Mainstreaming Sustainability

At EMC, as in many leading companies, we believe in mainstreaming sustainability. Rather than belonging to a single team, we see it as a shared responsibility and as a pervasive consideration in how we conduct business.

Sustainability as a concept is not there in every portion of our business quite yet, but we’re getting closer! Nothing brings that home more than reading through EMC’s Sustainability Report published today. I’m told that some people ignore reports like these, thinking they are just a list of all the ways that companies can promote how “green” they are. But that’s not what it’s about at all! It’s about how we conduct our business for the long term – the principles, values, successes, and – yes – even the challenges in embedding environmental and social considerations into everything we do here at EMC.

Though this work is done by many across the company, there is still a role for a few dedicated individuals to champion and link efforts. I think of a company’s Office of Sustainability as being not unlike the Office of the CFO. Clearly, financial considerations – cost and/or revenue – have to be part of every decision made at every level of the company. But we still have a CFO to establish our strategy, perform some functions that are unique to that role, and look around corners at internal and external factors that are headed our way. So it is with sustainability, where our team pulls the report together, coordinates stakeholder collaboration, leads cross-functional groups that drive strategy and engagement, provides education and advocacy to the business units, and serves as point of contact for sustainability issues.

But just as with the CFO, the work that makes us successful is the work that’s done in the trenches, at every level of the company, in every line of business and geography.

Check it out! My favorite stories include:

  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Employees in our Cork manufacturing facility co-developed a new cooling system for our environmental test chambers. By reducing the amount of LN2, it saved money and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and created a more efficient product that is now being marketed by the supplier.
  • Tracking eWaste – We partnered with Environmental Defense Fund and InnoCentive to crowdsource ideas for tracking eWaste. The end-of-life value chain is pretty complicated, and we are working with the winning ideas to determine how to verify that our recycled materials really are going where we are sending them.
  • Engaging with Suppliers – We introduced new ways to engage with our suppliers to further increase social and environment responsibility in our supply chain. Last year we developed a “spot check” program to detect and remedy issues quickly, a newsletter called “SER Link” to help our suppliers better understand and track expectations, and the Blue Sky Supplier Sustainability Award to promote sustainability reporting, engagement, and action.
  • Collaborating with Other Vendors – Our Environmental Design Architect led a Sustainability Summit in which engineers collaborated with recycling vendors. Hands-on exercises helped the engineers realize the implications of their designs on how easily we can reclaim material at the end of life.
  • Developing New Materials – Our technical supply chain team worked with suppliers to develop a new material for our printed circuit boards. It replaces a substance that is potentially harmful while meeting the performance and availability requirements, and has now been adopted by others in the industry.

The best part are the signs that the “mainstreaming of sustainability” is happening outside of EMC’s walls! At EMC World last week, I had the chance to speak to a large number of attendees about EMC’s priorities for sustainability. I was absolutely blown away by the thoughtfulness of the questions. The audience knew about conflict minerals, understood the complexity of eWaste challenges, were aware of sustainability reporting trends, and recognized the potential of cloud computing and big data to drive disruptive change.

And they cared.

It reminded me that we’re doing this because it’s important for society and because it’s good for business. The growing interest and knowledge is a sign. Sustainability isn’t a fad. It’s going mainstream.

About the Author: Kathrin Winkler