continuum." In 2004, the company launched its own IBM Supplier Conduct Principles, which helped define the EICC standards. Even earlier, in 1998, IBM asked suppliers to consider adopting the international green operating standards, ISO 14000. But the new announcement makes this "request" more of a mandate, and that's at the core of the new demands.

In short, IBM is asking for four things and telling suppliers they must:

1. Define and deploy an environmental management systems (EMS).

2. Measure existing environmental impacts and establish goals to improve performance.

3. Publicly disclose their metrics and results.

4. "Cascade" these requirements to any suppliers that are material to IBM's products.

The mandate for deploying an EMS helps suppliers build their own capacity to manage environmental issues. But most of the biggest suppliers already have some EMS in place, and that means they will have some metrics already. So I find the third and fourth elements even more important. These demands differentiate IBM's program from most of what's come before. They give heft to the requirements and expand their influence.

The third element makes companies publicly disclose their data — they don't just need to report their information to IBM; they need to make it clear for all to see. Transparency is a very powerful tool, and the new openness will benefit every customer of these suppliers. It will encourage improved performance like no other incentive (good, open data, drives competition and results in many ways - see my post Five Ways to Use Green Data to Make Money).

The fourth component, "cascading," means that IBM's requirements will ripple up the supply chain. Businesses will move a step closer to the holy grail of environmental measurement — knowing the footprint of every product without conducting a costly and time-consuming lifecycle analysis. In essence, if every link in the value chain tracks its footprint closely, and uses the tools of cost accounting to distribute these impact measurements across components, it becomes much easier for companies to estimate the value-chain impacts of their products.

IBM didn't undertake this initiative lightly. Balta explains that "we thought carefully about how we would feel about having these requirements ourselves from our customers." In essence, they're not asking anyone to do anything they have not already done themselves.

IBM execs know that the green path is a profitable one, so they're pushing suppliers to operate leaner, better, and smarter. As Balta says, "Our goal is not to punish people, but to have them succeed."

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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November 10, 2010

Reality is Overrated as a Motivator

Right before the big election last week, I found myself thinking about beliefs and what people are absolutely sure they know, regardless of the facts. Two stories that appeared on the front page of the New York Times on the same day, demonstrated Americans' remarkable ability to kid ourselves.

- First, a story about how virtually everyone in America — and especially the anti-tax advocates — thinks their taxes have gone up or stayed flat under President Obama. They don't realize that taxes actually went down for, as the article says, "95% of working families." That cut to nearly everyone's withholding tax was a pivotal part of the stimulus bill.

- Second, a story titled, "In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy," about a Midwestern non-profit, the Climate and Energy Project, that has gotten people to reduce energy use and not mentioning climate at all.

The first story is a microcosm of every accomplishment the Democrats managed to keep hidden from the American public, but I'll leave real comment on that phenomenon to the politicians and economists.

But the second story is right up my alley — it's about how to motivate people to pursue the societal and economic benefits of going green. The Climate and Energy Project is cleverly avoiding the climate debate and thus any discussion at all that triggers arguments about the really bad misinformation out there (the article, for example, points out the shocking statistic that only 48% of people in the Midwest agree that there is actually warming going on — whether you think it's human-caused or not, temperature measurements are clear on this point).

Instead, Nancy Jackson, Chairman of the Climate and Energy Project, has hit on three alternative arguments to going green: personal thrift, the benefit to the community of promoting green jobs, and a religious appeal to "creation care." The program has targeted everything from home weatherization to getting the community to lobby Siemens to build a wind plant in the region. They've also gotten towns to compete with each other to save energy.

Their success has been remarkable; according to the Times, "energy use in the towns declined as much as 5 percent relative to other areas — a giant step in the world of energy conservation, where a program that yields a 1.5 percent decline is considered successful."

This group's work goes to the heart of a critical debate moving through the climate policy world. I recently took part in a meeting of green thought leaders to discuss why the climate bill in the U.S. failed this summer and what we can learn. We all asked ourselves, what's the right messaging to reach Americans? The only real divide in the room was over the question of whether to talk directly about climate change.

On the one hand were respected thinkers who said, "You can't solve climate without talking climate." On the other side came the argument that talking about saving money, jobs, the economy, and other drivers of action would do the job. Although I think that we probably have to talk climate change to policy makers, when it comes to reaching everyday Americans, I tend to fall into the latter group (see "8 Reasons You Should Cut Carbon (Aside from Climate Change)").

The lesson in Kansas is clear to me: it does not really matter if you believe in climate change. The logic of decoupling our country, our businesses, our communities, and even our homes from carbon, and from oil in particular, remains incredibly strong. At the macro level it's about national competitiveness, national security, and not relying on declining, ever-more-expensive resources.

But this applies on the personal level as well. Who doesn't want to save money and use less energy? Who wouldn't want their town to depend on locally-created, free energy?

For businesses wondering how to promote their green initiatives and products, I see lessons in how to talk to both consumers and employees. For employees, the best motivators are proven cost savings, good data, and competition. The Kansas program used all of these to great effect.

When talking to consumers, the lesson seems to be to use whatever combination of these works, plus throw in some values and religious mores, if that fits the audience. A call to save mother earth for purely environmental reasons might work well in Berkeley, but in Kansas make the subtle shift to talk about creation care, or don't go down that road at all.

So even though I titled this piece a bit sarcastically, the Kansas program works so well because it IS based in reality -- the savings you can yield, the jobs you can attract to your town, and the connection to religious values you can feel are all real. It's just not the reality of climate change.

The end result is the same — people are saving money and energy and starting to build a new economy. And if we move down the path to a cleaner world, who really cares how?

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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February 8, 2011

The Fundamentals of a Corporate Sustainability Program

I attended a Executive Sustainability Summit last week at Xerox's request and I'm writing a few blogs about what I saw and heard. This first one is on Xerox's site and I comment on a framework proposed by Xerox's long-time VP of EH&S, Patty Calkins. I think she provides a good set of principles for a sustainability program, including a quantitative focus and value chain perspective.

There's also a quick "top ten reasons to act sustainability," and a short video of me talking about green strategy (which is also up on YouTube here).

Check out the blog here.


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February 27, 2012

Eco-Labeling: The Critical Questions to Ask

Will we see the day when all products carry environmental labels with data on carbon emissions and other impacts? Recent news tells us a definitive...maybe. Within a couple days of each other, GM announced new eco-labels for some Chevy models, while UK mega-retailer Tesco pulled back from an important 4-year experiment in carbon labeling.


The attempt to give corporate buyers and end consumers more sustainability data about the products they are purchasing has had a somewhat tortured history. The Tesco experience in particular highlights a few big questions about green data labeling.

Tesco has been a leader in sharing carbon footprint information with consumers, having reviewed and labeled over 500 products. The company's efforts came on the heels of Pepsi's first foray into labeling with its Walkers potato chips brand, also in the UK. Since then, however, it has been running up against the most important questions about how to make data labeling work:

Which products "need" it? It makes a lot more sense to put information on a car, which is a purchase people research heavily and one that has a significant impact on a household's carbon emissions. Your potato chips, not so much.

What type of information should be provided (if any)? Is the carbon footprint the most useful data for customers to have? Or total energy use during the product's lifetime? The best thing to share will depend heavily on the product - the labels on energy hogs like light bulbs, air conditioners, and cars should tell us the total energy use and cost to operate over a year or the product's lifetime. For milk or snacks, the energy used to get it to shelves makes sense, but again, may not be helpful for consumers. So even without the specific grams of carbon, a combination of qualitative and quantitative info, like on Chevy's new labels, could still make sense in many cases.

Can you even summarize the sustainability of a product in a label? This is perhaps the toughest question and the literally hundreds of highly varying eco-labels out there attest to the challenges of trying. In some cases, like a car, maybe the concept of "sustainability" is fairly straightforward given how much of the impact comes in the "use phase" of the product — if you're getting 50% better fuel efficiency, you know you're reducing the impact a great deal. But how sustainable is 80 grams of carbon for a bag of chips? Heck if I know.

How much work/cost does it take to research and produce the label? Tesco made it clear that a core reason it's stopping this process is that each product takes "a minimum of several months' work." It's an interesting time to reach that conclusion because the tools for calculating footprint are evolving fast. But, and this is a big caveat, we're a lot closer to knowing the "hot spots" in most product lifecycles (e.g., for detergent, the largest part of the footprint is the washing machine in the home), than we are to knowing the exact grams of carbon per product. That level of sophistication will come with better data and carbon allocation methods (mirroring, I suspect, the cost allocation tools accountants have developed for a century). But isn't directionally correct information good enough in most cases?

Do consumers even care? This is the critical question, but the answer for now may not matter. Did people "care" about nutrition labels when they first came out? Probably not much, and it's unclear if they do now, given how unhealthy Americans are in general. But then, maybe our obesity problems would be worse without the labels.

But what's really interesting about all of this is that the consumer side of the discussion, while getting more media attention, has been less important in actually forcing change. It's in the business-to-business world that the demands for more information on every product have really been rising. From the Sustainability Consortium for retail and consumer products — which saw its own shakeup recently with the exodus of its Executive Director after only 8 months on the job — to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition for outdoor gear and clothing, industry groups are coming together to gather data and set standards for measuring footprints.

I am confident that Tesco and other major retailers will continue to ask suppliers for carbon data and other sustainability data when picking products for their shelves and setting up special promotions. The greening of the supply chain is the most dependable of trends in the sustainability sphere because there is so much clear benefit to companies when they know their value-chain footprint, from cost savings to risk reduction to better brand storytelling.

So much of this data-gathering and ranking work will continue unbeknownst to consumers. Given how much power retailers and other B2B customers have to transform products and pre-select better options for consumers, maybe it's actually better this way.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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November 16, 2012

The Challenge of Climate Math

A nerd hasn't been this popular since, well, ever. Nate Silver, the creator of the election poll statistical hub FiveThirtyEight was declared the clear winner in the Presidential election. And on Fox News, election math was at the center of one of the most bizarre on-air moments in memory.


The numbers discussion then seeped over from polls to other politically charged topics such as climate change. David Frum, President George W. Bush's speechwriter, tweeted this gem: "Horrible possibility: if the geeks are right about Ohio, might they also be right about climate?"

This awakening about the math (and physics) of climate change has coincided with climate activist Bill McKibben's "Do the Math" tour, an awareness-raising series of events criss-crossing the country this month. The tour was inspired by McKibben's incredible essay in Rolling Stone magazine, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math."

In this article, McKibben lays out 3 fundamental climate numbers: to stay below (1) 2°C of warming(the limit the world's scientists have said might help us avoid the worst of climate change), we can only burn (2) 565 more gigatons (a billion tons) of carbon dioxide, which will force a battle with the fossil fuel industry since it has (3) 2,795 gigatons in reserve. These are important numbers to wrap your head around, but what do they really mean for countries and companies? How fast do we have to change?

To answer these tough questions, we can turn to two of the world's best number crunchers, McKinsey and PwC (full disclosure: I have a consulting partnership arrangement with PwC US). Last week PwC released its Low Carbon Economy Index 2012 report, which calculated one simple, powerful number: In order to meet the 2°C warming target, we will need to reduce the global carbon intensity (how much carbon it takes to produce every unit of energy or GDP) by 5.1% every year until 2050. For perspective, in 2011 carbon intensity improved just 0.8%.

This number provided another view on some similar math from McKinsey, which concluded that the ratio of global GDP per ton of CO2 would need to rise tenfold by 2050.

OK, so the math is not pretty, but it is what it is. And it's not like the world is ignoring the challenge entirely. Here are some numbers that make me feel better:

  • $2.2 trillion: The size of the "climate economy" by 2020 according to the bank HSBC
  • $372 billion: China's budget for energy conservation and anti-pollution measures over the next few years
  • $260 billion: Global clean energy investment in 2011
  • $109 billion: Saudi Arabia's planned investment in its solar industry over 20 years
  • 50%: the portion of Germany's entire electric demand satisfied by solar energy during one sunny day in May, a world record
  • These are great macro stats. But the brutal logic of the McKibben, PwC, and McKinsey numbers applies at the microeconomic level as well. Meaning, I believe, companies need to acknowledge the math and shoot for a 5% reduction in carbon per year.

    It's not so crazy. The early leaders have a good start. Dow Chemical has reduced energy costs $9 billion since 1994. Walmart has improved the fuel efficiency of its distribution fleet by 69% since 2005. A large consumer products company — which tells me it will be going public with this story very soon — has already cut carbon in its own operations by 80%.

    Of course, the entire private sector will not achieve these results on its own. We will need strong global policies and a price on carbon. But given how profitable many organizations are finding the low carbon quest to be, they shouldn't wait.

    While it's a myth that companies make all decisions on ROI calculations (what was the exact return on that Super Bowl ad?), we do claim to love hard-nosed numbers. Let's not let politics or fear of the size of the task ahead get in the way of today's climate math.

    Climate data has trumped politics in the past. According to Sunday's op-ed by Cass Sunstein, the Harvard professor and co-author of the great book Nudge, Ronald Reagan embraced aggressive action to solve the problem of ozone depletion because he believed the cost-benefit analysis. Basically, it was cheaper to act than not to. Similarly, the math on climate action is getting better every day as the costs of inaction rise. As Sunstein points out, Hurricane Sandy will likely cost the country $50 billion (New York's Governor Cuomo has already asked for $35 billion in federal aid).

    Climate math is simply a constraint on the imaginary formula that is business as usual. But constraints drive innovation. We in the business community respect numbers and the best companies love challenges. Let's prove it.

    (This post first appeared on Harvard Business Online.)

    (Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter@AndrewWinston)

    January 7, 2013

    A New Algorithm for Fast Carbon Footprinting

    (Happy New Year all...I forgot to post this one last Fall...)

    Low-cost carbon footprinting is a Holy Grail for the sustainability world. But how do you measure your footprint at multiple levels — from products to business lines to the whole enterprise — quickly and cheaply? Over the last few years, PepsiCo has been working with partners at Columbia University to solve this interesting and complex business problem. The results of this partnership, what the team is calling a "Fast LCA" process, are emerging. And they're encouraging.


    To understand this initiative better, I recently spoke with two PepsiCo executives working on sustainability, Al Halvorsen and Robert ter Kuile, and the academic brain trust at Columbia led by adjunct professor Christoph Meinrenken. Here's what I learned about three major issues:

    1. Why do carbon footprints matter for your business?

    Understanding your carbon footprint is a required skill of 21st-century business. Customers, consumers, employees, and investors (like the increasingly influential Carbon Disclosure Project, backed by institutions with $78 trillion in assets) want to know your contribution to — and actions to solve — this global challenge.

    But it's not just about reacting to pressure.Knowing your footprint helps you get proactive, spot risks and costs along your value chain, and identify opportunities to innovate. Getting smart about green data makes money. In essence, carbon is a proxy for energy cost and waste, and good carbon management is a proxy for good operational execution.

    2. In layman's terms, what have Columbia and PepsiCo accomplished, and how?

    The detailed methodology behind this advancement is complicated: for the math and data wonks out there, see this short but dense article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

    But for even layman like me, the problem is clear: To use carbon data to reduce costs and risks throughout the value chain, you need know the footprint of every single product that contributes significantly to your bottom line or brand. Conducting a detailed lifecycle assessment (LCA) is, to put it mildly, a resource-intensive exercise.

    As Meinrenken and the Columbia team suggest in their Journal article, a full LCA for even a relatively straightforward consumer product like a can of soda would require data on

    "...the masses of three packaging materials and five ingredients, transportation distances of all materials to the plant, amounts of four types of energy, transportation distances to stores, refrigeration times in stores and at home... and then all materials and activities have to be paired with respective EFs (carbon emission factors), bringing the total count of individual [data] inputs to approximately 100 for a single product alone."

    LCAs for an entire product portfolio would require thousands of often hard-to-get data points. It's tough to justify this level of investment. PepsiCo's ter Kuile put it succinctly: "there's no way to look at all of our products at this level of detail in any reasonable time frame."

    So what has Columbia done? I'm not doing it justice fully, but it's about algorithms and shortcuts. They start with internal operational data from existing SAP and Oracle databases - bills of materials (packaging, ingredients, and so on) on every single product, as well as shipping, energy, and water data for every plant. But instead of collecting an exact carbon emissions number from every supplier of those materials, they use statistically generated emissions factors (EFs), which provide good estimates on carbon for common inputs like sugar or corn. Modeling EFs is what saves the most time.

    Other shortcuts draw assumptions on systemic issues like transportation distances, refrigeration time in transit or in the home, and recycling rates, all of which influence the footprint.

    Then the model does something critical: it runs a sensitivity analysis to identify the inputs where variation could cause a meaningful change in the ultimate calculation. Thus the model helps managers zero in on data that's worth spending more time to get right. Let's say the model assumed that soda in France sits in the store refrigerator for two days instead of four. Does that number impact the total footprint very much? If so, managers can do more research and find better numbers (that is, more "primary" data).

    (Note: for another interesting take on this process that likens the whole thing to a "Facebook-inspired carbon calculator," see Allison Moodie's piece on

    Finally, the model makes assumptions about elements like packaging that may be common across many products. This is where it gets even more interesting for PepsiCo since it allows execs to explore "what if" scenarios. Which brings me to #3:

    3. What's the business value for PepsiCo and all companies with broad product portfolios?

    As PepsiCo's Halvorsen told me, "the real reason you do an LCA is improve the business... to put more efficient processes in place and innovate in the supply chain."

    To see how this works in practice, let's go back a few years to the beginning of the PepsiCo/Columbia working relationship. The team produced a fascinating study on Tropicana orange juice, which concluded that the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint was not manufacturing or transportation, but natural gas-based fertilizer. For essentially no cost, PepsiCo could eliminate a third of Tropicana's carbon footprint — and all the potential cost and risk associated with it — by switching to non-fossil-fuel-based fertilizer (their test farms are a few years into their experiment).

    This exercise was so helpful, PepsiCo's executives wanted to gather this level of strategic knowledge across the business for all products. To test Columbia's new fast LCA model, they submitted data on two different parts of the business: the beverage business in China and the snack business in Brazil.

    What makes this story interesting is what PepsiCo can do with the information at the product and business unit level — and it's not to get an exact number of grams of carbon per bag of chips, which is fairly meaningless to consumers anyway. The real goal here is to pose "what ifs" and find the quickest, most profitable way to reduce impacts and improve efficiency.

    These execs want to ask questions such as, "If we reduce packaging in one product, what does that do for other products that use the same packaging elements? What do we save in carbon, material, and money?" They've begun this process, but it's still the early days. Over the next year, I hope to report on some operational changes that were made and measured.

    A final thought on what's required to make this happen: To avoid the old "garbage in, garbage out" problem, you need good data. PepsiCo knows a lot about its business — from the precise formulations of every product (to estimate supply chain impacts) to the exact production rates for each facility (to accurately allocate energy use for every product). In essence, the innovation here is combining really good, so-called "big data" with really good algorithms.

    There's a lot at stake here in dedicating scarce resources well. Getting carbon footprints right is a critical step on the path to healthy brands, higher profits, and a livable planet for all of us.

    (This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online)

    (Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter@AndrewWinston)

    May 10, 2015

    Can Walmart Get Us to Buy Sustainable Products?

    A couple months ago, launched an interesting and potentially important initiative to help consumers find products made by "sustainability leaders." The day it launched, I posted a piece at that laid out the program, supported the idea, but suggested some important caveats. It began...

    We all want to buy the best products we can find and afford. But what does “best” actually mean? The ones that offer the best bang for the buck, last the longest, or give us the most pride of ownership? How about a product that minimizes its environmental impacts or tries to make the world a better place? Identifying the companies that make these more “sustainable” products has been nearly impossible… until now.

    On Tuesday, the world’s largest retailer took a major and important step toward helping all of us shop more smartly. Walmart’s ecommerce site is now labeling 3,000 products, made by more than 100 companies, with a badge that reads “Made by a Sustainability Leader.” For the first time, a major retailer is giving prominent shelf space — albeit virtual — to companies operating in a better way.

    The story of how this badge came to be, and the information backing it up, requires some background...

    (See the rest of the article here.)

    In the weeks that followed, the commentary on Walmart's program ranged from pretty positive (see Joel Makower's take) to more concerned about the confusion it could create for consumers (Jeffrey Hollender, founder of Seventh Generation, led the charge on this front).


    The core concern, and one I do share to some extent, is about product-level vs. company-level sustainability. By relying on data from The Sustainability Consortium, which focuses on company-level actions within product categories, Walmart is highlighting companies doing well, not necessarily declaring a product sustainable.

    The dilemma is a tough one. Even in our "big data" world, we don't have the information yet to put together easy lifecycle analyses on every SKU on retail shelves. But we can identify companies addressing the 'hot spots' in the value chains for key product categories. So do we wait for ideal data down the road, or start to point consumers to the good actors? I lean toward the latter, but recognize that consumers could easily get confused and disillusioned with the whole affair.

    As I look back a couple months later, I wonder whether Walmart (and all of us) will learn what we'd like to from the program. As executed on the site, the label is hard to see and the "Sustainability Leaders" sub-site is not easy to find. In theory, this program will help answer the long-standing question of whether consumers will really buy better products, all else being equal. It remains to be seen if Walmart can gather that data (and share it with all of us!).

    So I'm still positive, but you should check out, my article, and some of the commentary elsewhere and see what you think...

    (Andrew's new book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot. Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

    June 22, 2016

    It's Time for Companies to be Strategic About Energy (A New Report)

    Last year, networking giant Cisco Systems worked with one of its contract manufacturers in Malaysia to deploy 1,500 energy and temperature sensors on its manufacturing equipment. These more “intelligent assets” read performance data, giving Cisco a detailed view of energy consumption — one that had not been available before.

    Last week, at an internal Cisco meeting, the company’s VP of Supply Chain, John Kern, proudly reported that the project had identified ways to cut energy use by approximately 30%, which will likely save $1 million per year. (Disclosure: I was at the meeting as a paid speaker on sustainability strategy.)

    When Cisco rolls out the sensors globally, these savings will add up. But to me, the most fascinating thing about the whole initiative is the organizational mindset shift it’s creating: a realization about the value of getting smarter about how — and where — operations use energy. As Kern put it, “We always manage costs so closely, but we weren’t really measuring energy — we didn’t know how much we spent! Through digitization initiatives such as this, we now have a way to measure, monitor, and manage energy…this is huge since energy is typically a factory’s largest variable cost.”


    In many of the most sophisticated companies with top tier operational practices, energy has mostly been treated as a cost line item, watched only by mid-level managers or execs, if at all. This black box approach can’t last. It’s time to move energy into the C-suite so executives can manage this critical component of operational performance in a more strategic way.

    In addition, with the global climate accords signed now by 175 countries, the world is clearly turning attention to carbon emissions. How a company manages its carbon footprint and approach to energy in general is becoming a top-tier operational issue — and a big deal to regulators, customers, employees, and investors.

    Some sectors have woken up already. In the tech world, for example, energy is now the largest component of variable costs for running a datacenter. Logically then, many of the companies investing most heavily in renewables are tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Heavy industry is also diving in, and companies like 3M, Dow, and Owens-Corning have bought many megawatts of renewable energy and found billions of dollars in energy savings. In agriculture, carbon emissions and energy use throughout the value chain are increasingly a core operational issue as well.

    Every sector should be taking energy this seriously. Even if it’s not a large cost or risk issue in direct operations, it certainly is somewhere else in the value chain. The importance of energy to the global economy, to geopolitics, and to corporate bottom lines — plus the pressing need to tackle carbon emissions to ensure a stable planet and global wellbeing — all combine to make a powerful case for managing energy much more strategically at all levels, from facilities to total operations to strategy.

    This basic argument, and its repercussions, are laid out in a new strategy guide that I co-authored with PwC’s George Favaloro and Tim Healy, the CEO of EnerNOC, a leader in energy intelligence software. For our paper, Energy Strategy for the C-Suite, we analyzed research and data on energy use at hundreds of companies, and included perspectives from an advisory council that included corporate energy executives and government and academic thought leaders (I also sit on that advisory group).

    Aside from describing the mega-trends coming to bear on companies — such as climate change; new expectations of increased transparency about business operations; tech breakthroughs like big data and the internet of things; and dramatic shifts in how energy markets work and how to source energy — we identified 15 emerging best practices that can help companies create more value.

    Here are a few examples of what we recommend in this new framework:

    • Develop a global energy strategy with C-suite and cross-functional accountability. We believe energy could be viewed in many organizations as a “keystone metric” — i.e., a primary indicator that aligns the whole organization around the pursuit of operational excellence. Optimizing energy and slashing carbon can drive overall operational improvements.
    • Set ambitious, science-based goals for energy and carbon. Dozens of leaders, from many sectors have set goals to cut carbon 40 to 100% in line with climate science (Cisco, Disney, Alcoa, Sony, J&J, EMC, and many more).
    • Track energy data at all levels, from the enterprise down to the product, using new tools to understand better how energy connects to overall business performance and metrics (like cost of goods sold). For example, Saint Gobain’s Ohio factory produces 30,000 different products, each with its own energy demands. Much finer energy intelligence data has helped the company understand its true cost per product line. It has adjusted its product prices accordingly, improving margins or just finding a more competitive price point in the marketplace
    • Use advanced financing mechanisms to expand energy project options. In addition to power purchasing agreements (PPAs) for corporate renewables, companies are increasingly able to buy energy as a service, not a product. Consider McCormick & Co, a Fortune 1000 spice manufacturer. When the company needed to replace old air conditioning units, it contracted with Constellation Energy Group to build a brand new chiller plant. Constellation owns the chiller and charges McCormick for cold air, freeing up McCormick’s capital to invest in other operational improvements and the business itself, not in energy infrastructure.

    In total, energy is one of the largest components of company cost structure, and it’s a complicated operational issue. But it’s rarely seen as something that can provide deeper strategic insight. With new tools in a much more connected world, executive can better manage this most basic of inputs into the economy. Energy is just too important to be managed as a line item.

    (This post first appeared at Harvard Business Review online.)

    (Andrew's book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot.

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