Friday, September 30, 2011

Adobe's journey to sustainability

When it comes to business, sustainability initiatives must consider ROI. The good thing is that when sustainability is built into a company, you save resources and therefore money, and that makes it easier to justify more sustainability projects.

Adobe Systems is a good example of this principle. As Global Sustainability Manager Meera Ramanathan explained to our September seminar attendees, Adobe’s steps to sustainability have always been promoted by looking at ROI, something that’s been easy to show. The company’s San Jose headquarters, for example, has initiated 85 sustainability projects (from lighting retrofits to energy savings), costing a total of $2.1 million -- and these have resulted in $1.5 million in savings annually, plus $475,000 in rebates. Given the continued nature of annual savings, this is a huge ROI.

In spite of this focus, while other projects might be driven by finance, Adobe’s sustainability projects have been driven by a concept of change, with finance coming into the picture later. An example of this is double-sided printing. Employee interest led to printers being set to default to double-sided printing -- which ended up saving a lot of money as people used less paper.

This example echoes the sustainable principles of Adobe’s founders, who set out to create a paperless system. And this was just one small step: sustainability at Adobe really got going in 2001, when Governor Gray Davis asked large companies to cut down on energy use. The company proceeded to systematically assess and reduce its energy use, and to track every business activity to see what could be reduced.

This led to a number of sustainability initiatives:
  • LEED certification for 10 Adobe buildings. This was one of the first initiatives and a good basis for many others: if you make a building sustainable, the operations within it will be sustainable. And LEED provides a helpful framework for a company to follow, with guidelines that help formulate a plan.
  • Alternative energy initiatives, such as wind turbines and fuel cells in the San Jose office.
  • Electric car charging stations at some sites.
  • Energy conservation (sub-metering allows the company to see and address spikes).
  • Waste diversion (99% in San Jose).
  • Water conservation.
  • Green procurement and cleaning.
  • Employee-initiated projects such as e-faxes and elimination of bottled water.
Most of the projects have developed in this way:
  • Someone has an idea to conserve resources or change the status quo.
  • The idea grows as more stakeholders become involved.
  • Budgets and plans are proposed and developed.
  • A timeline is developed.
  • The idea becomes a project.
The LEED project used this methodology, which has been replicated for the other green projects:
  • The project began with a stakeholder meeting to set the scope.
  • Task assignment followed, with specific tasks -- for example, it was specified that landscapers procure plants that were not just drought-resistant but also native, and janitorial staff were asked to use green cleaning products.
  • Education and communication is the most important aspect of sustainability projects, which tend to require an extra mindset shift to engage stakeholders. In this case, landscapers needed to learn how to take care of native plants, and that involved adopting a different way of thinking. Janitorial staff had to be trained in green cleaning and educated about the benefits to their own health.
  • Individual project plans were created with scope, timelines, resources, and budgets.
  • Auditing by a third party is also helpful in green projects. It can be a very simple check in some cases, perhaps even done by the CFO -- this helps determine if it’s a good project to continue with and helps get more people on board. For the LEED project, the U.S. Green Building Council did the audits.
The key things Adobe has learned about sustainability projects is that they must be accompanied by inherent behavioral changes, and constant communication must happen for their continued success:
  • Educate teams early about desired results -- this helps them work together better.
  • Address concerns immediately so they don’t linger and fester. It’s especially important to address the concerns of resisters first; once you do that, they can become the project’s biggest champion, and everyone will follow them.
  • Communicate favorable outcomes of each step constantly.
  • Put out lots of meeting notes. Sustainability projects can often take a long time, so it’s good to keep people informed as you go.
  • Ensure all stakeholders know exactly were they are within the project and with respect to each other.
  • Assure everyone they are an equal partner in the initiative.
  • Address any concern immediately via a revised timeline, budget, resources, etc.
  • Keep the project on schedule and, if possible, under budget.
How do you show your programs are working? Metrics, it turns out, are not just helpful in identifying potential projects. Ramanathan explained how tracking all projects, costs, and ROI is essential in showing what you’ve done, both to yourself and to others. In an era of rampant greenwashing, having data to prove you’re being green gives you more credibility. And Adobe has shown that they’re serious about sustainability, and about sharing what they’ve learned -- as was exemplified in this seminar.

Note: Although I am an Adobe employee, this posting is my own and doesn't necessarily represent the position, views, or opinions of Adobe.

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