SXSWorld May-June 2016


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3 2 S X S W o r l d | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M ike Kermit the Frog said, "It's not always easy being green," but in board rooms across the globe, decision-makers are realizing that sustainability and environmental stewardship are good for both the bottom line and the brand. Eco-driven programs help incentivize employees and executives, while attracting new investors and consumers. Kate Brandt, a keynote speaker at the upcoming SXSW Eco 2016, certainly thinks so. At its simplest, she says, corporate sustainability means "aligning our business practices with having a positive impact on the planet. There's a really strong business case for sustainability right now, and that's the win- ning combination." Brandt has specialized in ecologic best practices for both the federal government and the private sector. When Google hired her as its Lead for Sustainability last year, the company was luring her from the Obama Administration, where the President had made her the country's first-ever federal environmental executive in April 2014 and then appointed her by way of executive order as the nation's first Chief Sustainability Officer. In that role, she promoted and instituted sustainability programs across the federal government, affecting some 360,000 buildings, 650,000 vehicles and $445 billion in annually purchased goods and services. Before that, she served in high-level positions in the fed- eral government from 2009 on, including senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and energy advisor to the Secretary of the Nav y. Brandt believes that the confluence between government and big business is where industry can truly help drive things like energy and water policy. She points to recent developments such as December's Paris climate accords and President Obama's climate pledge for busi- nesses — the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, introduced last summer. The idea with the latter is to increase energy efficiency within major American corporations, increase low-carbon investment and make solar energy more available to economically challenged communities. "If American businesses act on the President's climate pledge, then they'll see it's a smart business action directly partnering government with the private sector. For us at Google, we see there being a critical role for companies to drive more toward circular economic models," Brandt explains, adding that, to her, "circular economy" means "thinking about the positive impact (a company can have), rather than focusing on constraints." One major example is Google's approach to energy conservation. "Back in 2012, we made a commitment to 100 percent renewable," Brandt says. "And our approach has been to sign long-term purchase agreements where we'll lock in a price for power for a long period of time. We have now put on contract over two gigawatts of renewable, and that equates to (powering) two million homes in Europe and the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road, in terms of emissions reductions. It's been really about trying to move a market and trying to have a positive impact by helping pioneer a cleaner grid for everyone." Brandt has seen a parallel commitment at some government agen- cies: "When I was at the General Services Administration, we took a look at what would be the energy efficiency benefit of switching over to Gmail (instead of housing internal email systems), and with Gmail, because it's in a cloud, we found a 90 percent benefit in greenhouse reduction." Her current employer has focused on making data centers and other real estate holdings as energy and water efficient as possible, saving more than $1 billion since 2007 in the process. For example, in 2015, Google's Mountain View, California campus reduced its potable water usage more than 30 percent compared to 2013. Other corporate giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Walmart and GE are all following suit. Last year, Apple announced a $848 million solar purchase, and a number of others are doing the same with renewables, even forming coalitions to make buying alter- native energy easier. Many CEOs and CFOs are also concerned with issues such as loss of natural resources while taking a hard look at reducing their carbon output in supply-side management and trans- portation areas. Not long ago, a survey of 272 sustainability experts in 24 industry sectors, conducted by GreenBiz and Ernst and Young, showed that 76 percent of respondents believe their companies will be negatively impacted by natural resource shortages in the next three to five years, and 65 percent of participants said their CFOs had taken on some sus- tainability role. Late in 2014, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 127-page study showing a clear correlation between eco- nomic losses and rising global temperatures. To wit, the potential losses that would accompany a worldwide rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius could equate to two percent of global income. Moreover, postponing climate-change action would make things exponentially worse: "Putting off action until 2030 could raise the cost of tackling climate change to 2050 by 44 percent," stated a recent article by GreenBiz. If statistics like those aren't driving a corporate greenification movement then one might wonder what would? In the process, it just might be that the corporations taking the blame for destroying the environment may turn out to be precisely the ones leading the preser- vation efforts. T SXSW Eco 2016 will take place October 10-12 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas. Visit for registration and program information. Corporate Sustainability Makes Ecologic and Economic Sense by Shermakaye baSS L Ka te B r a n d t

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