Cost-Cutting/Eco-Efficiency Archives

May 24, 2008

Better Get Efficient...and Fast

[Posted at Huffington here]

It's pretty clear that the business world is facing dramatic change driven by environmental concerns. Over the coming years and decades, we're going to change the entire energy system and find new ways to design, make, ship, sell, and consume things. While it's uncertain if quality of life will suffer (and I hope not), the quantity of resources used will change dramatically - e.g., using a lot less energy, or at least carbon-driven energy, to power our lives.

And this change is becoming a business imperative regardless of whether you buy the climate change argument (and I really don't want to open that can of worms from my last post ). Just looking at the high price of everything from metals to food to fuels, the case for being radically more resource efficient is getting clearer every day. What's also clear is that the world can't currently provide for what will be nine or ten billion people who all want our lifestyle (the government of China has set a goal of moving half its population into the middle class by 2020 - that's 600 million people; if they all use oil at our rate, China alone will need more than the world produces by 2030 or so). At current technologies and modes of production, there isn't enough stuff. So there's a business need and a system overload requirement that we innovate and do more with less.

But don't just take my word for it.

The Wall Street Journal ran a stunning article recently that I've been mulling over for awhile and needed to get my head around. It was titled, "New Limits to Growth Revive Malthusian Fears." The shocking part of this article was the fact that it didn't malign the idea that we may run out of things, which Milton Friedman-esque business people have been laughing at for 200 years (since Thomas Malthus first drew an exponential population chart plotted against a geometric resource growth chart and said we'd all starve). Yes, those doomsayers have been very wrong in critical ways, mainly related to our ability to innovate and substitute out of products when we found new options (like from whale oil to kerosene to oil).

But the Journal was deadly serious, talking about resources like water that we can't substitute our way out of. The related point was that there's really nothing left to substitute to -- we know where pretty much everything is. Two quotes were fascinating: "Record highs in the prices for oil, wheat, copper...are signs of a lasting shift in demand as yet unmatched by supply". The "as yet" is a big qualifier, but it feels a bit like wishful thinking, especially given the second quote from ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva: "I don't think we are going to see the [oil] supply going over 100 million barrels a day, and the reason is: Where is all that going to come from?" So even the oil CEOs are telling us there's not enough stuff.

So what does this mean for business and how is it connected to the green movement? First, rising prices for nearly everything mean we're entering the big leagues. Whether you call it "green" or "eco-efficiency" doesn't matter; either way, all the efficiency tools we have - such as total quality, lean manufacturing, six sigma - are going to be put to the test. If your company has a knack for cutting out waste and reducing resource use, it will survive and thrive. If you can't reduce your reliance on fossil fuels in your whole value chain - from sourcing to manufacturing to distribution - you may be in trouble.

Second, if you can offer a new "supply" to help bolster that side of the Econ 101 curves, you will have a giant market to satisfy (those billions of consumers). And I'm talking about smart supply growth, not the corn ethanol kind that actually exacerbates all of our problems. I'm talking new low-carbon energy, water saving technologies and processes, good design principles, building efficiency, and on and on.

The mad race for renewable energy technologies and the dramatic shift in car offerings are good examples. The venture capital money flowing to new technologies easily recalls the Internet boom. But is this one a bubble? It might be, but these entrepreneurs are working to satisfy existing multi-trillion dollar energy and resource markets, not trying to create new markets or needs. So money from the biggest, smartest names in Silicon Valley is flowing freely. This is a very good thing. There will be a shakeout, but some winners will win big.

As demand for resources outstrips supply, the Journal worried, what if countries just try to grab what's left in a big resource fight? Companies might go down a biggest is best path as well. But won't the best companies profit much more if they just find a way to need less? And won't the competitors that help their customers use less do extremely well?

September 15, 2008

Are These Energy-Saving Measures Wise...or Wacky?

As we all know, energy prices have skyrocketed. Organizations of all kinds are trying new ways of doing business to cut costs. Some ideas, like Wal-Mart putting doors on refrigerated cases and cutting energy use 70% in that aisle, are head-slappingly obvious. Even seemingly wacky ideas can seem downright wise once you run the numbers. One of my favorites is the UPS "no left turns" program. To avoid waiting to cross traffic - and thus wasting time, energy, and money -- UPS used GPS data to program new routes that basically go in concentric circles to the right. The company has saved about 28 million miles of driving and 3 million gallons of gas.

But other ideas to cut energy use just seem desperate or short-sighted. I've been thinking a lot about a recent story in Time Magazine last week about what schools are doing to deal with high gas prices. Some districts, particularly in rural areas, are going to four-day weeks. About 1 in 7 school boards nationwide are apparently considering this option. They're also eliminating field trips and extracurricular activities and even laying off teachers. While some schools and communities like the shortened schedule, most research shows that more school hours are generally better (the countries with longer school years seem to produce higher scoring kids).

Cutting school days as a way to get more efficient certainly sounds wacky at first glance. But unlike UPS's solution, this one is also wacky at second glance. Aren't there better ways for us to reduce fuel use and costs? Unless I'm getting the very simple math wrong, improving school bus efficiency by 20% would generate the same fuel savings as cutting a day of school. (Caveat: the schools of course save more energy than just gas when they shut down, but these districts are citing fuel costs specifically as the problem -- and it's not like schools stop being heated or cooled on off days).

There are solutions in the private sector, as companies focus more and more on logistics and improving efficiency (see one report on logistics here). Wal-Mart has enacted a range of efficiency initiatives for its fleet, from cheap "wind skirts" that streamline vehicles to auxiliary power units that reduce idling. (All idling in the US, by some measures, may amount to a shocking five percent of the country's energy use). Xerox put together a logistics streamlining plan that reduced fleet energy use 10%, including "right-sizing" vehicles to fit the load to using metrics and GPS. And office retailer Staples cut fuel use 15% (and saved $1.7 million) just by placing a 55 mph limit on its drivers. The trucks move slower, but stop for gas less frequently. The total delivery time is the same.

These corporate examples demonstrate that ideas are out there to help school districts, but I'm making a larger point about finding innovative solutions. UPS, Staples, Wal-Mart and many others are saving a ton of money through seemingly wacky ideas that turn out to be very wise.

So how do you know which is which? Here are a few signs that an initiative or idea is wacky and wise, not just wacky. The new idea or initiative...

- Seems obvious in retrospect, even if it seems a bit silly at first. "You mean if we slow down the trucks, or put doors on refrigerators, we'll use less energy?!"

- Reduces total footprint, even if that footprint is a strange shape. Sam's Club is selling milk in square cartons. Since they're a new design, they probably cost more to make. But the square shape means they stack a lot better, and without the crates. They pack much tighter, fitting nearly three times as many in every cooler, saving money and energy, and requiring 60% fewer trucks.

- Does not create other significant problems. Cutting school days means many parents have a day of childcare to deal with and pay for, one of those important unintended consequences. "Significant" is the critical word here. Extra daycare is significant. Getting used to pouring out of square milk cartons, which some customers complain about, is not.

- May actually solve other problems. School buses produce tremendous air pollution and health risks as kids sit in diesel fumes. Reducing miles reduces pollution and also shortens the time kids spend on buses (sometimes over an hour for what would be a 10 minute trip directly). And if school districts can raise the capital, larger solutions are available. Navistar, the big truck manufacturer (disclosure: I spoke at an annual meeting of their dealers recently) has launched a hybrid school bus which nearly eliminates the local air pollution problem.

Also keep in mind that wise ideas depend on context. While cutting school days is counterproductive and possibly disastrous for learning, cutting workweeks to four days to save employees on commuting expense can be very smart. In business, we can shift workloads effectively or work at home if need be.

The best innovations always strike you as odd the first time you hear them. Then they get you thinking. Then you wonder how you could've ever lived without them.

This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.

January 14, 2009

2009: The Year of Light Green

It's always fun to predict what's going to happen. The risk of being spectacularly wrong is very high, but that's what makes the exercise so entertaining. 'Tis the season for dwelling, quickly, on what we learned last year -- de-leveraging is really painful and when gas prices are high, people want smaller cars -- and for pontificating about what to expect in 2009.

For my predictions, I'll stick to my area of knowledge, the greening of business. Over the past two years "green" has become part of nearly every serious business discussion. But what will happen now in this damaged economy? It would be silly to suggest that the intensity of the focus on green will continue unabated. But we'll see a form of what I'll call "light green" this year.

Some of the green pressure on companies will lessen, but I believe that the underlying forces driving the green wave will continue over the coming years - from volatile commodity prices (which will rise again aggressively after the recession) to a rise in transparency to tougher questions from key stakeholders (such as your business customers, consumers, and employees). Those big picture trends will continue over years, but here now are a few specific predictions for 2009.

"Light Green" will focus primarily on cost reduction...

Going green drives innovation and creates value in four fundamental ways: cost reduction, risk mitigation, revenue growth, and brand value enhancement. But for 2009, the top priority will be the first one, lowering costs (primarily through so-called "eco-efficiency"). Few companies will have the stomach for deep investments in R&D to create new green products.

...but, companies (and banks in particular) will also broaden the definition of "risk"

If we learned one thing in 2008, it's that the business and financial communities are not so great at measuring and accounting for risk. It's in our nature to overestimate some risks and drastically underestimate others (like the possibility that housing prices could actually drop). On climate change, we're realizing that the risk of inaction is too great.

Citigroup, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley launched the Carbon Principles early in 2008. In short, this agreement committed the companies to look very hard at any coal investments and ask tough questions about how climate change and a cost on carbon would affect the risk profile. And at the end of '08, other financial and insurance giants -- including HSBC, Munich Re, Standard Chartered, and Swiss Re -- created the Climate Principles. These guidelines are admittedly aspirational, but they also increase awareness of the impact of climate change on all aspects of their businesses, including their investment portfolios.

Leading companies (read: Wal-Mart) will continue pressing suppliers.

To be a bit cynical for a moment, greening the supply chain is perhaps the easiest path to take in hard times. After all, you basically push the problem and cost onto others, and if you're as big as Wal-Mart, you get your way. To be less cynical, the companies that have learned to take a value-chain perspective have discovered real value in lower costs and better products. So why go back if you've discovered a better way of doing business? Wal-Mart and others clearly believe that reducing environmental impacts up and down the chain creates value for all. The retail giant convened a historic meeting in Beijing, China in October 2008 (see my first-hand account of the meeting here). Wal-Mart's top execs made it very clear that the green agenda was not going away and, in fact, that it was accelerating. Of course global recessions can put a damper on anyone's plans, but there are few indications the big guns are pulling back on supply chain pressure.

Innovation will become even more important.

This may sound like a contradiction to my "cost reduction will rule" prediction. But innovation is about more than just flashy new products; it's also central to reducing costs in a smart way. But beyond getting lean, 2009 will be a good time to truly rethink business models and ask new heretical questions. Innovation guru Clayton Christensen recently told the Wall Street Journal that the economic downturn "will have an unmitigated positive effect on innovation." Say what? By his counterintuitive logic, tight times "force innovators to not waste nearly so much money."

So use 2009 to seek out green innovation opportunities. Find ways to drastically reduce energy and other resource use both in your own operations and through your products (that is, help customers reduce theirfootprint). Even if investment dollars remain scarce, be ready to run with good ideas when cash frees up. We may look back at the end of 2009 and see that staying green during the recession, at least in mindset, not only drove creativity, but even saved some companies.

Yes, 2009 will be a tough year. But the Green Wave, albeit a bit diminished, will roll on. The smartest companies will continue to pour the foundations for a new form of capitalism - one that takes into account the resource constraints we face. After this recession, when capital is more readily available, green investments will begin in earnest again. Sustainable business will no longer be a side pursuit, but the core focus of successful companies.

This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.

August 18, 2009

Will Videoconferencing Kill Business Class Travel?

[My column last week on Harvard Business Online]

In a tight economy, with companies spending much less on IT, the tech giants will take growth wherever they can find it. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Cisco and HP are in a pitched battle for customers for their high-end teleconferencing systems. According to the report, it's "one of the few technologies that has benefited from the downturn, growing 30% from last year as businesses look to reduce travel expenses."

Cisco, HP, Nortel, and telepresence-focused players like Teleris have developed impressive, beautiful systems that make you feel like you're in the same room with your colleagues. The pitch is that you'll save money — but you'll also reduce your environmental footprint through reduced travel. These companies are cashing in on the business world's pressing need to get lean, while also appealing to the desire to get green. In my new book Green Recovery, I lay out five areas of a business that hold real promise for fast payback: facilities (lighting, heating, cooling), IT, fleet, waste, and telework. While companies are finding savings in all these operational areas, telework may be the most underleveraged of them all.

Just a few companies have made a concerted effort to reduce business travel through a combination of high-end telepresence systems and everyday technologies like WebEx. Most of the big users are, not surprisingly, tech companies that are acting in the spirit of "eat your own dog food." British Telecom calculated that it was saving $330 million per year on avoided travel costs and time saved, and Microsoft pegged its savings at $90 million. Non-tech leaders such as P&G and Deloitte have installed dozens of systems around the world — you need the network effect to kick in and make the investment worth it. They're saving millions every month on reduced travel expense.

It would seem that telework fits service and knowledge-based businesses best, but even companies with mostly hard assets see the value. David Ratcliffe, CEO of electric utility Southern Company, talked to the Journal in early 2009 about ways to cut costs in the downturn. He focused on two items: slashing $200 million from the capital expenditure budget by delaying some work on the physical plant and "more meetings with technology instead."

The business of telework is interesting to me on two levels. First, from the customer's side, even though the upfront investment is not small, it clearly saves a lot of money. Telework also represents a great way to show your most harried and valued employees that you care both about their life balance AND about greening your business.

But second, from the perspective of the suppliers of these technologies, the story has some interesting strategic angles. With their pitch of reducing travel, who are Cisco, HP, and the others truly competing against? The phone? No, they're going after the airlines — and targeting their best, most frequent, business-class customers. Do you think the airlines ever thought they'd be competing with IT companies?

[the rest of the blog is here]

October 7, 2009

Get Lean on Stuff, Not People

This may be hard for anyone below 40 to fathom, but companies didn't always fire people to save money. IBM was famous for "full-time employment," but then its first layoffs in the early 90s changed the game forever. Over the last 20 years it has become (supposedly) good management practice to slash people costs — remember the famous cutters like "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop? A company's stock price rose whenever it announced cuts.

But as we face a carbon-constrained future with volatile, rising energy and commodity prices, companies will soon realize that they're often "fatter" in energy and resource waste than in human capital.

I wish things were different today than in Dunlop's time, but when this downturn began, companies raced to cut people ahead of the coming decline in sales and profits. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that layoffs would accelerate the recession as fired employees — also known as consumers — had no money to spend. As we enter what seems to be a jobless recovery, it's past time for us to realize that layoffs are not always the right answer.

I can't say with a straight face that saving energy will eliminate the need for all layoffs. If your sales drop by 50 percent, which has happened to some automakers, you can't afford to keep everyone on the payroll. But layoffs can also cost fundamentally sound companies more than they save. On the heels of the early 2000s recession, Bain & Company conducted a study on the true costs of firing people. Their conclusion: if you refill a job within six to eighteen months, you lose money on the deal. The drag on savings, they said, includes "severance packages, temporary declines in productivity or quality, and rehiring and retraining costs that more than offset the short-term wage savings."

More recently, Fortune reporter Geoff Colvin laid out all the costs of layoffs, which, he points out, companies mistakenly equate with only severance costs. Colvin included brand equity costs, leadership costs, Wall Street costs, rehiring costs, and my personal favorite, morale costs.

To stay strong in tight times, to find opportunities to cut costs in smart ways, and to innovate your way to the future, you'll need everyone on board. So undermining morale may not be a great idea right now. You'll also need people with deep knowledge of the business — and mass layoffs ensure that you lose critical perspectives and information. In many cases, there's another way (or two). Some companies, for example, have been paying everyone a bit less rather than resorting to layoffs.

Others are turning to the task of getting lean and getting creative.

[See full post at Harvard Business Online here]

October 26, 2009

Green IT: One Path to a Green Recovery

[This post first appeared on a Climate Savers Computing Initiative site. I'll skip the general intro to the greening topic from the original...]

...Five areas of the business are ripe for quick paybacks from green thinking: facilities (heating, cooling and lighting), fleet and distribution, waste, telework, and IT. Let's look at IT specifically and why companies are still going green.

When industry analyst Gartner Group estimated that information and communications technology was responsible for 2 percent of global carbon emissions — equal to the entire aviation industry — most people outside the IT world (and many inside it) were shocked. At the core of these numbers lies the shocking inefficiency of data centers.

Of all the energy going into a modern server farm, IBM estimates, less than 4 percent actually processes something you know, what the room was built for. The other 96 percent of electrons are lost at three stages: (1) cooling the room itself, (2) cooling the stacks or "blades" of servers, and (3) keeping idle machines humming. Most of this energy is wasted and costs real money. In recent years, the share of a data center's variable cost going to energy has grown fast. What was once a tiny part of the budget is now 40 or 50 percent of the operating cost. Over the life of a server, you can easily spend twice as much on electricity as on the capital cost of the server itself.

In response, the competition has been fierce to tackle those three stages of the problem and find ways to slash the energy budget. First, look at the design of the data center itself. One of my favorite "head-slapper" strategies in all of the greening movement is the use of outside air economization — that is, effectively opening the door and letting hot air out rather than cooling it — which Intel estimates can save $3 million in a 10 mega-watt data center.

Second, companies are looking at the server hardware. They're shutting down orphaned systems — Sun discovered during its "Bring Out Your Dead" day that 4,100 of its servers were unused, but plugged in sucking energy. But sometimes, as the Wall Street Journal suggested earlier this year, "the smartest thing to do is invest in new, more efficient systems." One company, Fair Isaac Corporation, bought new, more efficient servers and cut the total number in its data processing center in half. This requires some capital expenditure, but the paybacks can be fast.

Third, software companies are vying to help handle server loads and increase the average 20 percent utilization rate (meaning, 4 of 5 servers are basically idle, waiting for peak loads). The buzzword is virtualization, or using software to create pseudoservers that run in parallel on the same physical server and use all that idle processing power.

For companies using all of these tactics, such as Microsoft, newer datacenters can use 50 percent less energy than ones built just a few years ago. And that's just the large IT systems. Many organizations are now utilizing software to control all the PCs sitting on desks, putting them to sleep overnight and often saving millions. None of this pressure to cut back on IT energy and cost is going away. Forrester reported in January 2009 that 60 percent of IT managers are using green criteria in their procurement decisions and that even in tight times more managers are accelerating green IT efforts than slowing them down.

But what's the most powerful thing you can do to reduce IT energy use? Every time I speak to tech companies or sustainability execs, I hear one theme over and over: The people who create the energy use don't have a clue how much it's costing. The prescription: Add the power bill to the CIO's budget.

November 19, 2009

Finding the Money to Green Your Business

Contrary to the popular misconception that going green is expensive, in a very large range of cases, environmental initiatives don't raise costs, they lower them — and fast. In operational areas such as facilities (heating, cooling, lighting), fleet, IT, and waste, leading companies continue to find large savings in shockingly simple actions, such as changing lighting or using outside air to cool a data center.

But even for the most head-slappingly obvious changes with super-fast paybacks, companies still need to find the capital to buy the new bulbs, optimize the HVAC system, or add auxiliary power units (APUs) to trucks. And even if one sees these initiatives as investments, not costs (which is the right way to look at it), there will still be competition for dollars. During a recession — heck, at any time — it's normal to struggle to get funds for even worthy projects. So what to do?

A few leading companies have hit on one incredibly simple solution to this problem — set aside funds for green priorities. I don't mean coming up with a new pool of money; just assign a percentage of the existing capital expenditure budget to green priorities.

In 2008, to find hidden gems of savings, DuPont set aside 1% of capital expenditures solely for energy-saving ideas. With $50MM of spending, the company found $50MM of savings per year — a one-year payback that keeps on giving. All projects still met the corporate hurdle rate, so there was no special dispensation besides making the money available for worthy initiatives managers had overlooked. Building products maker Owens Corning goes even further, dedicating 10% of capex to energy projects. This is a tool nearly anyone can use. Set aside the funds for green and you'll unleash a wave of creativity and short paybacks.

So if there are so many quick, high-ROI projects sitting around, why aren't companies jumping on them? Two big reasons. First, energy efficiency just hasn't seemed sexy. Dawn Rittenhouse, DuPont's director of sustainable development, told me, "If business units can invest in growth or energy efficiency projects, it's more glamorous to go after growth." But in tight times, saving money starts to feel a lot more exciting, doesn't it?

The second reason is the classic problem of the urgent versus the important. Most capital expenditures go to fix things that are already broken. But as Frank O'Brien-Bernini, Owens Corning's chief sustainability officer, puts it, "It's really about redefining what 'broken' means." Think about it: a process that wastes energy may not feel broken with oil at $40, or even $80, a barrel. But it may look like a money-eating disaster at $200 a barrel. In essence, when it comes to energy and resource efficiency, all companies are broken.

Of course reserving some funds could meet resistance. One of my clients pointed out that their capex budget is not one pool, but really a bunch of sub-budgets for different groups. A green set-aside would have to draw money from somebody's hard-fought budget. But DuPont only allocated 1% to great effect. So it doesn't necessarily take a giant land grab to make this operational and cultural shift happen.

So when people say you don't have the money to invest in green, show them that you do. The reality is that unless you're in liquidation, you have a capex budget, even if it shrank this year. You're spending money on things all the time; it's simply an issue of where you place your bets.

Take a piece of what you're already spending, point it in the right direction, and you will find enormous green savings to help survive these (still) hard times — and invest in the future.

[This post first appeared on Andrew's blog on Harvard Business Online]

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]

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 processes...so 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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June 24, 2010

Sony Sees the Value of Zero

Though corporate green efforts have grown exponentially in the last decade, most initiatives fall woefully short of what's necessary to meet the enormous sustainability challenges we face — from climate change to water shortages to poverty and social equity.

That's why it's so refreshing to see one large company, Sony, set a goal of zero environmental footprint by 2050. The company has dubbed this mission its "Road to Zero."

Before diving into how Sony has approached its target-setting exercise, here's a quick review of why "zero" is an idea whose time has come: In a resource and carbon-constrained world, the best scientists tell us, we need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by mid-century (it's no coincidence that Sony picked 2050). For other pressing issues, society, governments, and the cold realities of science will demand even more dramatic changes. The word "zero" — as in zero waste, zero net water use, zero toxicity, zero child labor, zero fatalities, and zero carbon — will by necessity become a core part of business strategy and operations. (One large consumer products company is in the process of setting sustainability targets, which it calls the "Eight Zeros.")

Only one of the green-themed zeros has had broad appeal thus far in the business community — the quest to send no waste to landfills. Most people shorthand this pursuit to "zero waste" even though it's not really zero (but everything is being recycled or, much less preferably, incinerated).

Subaru demonstrated it could be done in 2004 in its Lafayette, Indiana plant (saving millions of dollars in the process), and GM has recently achieved the goal at 62 plants across the world. These are impressive feats, but we'll need even greater innovation to get to the other zeros.

Yet outside of a few usual suspects, such as perennial sustainability leader Interface Flooring or Wal-Mart's goal of using 100% renewable energy, there are nearly no companies (or countries for that matter) that have outlined a path to get to zero environmental footprint.

This spring, however, Sony made the leap. If you spend some time at the Sony site dedicated to the Road to Zero, you get the sense that executives have clearly thought this through. They seem to realize that a big goal, just hanging out there on its own, would be far too daunting, nebulous, and not very actionable. So The Road to Zero works, as I see it, because of two fundamental components.

First, the company broke up the goal into pieces, separating the discussion into four "perspectives" and six "lifecycle" stages. Sony has phrased the perspectives as ongoing actions:

- Curbing climate change,
- Conserving resources (which covers material use, waste, recycling, and water),
- Promoting biodiversity, and
- Controlling chemical substances.

The perspectives hew closely to the biggest environmental challenges we face as a species: climate change and energy, water, biodiversity, and chemicals and toxics. So while I might nit-pick and suggest that "conserving resources" is a bit too broad to be actionable, it's a good list.

The six lifecycle stages cover:

- Research and development,
- Product planning and design,
- Procurement,
- Business operations,
- Distribution, and
- Take-back and recycling.

Sony indicates that it will need to find a path to zero in each area, using different tactics and approaches. In distribution, for example, Sony describes a broad set of strategies including smaller packaging, improved loading efficiency, and shifting to more rail and water transport.

The Road to Zero site describes these all in very general terms, which reflect the reality that nobody really knows exactly how to get to zero. But what's important is that Sony is pairing this directional exercise with some down-and-dirty tactical goals as well. So...

Second, Sony set interim targets dubbed "Green Management 2015," which follow and build on its now-completed "Green Management 2010." This step is critical and the goals are both specific (reduce greenhouse gases 30% in absolute terms from 2000) and thought provoking (reduce mass per product by 10%). For some areas, such as operations and distributions, the targets are numeric and clearly understood. For others, such as R&D, they're more strategic.

The four environmental impact areas — or perspectives as Sony calls them — and the six lifecycle phases make up a matrix. Thus the company has set a climate-related goal for each lifecycle phase, chemical reduction goals for most phases, and so on.

Sony's site repeatedly refers to hitting zero "throughout the lifecycle of our products," which raises an interesting question: Will Sony be demanding that its suppliers hit zero as well? I would think that this discussion could not be very far away.

Of course, we could debate if "zero" is even good enough, since cutting-edge sustainability thinking focuses on creating products that improve the environment (such as concrete that captures CO2 in its manufacturing process or building materials that clean the air). But for the big guys like Sony — and for all of us — zero is a pretty good start.


[This post first appeared at Harvard Business Review Online]

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February 23, 2011

What is "Zero Waste" - And Why Should You Care?

My monthly (or so) e-letter is out. If you don't receive it, here's a quick summary and link to the latest...

What is "Zero Waste" - And Why Should You Care?

If we’re to believe the flurry of press releases over the last year, organizations of all stripes are trying to drastically reduce the waste they send to landfills. In the years since Subaru announced a “zero waste” facility in 2004, the pace of announcements has risen, and they’ve come from a broader range of organizations.

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For this e-letter I interviewed a number of sustainability execs and waste leaders from GM, Pepsi, Interface, Waste Management, and others. I ask (and I hope answer) a few key questions:
1. Why are companies doing this?
2. What does zero waste mean?
3. How else can we think about waste reduction?

See the full post here...

March 6, 2011

Cloud Computing is Greener

Cloud computing is all the rage. In its simplest terms, it means outsourcing your company's information technology (IT) needs, from data and storage to software. All the servers and applications sit elsewhere in the Internet "cloud," but more literally in a data center or centers.

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A recent study from Microsoft (with Accenture and WSP), "Cloud Computing and Sustainability", compared the environmental footprint of running business software internally or with an outsourced provider (in this case, Microsoft). The study showed that, compared to running their own applications, by outsourcing companies can reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of computing by up to 90 percent!

This is very good news. IT is one of the fastest growing energy hogs, accounting for at least 2 percent of global energy use. In my last book, Green Recovery, I focused on IT as one of five operational areas where green initiatives help companies save money quickly (the others were facilities, distribution, telework, and waste).

In the book, I cited statistics from IBM showing that less than 4 percent of the energy going into a data center is used to process something.

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While the IT world has gotten a lot more efficient lately, there's still much room for improvement. And apparently moving your applications to the cloud can help immensely.

According to the Microsoft report (see page 6), cloud computing drives energy reductions in four related ways, which boil down to a few key leverage points:

  • Reducing excess capacity
  • Flattening peak loads
  • Employing large-scale "virtualization" software
  • Improving data center design.

Using the cloud addresses all three of the major energy loss areas in the IBM chart: data center design tackles room and server cooling, while the other scale benefits mainly address the absurd waste, in percentage terms, from server underutilization (the far right bar).

Rob Bernard, Microsoft's Chief Environmental Strategist, likens the cloud to mass transit: "A data center essentially gets computing applications to carpool or take the bus instead of sitting in their own individual servers...but unlike mass transit vs. private vehicles, there is no tradeoff for convenience and on-demand availability."

So all of this is pretty logical. Scale is more efficient and allows for better resource planning. But I'd offer a few points worth thinking about, and one note of caution.

  1. The centralization of computing power should look familiar. To get some perspective on the study, I spoke with Mark Monroe, the new Executive Director of Green Grid, an organization dedicated to making IT more energy and carbon efficient. He compares the cloud to the electric grid, citing Nicholas Carr's book, The Big Switch, which Monroe says "compares utility computing development to the emergence of centralized electrical generation in the early 20th century." Like electric plants, Monroe says, central computing "utilities" benefit from scale and high utilization.
  2. In this case, outsourcing is another word for "servicizing," or turning a product into a service offering. In theory, a service provider will strive to keep its costs down, thus using as little energy and resources as possible. Cloud computing fits this model well (and fits a general transition to helping customers use less). As Monroe says, "Cloud providers want to provide an hour of CPU time, a Gigabyte-month of storage, a CRM transaction, an email, or a web page for as little cost and as high a margin as possible. That just has to lead to higher efficiency than someone focused on delivering a feature internally."
  3. Small companies get the biggest bang for their cloud bucks. The study's most fascinating finding is that the larger IT users get less benefit out of working with Microsoft's cloud. For organizations with over 10,000 users, the reduction in GHG emissions is healthy 30 percent. But that pales in comparison to the 90 percent reduction firms with just 100 users can attain.
  4. Smart outsourcing, scale, and technology can help other parts of the business be more efficient also. For example, I talk in Green Recovery about the benefits of telecommuting and telepresence, and in distribution, larger carriers can ensure fuller, more efficient trucks, rail cars, and ships.
  5. But, keep one thing in mind when outsourcing an energy-using function: the footprint is still yours. Technically, a company's main footprint includes only its own facilities (in wonky terms, that's "Scope 1 emissions"). But I believe that anyone doing contract work for you — which is not really the same as traditional suppliers - should count toward your footprint.

In short, finding providers and partners that can take some of your energy-using operations to scale, and manage them in a shared capacity, is good for your footprint and your bottom line.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

April 21, 2011

How Can We Build a Culture of Disruptive, Heretical Innovation?

The forces driving the business world toward sustainability are vast, powerful, systematic…and growing. In recent months, we’ve witnessed massive climate disruptions everywhere from Russia and Pakistan to Brazil and Nashville. Resource constraints are a reality, with serious discussions about peak oil, peak coal, peak coffee, and, well, peak everything. Technology-driven transparency is creating a mad rush to capture product and company sustainability data, and companies continue to push new demands aggressively up their supply chains.

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And the mega-force to beat all – the relentless rise of population and living standards in the developing world – continues unabated. So how will we provide a good quality of life to what will be 9 billion people on a resource-constrained planet?

In short, we need some very large changes to “business as usual,” requiring radically new ways of thinking.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written frequently (in my last book Green Recovery in particular) about the need for “heretical” innovation – that is, asking very hard questions that challenge the very nature of a business or product. I wrote recently about two companies, Waste Management and Xerox, in the middle of deep transitions. From hauling waste and getting paid by the ton, to managing recycling streams and helping customers achieve zero waste goals. Or from selling as many printers as possible to helping customers reduce the number of devices and do less printing over all. Asking customers to use less of their core products – that’s heretical.

Some will point out that this is similar to the concept of “servicizing”, and of course it is. But I believe there’s a deeper heresy at work than just turning a product into a service. After all, Xerox could offer outsourced printing services and try to print as many pages as possible. It’s the combination of service and talking openly to customers about using less in total that makes it novel.

So I have a paradoxical task in mind: figuring out how to systematically and logically ask illogical, wacky, heretical, leapfrog questions. I’m looking for ideas from the assembled knowledge and experience of the sustainability leaders reading this.

My three main questions are:
1) How do we cultivate a culture of heretical innovation (how do we make it ok to ask wacky questions)?
2) How do we identify and support the true innovators, intrapreneurs, and heretics in even the largest organizations?
3) Is sustainability-driven innovation fundamentally different than ‘regular’ disruptive innovation, and how?

On the first question at least, I have a few broad ideas. Here’s a starting list for budding corporate heretics:

Start with value-chain data to identify big risks and opportunities. With solid data, managers can focus limited resources on tackling the real footprint and drive toward new ideas and questions. For example, Pepsi’s Tropicana brand is experimenting with low-carbon fertilizer after discovering that growing oranges was the biggest part of its GHG footprint. And more famously, P&G launched Tide Coldwater to address the largest (by far) portion of detergent lifecyle emissions, washing clothes in hot water.

Use open innovation. The hottest concept in innovation today is inviting people in to solve your problems. P&G has opened up its innovation pipeline to anyone with a good product idea. A few companies are sharing some of their best ideas (and patents) with the world – as Nike and others do with GreenXChange – and then hoping for reciprocal karma.

Try “co-creation” (the second hottest concept in innovation and a subset of open innovation perhaps). IBM has had great success in recent years with “Innovation Jams” that allow all employees and customers to throw ideas into the mix. Cross-fertilizing people from radically different disciplines, and from outside the organization as well, can lead to some novel questions.

Show personal leadership (walk the talk). Have senior execs take part in jams and brainstorms. Let them publicly generate wacky ideas and support pilot projects to explore them.

Systematize innovation. 3M and Google famously set aside a portion of everyone’s time for whatever strikes their fancy. More companies should emulate this practice, but also make a point of focusing specifically on sustainability pressures.

Award the wackiest ideas, even the ones that don’t pan out. Some public pats on the back and recognition for employees who show bravery and try new things can go a long way.

Create competition. Sharing data on sustainability performance internally can drive real competition and learning across divisions or products. Or utilize public prizes, like the famous X Prize or the $1 million Netflix Prize.

All of these paths can help us regularly ask the toughest, most interesting questions. Only then can we match the scale of innovation to the scale of the sustainability challenge.

These are just a few ideas (after all, this is a blog, not a book). There are many more. So please send me your thoughts on how to drive breakthrough innovation and how to find the heretics in the organization. Finally, any examples of heretical questions within your organizations are very welcome. (andrew@eco-strategies.com).

(This post first appeared on Corporate Eco-Forum's site.)

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May 8, 2011

Why Companies Keep Investing in On-site Renewable Energy

My latest e-newsletter came out last week. I focused on the seemingly curious situation where companies are increasing investments in renewable energy for their operations. In theory, it's "too expensive" with long paybacks. But the reality is more complicated.

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I outlined 7 of the reasons I think companies are going down the zero carbon path. Here's a very brief summary -- see the full post on SLM's site here...

1) For some categories of onsite generation, the economics do makes sense. In particular, onsite biomass in the pulp/paper or textile industries, for example, is often much cheaper than fossil fuels.
2) The genius of the power purchasing agreement (PPA), where solar providers front the capital cost in return for a long-term contract to buy the power.
3) Zero variable cost. Wind and sun are free.
4) Brand benefits. A solar panel on your roof is a nice brand statement.
5) Supporting the growth of an industry. Intel and others are trying to help bring about a larger renewable energy industry which will lower the costs over time.
6) Some buyers have a longer time horizon and don't consider a 7 year payback so long, especially for a long-lived asset like a building.
7) Others have a broader sense of "payback" and ROI. A change of mindset could help companies include the risk hedge of having predictable energy costs and other less tangible value.

For a bit more detail on these 7 and some examples of recent renewable energy announcements from companies such as Ford, P&G, and IKEA, see the full e-letter.

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July 28, 2011

A New Green IT Report from CDP

Just a quick heads up about a nice, pithy report on how cloud computing can reduce the large, and growing, IT energy footprint.

"Cloud Computing - The IT Solution for the 21st Century" comes from one of my favorite agitators for transparency and climate action, the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Fyi, there's a short piece I wrote in the report, most of which is taken from this blog from earlier this year, "Cloud Computing is Greener."

Enjoy...

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August 22, 2011

Excess Inventory Wastes Carbon and Energy, Not Just Money

Inventory. For those of us not in operations, supply chain, or logistics, it's a vaguely familiar line item we learned about in finance class. We know it's important and that we're supposed to reduce it by increasing "turns."

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But inventory is not a minor issue. By some estimates, the world is sitting on roughly $8 trillion worth of goods held for sale, and nearly $2 trillion in the U.S. alone, according to a report by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (note: the full report requires membership, but this number is mentioned about 9 minutes into the video at the CSCMP site).

That's a lot of capital tied up in warehouses. It also represents a tremendous amount of environmental footprint "embedded": logic suggests that this inventory stock, since it represents a healthy percentage of our economic output, required a good percentage of our energy and water to produce (so billions of tons of carbon emitted, for example). If we could permanently reduce the amount of product sitting idle, we'd save money, energy, and material.

So managing inventory well is both a financial win and a sustainability victory.

Perhaps the most powerful lever over inventory levels is predicting how much product customers will want, or what's called "demand planning." I recently delved into this meld of art and science when I spoke at a meeting held by Terra Technology, a relatively new and successful player in the "demand sensing" world (the difference between "sensing" and "planning" is about gathering data as close to real-time as possible and feeding it back up the supply chain quickly).

While I know little about the field of demand estimation — or what tools companies are using — my interest was in learning about anything that helps companies save money and reduce their environmental footprints. (Full disclosure: Terra Technology was my client for this event.)

At the meeting were representatives from many of the world's largest consumer product (CPG) companies. The giants in the field, such as P&G and Unilever, spend a lot of money on demand planning, each employing hundreds of people, many with advanced math degrees...and for good reason: P&G's 2010 total inventory, for example, was valued on the balance sheet at $6.4 billion.

Even though predicting the future is devilishly hard, I figured that the explosion of point-of-sale and operational data over the last 20 years, would give companies a good handle on how much of something they'll sell. I was wrong.

As I learned at the conference, according to Terra Technology's benchmarking study, the error rate for CPG companies on estimated vs. actual sales is shockingly high. Even with the fastest-selling, most predictable products, the estimates are off by an average of more than 40 percent. Imagine that a CPG company believes that 1 million bottles of a fast-turning laundry detergent will sell this week. With 40 percent average error, half the time sales will actually fall between 600,000 and 1.4 million bottles. And the other half of the time sales will be even further off the mark.

The repercussions of all this uncertainty are dramatic in terms of cost and material use. Companies have to keep much more inventory, since going out of stock is really unpleasant to explain to consumers, your CEO, or, say, Wal-Mart. The buffer is called "safety stock," and its sole purpose is to mitigate this risk. There's a lot of safety stock out there — nobody knows exactly how much, but what stock level would you keep on hand if you didn't know whether sales would be 1 or 2 million units?

As we've found so many times before, data and software can play a critical role in making operations more efficient and sustainable. For example, using both demand sensing software and good management practices, P&G has cut 17 days and $2.1 billion out of inventory. All that production avoided saves a lot of money in manufacturing, distribution, and ongoing warehousing. It also saves a lot of carbon, material, and water.

Like many companies that realize there's a green element to their offerings, Terra Technology is now making this footprint-reduction case as part of its pitch for better demand prediction. As Robert F. Byrne, the company's CEO, puts it, "I want people to think of inventory as not just piles of cash, but also piles of carbon and piles of water." It's smart positioning, especially because it's true.

The definition of what makes a "green" initiative is broadening, and that's a good thing. Companies would certainly include a lighting retrofit at a warehouse in their list of sustainability or eco-efficiency projects. But until recently, it probably hadn't occurred to logistics execs that reducing the inventory itself could be the greenest thing they do.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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May 24, 2012

3M's Sustainability Innovation Machine

Planes are now held together by tape, not bolts. It's really, really strong tape, but still. Who knew the maker of Post-It Notes could help keep aircraft aloft?

This somewhat frightening factoid is just one of the fascinating things I learned in a recent visit to the St. Paul, MN, headquarters of the perennial innovation leader, 3M. During my daylong visit, I observed a quiet, longtime sustainability leader plugging away, creating new products that will help the world save energy, water, waste...and lots of money.

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For good reason, the $30-billion company has long been held up as a role model of how to manage innovation. In the sustainability realm, 3M pioneered what now seems like an obvious idea: avoiding pollution before having to clean it up. The company's simply named Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program has saved many billions of dollars over 36 years.

The environmental results of its near obsession with eco-efficiency are frankly astonishing. In the last two decades, 3M has slashed toxic releases by 99% and greenhouse gas emissions by 72%. It's the only company that has won the EPA's Energy Star Award every year the honor has been bestowed.

3M's sustainability leadership has come mainly from its eco-efficiency success, but these practices are increasingly the norm in business. So I was happy to observe abundant evidence of the company pivoting to make sustainability a driver of business growth as well.

Before my presentation at an employee event, I listened as CEO Inge Thulin and senior execs from each of the major divisions laid out their strategies. Thulin spoke about sustainability being "embedded...in our new vision" of growth and innovation. Other execs bragged about the high percentage of their division's sales coming from sustainability and "energy preservation."

But most importantly, I heard about some great new products and technologies. When you're describing a company that launches an average of 20 new products every week, it's hard to pick favorites. But here are a few examples of what sustainability innovation looks like:

  • The world's highest reflectivity mirror film, which can take sunlight from a roof and carry it deep into a building — the length of a football field, in fact — all while losing less than half of the light. I saw this technology paired seamlessly with some regular fluorescent lighting and working well in an interior conference room. As one exec said, somewhat heretically, "Why build solar panels to convert sun to electricity to then turn on lights if you can do this?" (Note: I'd do both!)

  • Pipe linings: Every year, due in large part to 250,000 water main breaks, our cities lose 1.7 trillion gallons of treated water (equal to the total water use of the 10 largest cities). To help solve this problem, 3M launched a product that sends a machine down into pipes to apply a fast-setting lining which structurally reinforces them, without having to go to the significant expense of digging them up first.

  • An industrial paint application product/service that reduces toxic solvent use by 70% and is saving customers, mostly auto repair shops, $2 billion from simpler paint operations and reduced waste. It's also a sizable business for 3M.

  • 3M's Novec Fluids, which provide cleaning, coating, cooling, and fire suppression for the electronics industry (chip manufacturing, datacenters, and so on) in a non-flammable, non-ozone-depleting way. It's also remarkably safe for users and technology — you can safely dip an iPhone in the stuff.

3M is a refreshingly humble company: every estimate or "boast" is carefully and conservatively calculated to not overstate the case. For 36 years, the company has used only first-year savings to tally the benefits of pollution prevention projects — that's an effective discount rate of, well, infinity. And with the water-pipe-lining technology, the payback calculation for customers includes only labor savings and overall construction efficiency. A more thorough accounting would add in the significant water and energy savings, as well as reduced impacts on local economies (traffic and business disruption).

But there are signs of a feistier attitude brewing. The new CEO is making sustainability, growth, and innovation a powerful trifecta. With Novec Fluids, the team is not only working with key customers and early adopters, but it's also pushing the market toward greener options by advocating for tougher government standards and regulations. This kind of pro-environment lobbying is an advanced sustainability strategy that only real leaders can pull off.

Finally, I toured the company's relatively new innovation demonstration center. It's a customers-only, hands-on science museum that proudly demonstrates all that 3M can do through cool combinations of its 46 base technologies.

Bottom line: sustainability is deeply integrated in 3M's innovation pipeline, which is the engine of the company. The company's core new product development process includes key sustainability questions and criteria for designers to address.

Many companies start talking about sustainability efforts before they've really made significant changes to the company or its products. Although 3M may have the opposite problem — getting too little brand and marketing value out of its efforts — it is usually smarter to execute first, and then tell your story. In 3M's case, it's nice to see the engineers at this quiet company just out there doing it.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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December 22, 2012

Top 10 Sustainable Business Stories of 2012

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It's time once again to try and summarize the last 12 months in a handy list. But before I dive in, some quick thoughts.

It was an odd year for green business, and it began with some mixed signals about how far companies were coming on sustainability. A GreenBiz report indicated that progress had slowed or even regressed, but MIT and BCG also declared that sustainability had reached a "tipping point" with more companies putting sustainability "on the management agenda."

In reality, both views were right. Corporate sustainability lost some of its sexiness from previous years, as it grew more entrenched in day-to-day business. Some parts of the agenda — eco-efficiency and resource conservation for example — are widely accepted now, and it's rare to find a big-company CEO who doesn't have sustainability on his or her radar.

The mega forces driving sustainability deep into business — such as climate change, resource constraints, and transparency — are getting stronger. We may not be keeping pace with these pressures, but leading companies continue to evolve more sustainable strategies and tactics. Let's look at some top macro- and company-level stories.

Macro Trends

1. Historic drought and Hurricane Sandy sweep away (some) climate denial
For many people this year, climate change moved from theoretical to painfully real. Mega weather took many lives and cost over $120 billion in the U.S. alone ($50 billion for the drought, $71 billion for Sandy). After Sandy raged across the eastern coast, Businessweek blared on its cover "It's Global Warming, Stupid." New York Mayor Bloomberg, a Republican, endorsed President Obama in the election, titling his open letter, "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change."

As bad as Sandy was, the relentless drought across the middle of the country may prove more convincing in the long run. Corn yields per acre fell 19%, food prices rose, and water disappeared —the Mississippi River may soon struggle to support commerce. Individual companies are feeling the bite: analysts at Morningstar estimate that input costs at Tyson Foods will rise by $700 million — more than its 2012 net income.

Over one-third of the world's largest companies surveyed by the Carbon Disclosure Project arealready seeing the impacts of climate change on their business. So with life-and-death consequences and vast costs, we must have moved quickly to tackle climate change, right? Sort of...

The year ended with the failure, yet again, of the international community to come to some agreement on climate change. But country-level and regional policy moved forward: Australia passed a carbon tax, South Korea approved carbon trading, and California just began its own trading experiment.

Many countries also committed serious funds to build a clean economy: Saudi Arabia pledged $109 billion for solar, Japan declared that a $628 billion green energy industry would be central to its 2020 strategy, and China targeted $372 billion to cut energy use and pollution.

In the U.S., a backdoor approach to climate policy took over. The Obama administration issued new standards to double the fuel economy of cars and trucks, and the National Resources Defense Council (an NGO) proposed using the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions from power plants by 25%.

2. The math and physics of a planetary constraints get clearer
Arithmetic had a big year: Nate Silver's nearly perfect predictions of the election gave him the oxymoronic status of rock-star statistician. The math and physics of sustainability got some serious attention as well.

Writer and activist Bill McKibben wrote a widely-read piece in Rolling Stone about climate math — how much more carbon emissions the planet can take — and followed it up with a national awareness-building tour. Based on similar numbers, both McKinsey and PwC UK calculated how fast we must reduce the carbon intensity of the global economy (PwC's number is 5% per year until 2050).

And on the resource constraint front, Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the asset management firm GMO ($100 billion invested), continued his relentless numbers-based assault on the fallacy of infinite resources. In his November newsletter, he demonstrated exactly how much of a drag on the U.S. economy commodity prices have become.

Nobody can really deny that, in principle, exponential growth must stop someday. Grantham, McKibben, and many others are making the case that someday has arrived.

3. The clean economy continues to explode
The rapid growth of natural gas production (the biggest energy story of the year) and the high-profile failure of one solar manufacturer (Solyndra) have confused people about the prospects for clean tech. In reality, the clean economy is winning. The share of U.S. electricity coming from non-hydro renewables doubled to 6% in the last 4 years. On May 26, Germany set a world record when it produced 50% of its electricity needs from solar power alone. In a mini political tipping point, six Republican senators publicly supported an extension to the wind production tax credit in the U.S. (which will expire in days), and got an earful from a Wall Street Journal editorial.

It wasn't just energy. One auto analyst declared 2012 the "Year of the Green Car," with more high-MPG models, 500,000 hybrid sales in the U.S., and plug-in sales up 228%. To cap the year, the pure electric Tesla Model S was selected as the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Company Stories

This year, there were countless eco-efficiency stories about companies saving millions of dollarsand developing new tools to make buildings, fleets (Staples and UPS, for example), and manufacturing much leaner. Aside from that overall theme, the following stories grabbed me because of their connection to larger trends.

4. The green supply chain gets some teeth: Walmart changes incentives for buyers
This year, Walmart finally added a key element to its impressive green supply chain efforts. The retail giant's powerful buyers, or merchants, now have a sustainability goal in their performance targets and reviews. For example, the laptop PC buyer set a goal that, by Christmas, all of the laptops Walmart sells would come pre-installed with advanced energy-saving settings. It was by no means a hiccup-free year on sustainability issues for Walmart, with deep concerns about corruption in its Mexican operations. But the subtle change in buyer incentives is a big deal.

5. Transparency and tragedy raise awareness about worker conditions
Early in 2012, Apple took some serious heat for the working conditions at Foxconn, the giant company that assembles a huge percentage of our electronics. Later in the year, tragedy struck Dhaka, Bangladesh when a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory killed or injured hundreds of people. The company that owns the factory serves Walmart, Carrefour, IKEA, and many others (but in fact,some companies didn't even know that Tazreen was a supplier). It's unclear if any of these human and PR disasters will affect the companies downstream, but transparency and knowledge about the lives of the people who make our products will continue to rise.

6. Data gets bigger and faster: PepsiCo and Columbia speed up lifecycle assessments
The rise of Big Data was an important theme in business in general this year, but especially in sustainability. And nowhere is good data needed more than in the onerous and expensive task of calculating a product's lifecycle footprint. PepsiCo has had great success with the method, finding ways to reduce cost and risk for key brands, but execs wanted to apply the tool across thousands of products. To make the exercise feasible and affordable, they turned to Columbia University, which developed a new algorithm for fast carbon footprinting. This isn't just a wonky exercise: As PepsiCo exec Al 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."

7. Sustainability innovation opens up: Unilever, Heineken, and EMC ask the world for help
This new world of social media, where everyone has a voice, can be tough on companies. Consumers can gather around a green issue and pressure companies to change their behavior. Some notable change.org campaigns this year challenged Universal Pictures (about its green messaging around The Lorax), Crayola (recycling markers), and Dunkin' Donuts (Styrofoam cups). But companies can also use "open" innovation tools to generate new ideas and invite the world to solve problems together.

Unilever, which has my vote for leader in corporate sustainability right now, held an online discussion or "jam." Then the company posted a list of "Challenges and wants" and asked for ideas on solving big issues such as how to bring safe drinking water to the world's poorest regions.Unilever has received over 1,000 ideas and is "pursuing 6 to 7 percent of these with internal teams." Other notable open innovation models this year included Heineken's $10,000 sustainable packaging contest (which yielded some very fun ideas like a roving tap truck) and EMC's eco-challenge with InnoCentive on e-waste.

8. The economy gets a bit more circular: M&S, H&M, and Puma experiment with closing loops
On the heels of Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign (one of my top 10 stories from last year), British retailer M&S began a program called "Schwop" that asked customers to bring back old clothes every time they bought new ones. This month, H&M also rolled out a global clothing collection and recycling effort.

Puma, after making last year's list with it's Environmental P&L, kept the momentum going andannounced a new "InCycle" collection with biodegradable sneakers and shirts, and recyclable jackets and backpacks. Remanufacturing has been around a long time, but closing loops is getting more popular every year.

9. Dematerialization gets sexier: Nike's knitted shoe shows off sustainable style
Keeping the apparel theme, um, running, check out Nike's new shoe with FlyKnit technology. The upper part of the shoe is constructed from a single strand, which greatly reduces waste and lightens the shoe dramatically. It's a great thing when a more sustainable design also coincides perfectly with customer needs. Enough said.

10. Zero becomes more the norm: DuPont, GM, and John Elkington show the way
The idea that organizations should send zero waste to landfill was once a niche idea, but it's quickly becoming the ante to enter the waste management game. Announcements on waste may not be exciting, but they demonstrate how companies can turn a cost center into a source of profit. DuPont's Building Innovation Products business reduced its landfill waste from 81 million pounds to zero in three years. GM announced that it would ramp up its already extensive waste reuse and recycling efforts, which are now generating $1 billion a year. And a plug for a fellow writer: In a new book, sustainability thought leader John Elkington made the case that the future would belong to the "Zeronauts," the "new breed of innovators determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero."

Five Questions For 2013

Some other promising stories are in the "too early to tell" stage, but bring up some key questions:

1. Can we standardize sustainability, which some smart folks began to do around rankings (GISR) and accounting (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board)?

2. Will we find a way to value externalities like ecosystem services and internalized, intangible benefits? (A focus of some of my work as an advisor to PwC US). For example, Microsoft launched an internal carbon tax and some major companies (Coca-Cola, Nike, Kimberly-Clark, etc.) pledged to value natural capital at Rio+20.

3. Will government get in the way or help, like when the U.S. Senate allowed the military to keep investing in biofuels?

4. Hertz and B&Q (Kingfisher) have delved into collaborative consumption (see WWF's Green Game-Changers report), but will the sharing economy make a dent on sustainability issues?

5. Finally, how much will we challenge the nature of capitalism, and what will that mean for how companies operate? (This is the focus of my next project.)

So many stories, so little time... on to 2013. Happy holidays and have a safe and wonderful New Year!

(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)

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.

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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 Greenbiz.com.)

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)

February 24, 2013

The Inside Story of Diageo's Stunning Carbon Achievement

This is the exclusive, short story of how Diageo North America, with creativity and guts, both in operations and in the senior ranks, achieved the holy grail of carbon emissions reductions. They did it without using carbon offsets — and about 38 years earlier than they had to.

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Here's what scientists are telling us: the world must cut carbon emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 to (we hope) avoid the worst of climate change. This level of change seemed like a pipe dream to many, including me... until I spoke last fall to Roberta Barbieri, the global manager for environmental sustainability for Diageo, the $17 billion spirits company. Imagine my shock, as we talked about setting aggressive goals on carbon emissions, when she casually mentioned that Diageo's North American division — a group with $5.58 billion in sales and 14 production and manufacturing facilities — had already cut emissions 80 percent.

The first thing I said was, "Excuse me?!," followed quickly by, "when can I come and talk to you?"

It all started in 2008, she told me later, when top Diageo execs had their minds set on doing something big. First, for perspective, they ran the numbers on what it might cost to go entirely carbon free. The back-of-the-envelope calculation was daunting (hundreds of millions of dollars) and included ideas like building bioenergy plants to power some of their largest distilleries — an option that would achieve large reductions, but was in no way cheap. They settled on a still-aggressive goal of 50%, made it public, and, remarkably, crossed their fingers.

At about this time, Richard Dunne, an environmental exec, entered the picture and took responsibility for meeting the target in North America. He had a strong suspicion that building an expensive bioenergy plant was not the only way to get there. His team implemented a rigorous process of collecting ideas for emissions cuts and estimating the costs. Then they sorted the results on a massive spreadsheet, ranking ideas by net gain on environmental improvement and then by financial investment. By looking at the largest carbon reduction options first, they could group ideas into three big buckets: 1) low/no cost (the no-brainers); 2) some operating expense increase; and 3) more significant capital expenditures (like the bioenergy plant).

Executives initially thought that only major capital projects would reduce emissions significantly. But Dunne's process revealed a surprising number of no-brainers. As a result, Diageo North America achieved a 50% carbon reduction by 2012, mainly with a mix of no- and low-cost initiatives. These project range from easy efficiency efforts like lighting retrofits, boiler upgrades, and installing variable speed drives; to larger, but still economical, changes, such as switching fuels (from oil to natural gas) and cutting back from two boilers to one in a small distillery.

Reaching the 50% reduction in North America years ahead of schedule was a pleasant surprise. But Diageo still needed to go further: the economics on reductions in other regions were not nearly as good, so North America needed to close the gap to help the global organization reach its 50% goal by 2015. But even with the expensive bioenergy plant beckoning as a solution, something even more unusual happened at a Canadian distillery, one of the company's largest.

Gene Ruminski, Diageo's North American sustainability manager, proposed that the Canadian distillery contract with its utility to supply natural gas harvested from a landfill - a net zero carbon solution that would reduce the carbon footprint for North America by another whopping 30%. But there was a big catch: energy costs would go up more than $1 million per year. This expense was more than the single plant could justify.

But then a senior exec, the president of Global Supply and Procurement, got wind of the idea (important point here: this exec sits on the company's internal sustainability council). With his global perspective, he realized that even though the landfill gas solution would increase operating costs for this one plant, it was actually a relatively cheap way to deliver a large reduction in emissions. So he gave the go-ahead and some financial leeway to the plant manager who had to take the annual million-plus hit to his bottom line. As it turns out, the plant's ongoing cost-cutting initiatives had already identified many millions of savings, so Diageo reduced the plant's target for total cost savings to allow for this massive carbon-reducing project.

This is an amazing story, with a few important lessons:

1) Companies still have much more room to cut energy, water, and waste than they realize. Even a well-run company can find enormous savings from easy, low-cost stuff.

2) Big goals force you to look for big ideas, meaning you can, as Diageo's Roberta Barbieri says, "do more than just turning off the lights."

3) Leadership matters. With a more strategic attitude, you can invest in longer-term value, both tangible and intangible. Flexibility is crucial, as the top exec had to give the plant manager leeway on his savings targets to meet the environmental goal.

This last point is really critical. Shifting subtly away from an attitude of "maximize profits this quarter at all costs" does not mean you leap right from capitalism to communism; it just means you take into account a broader definition of value to the organization and community. Flexible thinking about value frees you up to find unique solutions. As a clean tech and impact investor Charles Ewald said to me recently, "the gap between 'capitalism' and so-called 'philanthropy' leaves a lot of room for creativity."

I congratulate Diageo for getting creative, finding that chasm, and driving a spirits truck right through it.

(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)

January 9, 2014

Business Resilience Comes from Working with Nature

[Note: This post is co-authored with Michelle Lapinski, a senior advisor on valuing nature at The Nature Conservancy]

Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that pummeled the U.S. northeast in October 2012, ranks as the second-costliest hurricane in American history, causing an estimated $68 billion in damages. One year later, the most powerful storm ever recorded to hit land devastated the Philippines.

With these once extraordinary events becoming more ordinary, it’s becoming clearer that businesses in vulnerable regions need to prepare. But how should companies go about building resilient enterprises that are ready to face extreme weather and other effects of climate change? One powerful, underleveraged option is to use nature to protect our coasts and physical assets — that is, to invest in so-called “green infrastructure” a term meant to differentiate projects from more typical “gray” or man-made infrastructure solutions (such as dams, levees, and water treatment systems) that we build to cool and purify water or defend our buildings and assets against the elements.

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Our natural world already provides immensely valuable services to make our economy and society possible. Most obviously, we get all our food, minerals, and metals from the ground, and forests provide wood and oxygen. But there are more subtle benefits: forests also clean our water and coastal wetlands and reefs provide natural defense from storms and floods. They can help us manage rainwater and wastewater. These services, which are not currently valued in the marketplace, protect both people and commercial and residential assets.

So a city or company looking to safeguard its water supply, for example, could invest in protecting or restoring lands instead of building a new water treatment plant (which is exactly what the New York City did when it bought land in the Catskill Mountains in 1997 — this initiative avoided up to $8 billion in costs for a new filtration facility and saved $200-$300 million in ongoing operation and maintenance costs).

But is this kind of green infrastructure approach generally as effective? Is it cost competitive? A recent paper by Shell, Dow, Swiss Re, Unilever and The Nature Conservancy concludes that frequently, it is.

Using standard cost-benefit analysis, the study compared some natural solutions to more traditional infrastructure investments. In all of the completed corporate projects, the green option won out toe-to-toe on capital expenditures and operational expenditures

Here’s one of the more compelling examples highlighted in the paper:

One of Shell’s joint ventures, Petroleum Development Oman LLC (PDO), uses constructed wetlands to treat produced water from oilfields. PDO’s extraction activities produce a lot of oily water as a by-product. After investigating alternative, low cost solutions to treat and dispose of the water, PDO built a natural wetland system that uses sunlight, reeds, and gravity (to flow water down in steps) in place of extensive water treatment and injection operations. The latter, gray option would have required significant electric power and produced high greenhouse gas emissions… and it would’ve cost a lot more.

On every important measure — capital expenditure, operational expenditure, and performance — the constructed wetland outperformed the traditional approach. Power consumption and CO2 emissions were reduced by 98%, which lowered operating expenses dramatically. And as a bonus, the wetland provides habitat for fish and hundreds of species of migratory birds.

In this particular case, PDO only needed the natural option, but the study concluded that hybrid solutions – combinations of green and gray infrastructure — may often provide the best mix of benefits. Together, green and gray solutions combine some of the resilience inherent in natural systems with the way an engineered solution can solve a specific challenge.

Shell isn’t the only company that discovered the savings from green infrastructure. The report includes case studies for Dow, which also utilized a constructed wetland at one of its facilities, reducing capex expense by a factor of 10. Today, Dow is exploring additional applications of green infrastructure and is engaged in a multi-year collaboration with The Nature Conservancy on valuing ecosystem services, which includes evaluating the viability of natural infrastructure at its largest production site.

Companies with common challenges can identify savvy, shared investments in green solutions for wastewater treatment, desalination, or coastal defense (using, say, wetland and reef restoration) and potentially collaborate on new green infrastructure opportunities at co-located assets.

Collectively, the companies in the report concluded that green infrastructure solutions should become a major part of the modern engineer’s standard toolkit: “Incorporating nature into man-made infrastructure can improve business resilience —and bring additional economic, environmental and socio-political benefits.” The report also provides an emerging set of performance metrics that managers can use to assess and compare green and grey infrastructure options.

As the damages from (and costs of) extreme weather and other disruptions soar, investing in resilience becomes a better deal. And nature can provide many of the solutions we need to both save money and protect our assets. So run the numbers on green infrastructure solutions. The calculations are likely to show that green options are the best investments.

(This post first appeared on the Harvard Business Review blog network.)

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