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Sustainability execs detail 2014's proudest achievements

GreenBiz Executive Network leaders from Dell, Adobe, McDonald's and more talk about eliminating toxics, energy efficiency and other boastworthy wins.

As 2014 comes to a close, we asked members of the GreenBiz Executive Network, our member-based, peer-to-peer learning forum for sustainability professionals, to reflect on the past year and assess their progress.

They obliged by telling us about many of their major accomplishments in 2014. What you'll read below is a mix of themes. There's some well-deserved bragging (we like to be inspired by success). There are big initiatives that have been launched, most requiring extensive partnerships across entire value chains. And there are great examples of embedding sustainability strategy deep into organizations, ensuring greater action and execution.

Here's what they said when we asked: What was your company's greatest accomplishment this year?

David Lear, executive director, corporate sustainability, Dell

David Lear, executive director, corporate sustainability, Dell
We took a big step toward closing the recycling loop this year. In May we launched our closed-loop plastics supply chain, using plastics from the computers and parts recovered through our existing takeback and recycling programs to build brand new systems. Not only is it helping us reach our 2020 Legacy of Good goals, but the nearly 700 tons of closed-loop plastics shipped to our molders have saved money while reducing emissions compared to using virgin plastics.

Vince Digneo, sustainability specialist, Adobe

Vince Digneo, Sustainability Specialist, Adobe
We all know it's the Wild West out there when it comes ratings and rankings. But we'll celebrate a few while we can. This year Adobe made No. 1 in technology, No. 2 in U.S., No. 3 in the world on Newsweek's Green Rankings. Also, we raised our CDP score to 99 (from 97 in 2013, 93 in 2012), and made Trucost's Natural Capital Leadership Index. If ratings are a reflection of performance, we're pretty happy.

Holly Emerson, senior analyst, Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, Ingersoll Rand

Holly Emerson, Senior Analyst, Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, Ingersoll Rand
We made a progressive and broad global commitment as part of the Clinton Global Initiative and United Nations Climate Summit to reduce our products' greenhouse gas refrigerant footprint by 50 percent by 2020, and introduce lower global warming potential alternatives across our portfolio by 2030. We also committed to reduce our operational greenhouse gas footprint by 35 percent by 2020. In 2015 we are excited to begin the work to reach our newly established 2020 goals which cover six focus areas: governance; suppliers; operational footprint; customer outcomes; our people; and corporate citizenship.

Bob Langert, corporate VP, CSR/Sustainability, McDonald's Corporation

Bob Langert, Corporate VP, CSR/Sustainability, McDonald's Corporation
There are not many times one can say they are involved with a very transformative program. McDonald's collaborative effort to start the path toward sustainable beef is a big deal. Of course the real accomplishment is later, when we actually purchase sustainable beef.  So I cannot wait for 2020 when we will look back and see 2014 as a milestone year for the most material animal in the food chain: the cow. If cars, computers and clothing can be on sustainable paths, why not cattle?

Jeff Farlow, program manager, energy initiatives, Pentair

Jeff Farlow, Program Manager of Energy Initiatives at Pentair
This year, the EPA named Pentair a 2014 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for our contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by manufacturing energy-efficient products and educating consumers about energy efficiency. This honor follows 10 years of efforts to make our pumps more energy efficient than typical pumps, beginning with our introduction of the ultra-efficient IntelliFlo integrated variable speed pump in 2005. Despite feedback suggesting consumers would not be willing to pay nearly double that of a traditional pump, we demonstrated the long-term benefits of the new pump, outlining the business opportunity in new construction implementation and retrofitting for the nation's 5 million in-ground pools. As a result of this foresight, Pentair maintained the industry's only integrated variable speed pump for five years.

In 2008, we began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA to develop a set of energy efficiency standards for pool pumps. The resulting Energy Star standards for pool pumps could reduce pool energy use by as much as 90 percent. With its IntelliFlo products, Pentair's pump line was already achieving this standard. In fact, since 2005 Pentair's pumps have saved over 5.8 billion kilowatt-hours, and counting.

Asheen Phansey, environmental sustainability manager, Dassault Systèmes

Asheen Phansey, Environmental Sustainability Manager, Dassault Systèmes
This year Dassault Systèmes acquired Accelrys and combined it with our own BioIntelligence project to form our BIOVIA brand. We now have the technology to model biological and chemical structures, which I hope will help us make meaningful advances in the human health side of sustainability. Relatedly, we also launched our Living Heart project, where surgeons can model in virtual reality the actual heart they're about to operate on. On the pure sustainability side, we're excited about technology collaborations we've launched with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Biomimicry 3.8, which I hope to talk more about in 2015.

Jeff Rehm, senior manager, corporate facilities and global sustainability, W.W. Grainger

Jeff Rehm, Sr. Manager Corporate Facilities & Global Sustainability, W. W. Grainger
At Grainger, the sustainability team evolved considerably in 2014. Prior to this year, our team had been acting much more as consultants, providing our 2 cents on various organizational initiatives. In 2014, our team began to proactively provide sustainability as a service to the business. We have created a repeatable energy and waste management audit for our facilities that has taken costs out of our partners' operating budgets.

Brandy Wilson, director of sustainability, CH2MHill

Brandy Wilson, Director of Sustainability, CH2MHill
One of our most rewarding client engagements around sustainability is working with 18 fashion and sports brands on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Program. These forward-thinking companies include some of the largest fashion and sportswear brands in the world, which each have committed to eliminating the use of 11 classes of hazardous chemicals from textile production by 2020. Our greatest accomplishment from an internal program perspective was being a G4 pioneer: We were one of the first companies to issue our sustainability report to the new GRI G4 reporting standard. We focused on materiality through a new lens and discovered a whole new way of looking at our value chain as a result.

John Schulz, AVP of sustainability operations, AT&T  

John Schulz, AVP of Sustainability Operations, AT&T
After years of issuing traditional, static sustainability reports, we realized this format was limiting our ability to provide the most current information in the most accessible way possible. So we created a suite of online resources that lets people find information more easily. We created a concise, written report including a GRI table (G3.1 at a Level B). But we also built an online library which features data and updates on our material issues. In addition, we launched a Twitter handle @ConnectToGood and a blog on a new web portal called People/Planet/Possibilities. These tools free us from the constraints of once-a-year reporting to let us talk about new projects, milestones and employee accomplishments when they happen.

Jenny Cross, vice president, corporate sustainability, Mohawk Industries

Jenny Cross, Vice President, Corporate Sustainability, Mohawk Industries
We had a lot of wins in 2014, but I would have to say that the greatest has been our ability to remain focused on sustainability while undergoing major changes as we successfully integrated three acquisitions in seven countries. That really speaks to the commitment to sustainability we have developed at Mohawk Industries. Mohawk has grown significantly within the last two years and with all of the challenges that entails, we continue to see solid progress toward our sustainability goals and our reduction targets. I have seen change of this magnitude lead other organizations into chaos or complacency, but we have successfully managed to remain focused on the big picture thanks to the dedication of our leadership and thousands of associates.

Scott Weislow, senior director, environmental services, Best Buy Co., Inc.

Scott Weislow, Senior Director – Environmental Services, Best Buy Co., Inc.
Best Buy was very excited to meet our goal of collecting 1 billion pounds of consumer electronics and large appliances for recycling in less than five years. We actually achieved this goal with our valued customers six months ahead of schedule. We accept electronics and large appliances for free recycling — regardless of where the product was purchased, who made it or how old it is — in all 1,400 of our stores in the U.S., and many stores in Canada. With 1 billion pounds already recycled, we've launched a new goal of recycling an additional 2 billion pounds by 2020.

Deborah Hecker, vice president, sustainability and corporate social responsibility, Sodexo North America        

Deborah Hecker, Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, Sodexo North America
This year Sodexo was named Global Sustainability Industry Leader in its sector for the 10th year in a row by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the longest-running global sustainability benchmark worldwide and a key reference point in sustainability investing.

We also launched two impactful enterprise-wide partnerships: with Partnership for a Healthier America we committed to support healthy lifestyles for healthy families by implementing new wellness standards throughout our business; with the Clinton Global Initiative we committed to expanding our impact in local communities by purchasing $1 billion from small to medium-sized enterprises around the world.

Timothy C. Lindsey, Ph.D., global director of sustainable development, Caterpillar Inc.      

Timothy C. Lindsey, Ph.D., Global Director of Sustainable Development, Caterpillar Inc.
In 2014, Caterpillar began a transformational journey with respect to sustainability. For many years, Sustainability has been a key element of our strategy and we have engaged in many worthwhile projects and initiatives that have contributed to improving the quality of life in communities along with the quality of the environment. It will be recognized as a core value at Caterpillar alongside integrity, commitment, excellence and teamwork.

At Caterpillar, we have a unique opportunity to lead in solving some of the world's most challenging issues associated with energy, water, land, climate and quality of life. Our position as the global leader in providing the products and services needed for carefully extracting resources and developing infrastructure places us at the apex of many issues. As the earth's population grows and migrates to urban areas, needs for sanitation, water, transportation and housing will escalate dramatically and our products will be important tools for addressing those needs.  

Our capabilities associated with distributed power generation, using fuels from diverse sources ranging from natural gas to renewable fuels, can contribute greatly to providing energy access around the globe. These systems are often twice as efficient as the conventional power grid with far less greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the U.N., 25 percent of the world's land is "highly degraded." We need to restore the productivity of these lands if we are going to feed the additional 2 billion people that will arrive on the planet over the next several decades. Our machinery can play a major role in restoring these lands to improve ecosystem health, increase land productivity and sequester millions of tons of CO2 naturally in soils and plants.

Dave Stangis, Vice President, Public Affairs and Corporate Responsibility, Campbell Soup Company; President, Campbell Soup Foundation
Dave Stangis, vice president, public affairs and corporate responsibility, Campbell Soup Company; president, Campbell Soup Foundation

Developing, launching and bringing to life the Campbell Purpose, Real Food that Matters for Life's Moments.

Josh Henretig, senior director of energy, environment & cities, Microsoft Corp.  

Josh Henretig, Senior Director of Energy, Environment & Cities, Microsoft Corp.
In July, Microsoft announced its largest renewable energy investment to date, a 20-year power purchase agreement for wind energy in Illinois. Our second PPA, it is nearly 60 percent larger than the first, at 175 MW versus 110 MW. Investments like these enable MSFT to be carbon neutral and also have ensured that we are powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

In June, Microsoft announced a three-year agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio to research and develop distributed generation technologies that will transform how data centers consume energy. As part of this research, UTSA students will work hand-in-hand with Microsoft researchers to look into new “fast-start generation” energy technologies such as micro-turbines and natural gas-powered fuel cells to replace the diesel generators used during times of peak demand.

In order to better address the challenges and opportunities in the increasingly systemic areas of sustainability and cities, in October Microsoft announced the joining of its sustainability and CityNext teams to drive greater synergies for enabling impact at scale. We have more than 220 qualified partners on board delivering more than 800 solutions worldwide, and Microsoft improved its ranking from No. 11 to No. 5 on Navigant Research's annual Leaderboard for Smart Cities Suppliers.

In November, we celebrated our off-the-grid, fuel cell-powered data center in Cheyenne, Wyo., going live. The data center will operate from energy generated from biogas, which will be used to power fuel cells. These facilities have the potential to change how the technology industry supports the cloud, giving us more flexibility in locating data centers.

Shannon Schuyler, principal, corporate responsibility leader, PwC; president, PwC Charitable Foundation

Shannon Schuyler, PwC Charitable Foundation
Over the past year, we continued to develop and roll out Total Impact Measurement and Management. PwC's TIMM framework puts a value (positive or negative) on 20 impacts across society, tax, economics and the environment. And it gives business the ability to compare strategies and investment choices, evaluating the total impact of each. We're excited about this tool and the ability to systematically access trade-offs and even think blue ocean on CR issues.

We also made great strides on carbon reduction this year. PwC US has a goal to reduce our carbon emissions 30 percent by FY16, compared to an FY07 baseline. We continue to build on our environmental strategy with a variety of approaches, including exploring ways to manage our air travel, being flexible in where we work, improving the efficiency of our offices and leveraging the enthusiasm of our Green Team network. Additionally, 100 percent of the energy we used in our offices in our recent fiscal year came from renewable sources. These efforts helped us meet our carbon reduction goal ahead of schedule, reducing our carbon emissions by 38 percent at the end of FY14. In addition to our focus on absolute carbon reduction, we continue to monitor our emissions by full-time employee. Since our initial measurement in FY07, we reduced our emissions per employee by 52 percent.

But merely reaching our goal is not enough. We know it's important to demonstrate our ability to sustain this level of reduction for the long term. The challenge ahead is to manage our carbon emissions as the firm increases the overall numbers of partners and staff to meet the needs of our clients.

Tom Carpenter, director, sustainability services, Waste Management

Tom Carpenter, Director, Sustainability Services, Waste Management
WM corporate, increasing our CDP score yet again (now 97A-) and crediting our internal consultancy for the advising on the continual improvement. It is a culmination of all the hard work put forth by our team and validation as we help our customer achieve the same greatness.

Brett Illers, program manager, energy efficiency and sustainability, Yahoo

Brett Illers, Program Manager Energy Efficiency & Sustainability, Yahoo
Yahoo has accomplished a lot in the way of sustainability this year. From our energy efficiency and on-site generation projects on our Sunnyvale campus to improving our CDP score, we have had a very productive year. One achievement that we were extremely pleased to announce was Yahoo's 15-year wind deal with Own Energy. The Kansas-based wind farm project will generate over 100,000 MWh annually. The wind energy will feed into the Southwest Power Pool to offset much of our energy usage in the Great Plains region. In a time where there is volatility in electrical costs, this type of partnership model is especially beneficial to ensure that we can continue to power our data centers in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. In addition to price stabilization, this project also qualifies us for Renewable Energy Certificates. This scenario is a true win-win where business interest and sustainability are in parity.

Paul Murray, vice president, sustainability and environmental affairs, Shaw Industries

Paul Murray, Vice President, Sustainability and Environmental Affairs, Shaw Industries
In 2014, Shaw reinforced our commitment to recycling and the cradle to cradle philosophy with the announcement of a $17 million investment in a new recycling facility. Located in Ringgold, Ga., this addition to our recycling portfolio is an example of our sustainability strategy in action. The move demonstrates our focus on moving toward a more circular economy by diversifying our efforts to keep end-of-use carpet out of landfills.

Emily Hanning, senior sustainability manager, Outerwall     

Emily Hanning, Senior Sustainability Manager, Outerwall
We've progressed in embedding sustainability into our culture at Outerwall this year, which is demonstrated by an employee-led effort to design our new ecoATM headquarters to be LEED Gold Certified. Rather than being driven by our corporate responsibility team, our ecoATM and facilities teams partnered on the project to seek Outerwall and ecoATM's first LEED certification. We believe this embodies the spirit of our culture in that it helps us be green not just in how we work, but where we work.

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