View from the Top: Kathrin Winkler, Chief Sustainability Officer, EMC
…The title: Chief Sustainability Officer
You have to be a little careful about the term "chief sustainability officer." I think more companies do have a person who is in a role guiding the company's sustainability program. I would think about it more broadly than the title would imply. It is fairly common but still not typical.
Most companies have someone to take care of it, but the importance of sustainability gets elevated when instilled in senior management, especially the C-suite.
Yes, you're right and it's also combined with how the companies talk about it, present it, what person reports in and so forth, but certainly the title is a factor. The other interesting thing to consider is whether all companies need a chief sustainability officer. And I'm not actually sure, that they do.
…The role: the vision
My vision of sustainability is having it incorporated into a core value system and a way of thinking. Making it a part of the company's identity and worldview. And the closest analog to that is quality. So for me, as a role, my mission is really not only setting direction, priorities and strategy, but also incorporating it into the way we work and what we do, besides catalyzing people and inspiring them.
My peers and I often have conversations amongst ourselves about whether our job is to put ourselves out of business. And, to some extent, I think it is. I don't think we're going to be out of business anytime soon, but even in my own role – I've been in this role less than two years—I've already seen a movement where you start moving from the "blocking and tackling" to strategic. Looking outside from where I am today, where do I want to go? Where could I go to? It then becomes more and more strategic as the operational aspects of it get driven into the way in which we work.
I think I'm in the perfect job – not only because every wants their job to make a difference in the world, but also because I love being in the middle of everything! Also, because the whole effort is so collaborative not only within the company but across companies and sectors. I also love creating new roles rather than following them. So, there are so many things about this job that makes me love it.
I don't have a big team. But I am trying to build teams with people across different expertise, as well as placing them in places where they are most embedded in the way in which the company works, opposed to something we add on afterwards.
People come to me a lot asking that they "want to go into sustainability." It's very common and that says something. It's incredibly fulfilling. People want a job where they can improve the world.
My most immediate team is two people, which is what you get if you look at an organizational chart. Then, there are the twenty-some people that are part of a cross-functional team that I chair called the Green Business Leadership, which has representation from every department—facilities, engineering, investor relations, marketing. We work together to drive implementation of our strategy cross-functionally across the business, and it represents leaders from various functional groups who guide the work within their own organization.
Then there are all the people who are involved in our Design for Environment program, our clean packaging, our green teams in manufacturing, our green teams around the world who contribute ideas and everything else–basically, all 43,000 employees. So, am I doing it all? No, not even close.
What I'm trying to do is catalyze, inspire, set direction, raise awareness–everyone else has to do the work, although, it's never that simple. I see my role as setting into play the first foundational projects—drive the baseline, where do we get started, how do we drive this, why is it important, what's important, what do we want to set as our goals. I have absolutely been part of, and an advocate for, and sometimes even the funder for hiring people in other parts of the company. If I get headcount money, I don't usually hire myself, I usually hire people that I place into organizations, which have multiple benefits.
First of all, you're building on-the-ground knowledge, you're influencing from inside. You're not trying to build a non-revenue organization; and the people within the organizations are excited about your working with them and helping give them capacity instead of you having a separate organization and telling them what to do. Because this is entirely an influence job.
There are many people who are interested in pursuing sustainability, and I almost always tell them the same thing–you can't become a sustainability professional. Well, you can, but it's different from what you can do. Where you're going to add value is when you bring that together with something else. For example, when I think of what skills are needed in sustainability, I want people to understand what sustainable design is, what the financial implications are and how we can measure and quantify them, articulate them.
I want people to understand what a sustainable supply chain means hypothetically as well as how to manage one so that they can combine their knowledge of what sustainability is and what a sustainable company should be in evolving a supply chain.
Sustainability should be a minor in college–students should major in finance, material science, engineering, or business with a minor in sustainability. And these are the people who will change the world. Me, I'm just a coach. I'm catalyzing, influencing, setting our priorities, but I'm not going to change the world. I'm trying to change mindsets, but it's the people throughout the company that are innovating new technologies, new processes and new business models. And people who know simply what sustainability is won't be able to do that.
I came into this role through the business, which is very common in companies. The person who takes the lead is someone who really understands the company, the business, their value chain, etc, and this is because a good part of the job for the first person in charge of sustainability in a company is cultural change. For example, sustainability communication is radically different from product marketing.
The mindset is about transparency, about setting inspirational goals, and it's about explaining why you don't achieve the goals. It's not just what you do in the core part of your competitive space, it takes a learning process. Now that some sustainability leads have been around for a while, we're starting to see people with experience moving from one company to another. But almost all of them came to the role through the business side. Of course, there's a lot going on now in academics, so perhaps people will start getting in through an educational path, but that would be surprising to me because I think it requires a core skill set, whether that's energy, management systems, etc. It could be almost anything, but the expertise must be there to add sustainability to it.
I think right now it's all over the place. I happen to report to an executive vice president and chief counsel. I know a lot of people are in environmental health and safety, and marketing. Some companies make the personal directly report to the CEO. I don't think it belongs in HR, but that would be a finer place for it than some of these other ones.
I do want to separate the concept of sustainability at large and environmental sustainability, because we see sustainability as incorporating environmental/social issues. So, we can see it as two separate careers: one of the influencer across the company and the one who is actually transforming the process from within, the special expert. There are risks if it's in HR for sure of being seen as nontechnical, but there are risks for sustainability to be included in any group for that matter. It's going to in the end, depend on the culture.
…as Course Content
I think it's a terrific idea. It should be built into the curricula of all majors, and there should be minors for people who particularly want to get into it. There's still a lot to learn about how you engage, how you change companies and so on, so having it as a minor makes a lot of sense. That said I'm very skeptical about having it is a major. It's easier to explain with an example like sustainable engineering—in other words, an engineering major with a focus on how you engineer in a way that moves us from cradle to cradle in a resource-constrained world. That would be the perfect mix of a core area of competency combined with sustainability. If sustainable as an adjective for something, that’s terrific and exactly what we want.
…As an Interest
The interest is well beyond just employees at EMC. It goes beyond to acquaintances, friends, social networks and even neighbors. Or people I meet in other companies in various settings, who say "Gee, I'd love to get into what you're doing." It's not just EMC; it's absolutely across the board.
And while it's not a discipline or a job role yet, people are saying, ""I want to do something in…" A great example is Net Impact, which started as the whole voice of young people who want to make a difference and passion for sustainability. That's all we need.
There's no one answer to that question. There is still skepticism in some places and there are still some pockets or individuals, but certainly not in the management team. The management team is extremely supportive and the CEO is very committed to this.
Yes, he was really the instigator, to some extent. There were a lot of things going on in the company already in little pockets that you might not have been aware of, but the idea of bringing it together cohesively into a corporate-wide initiative came top-down and bottom-up almost simultaneously. So, a number of us who are in the business had already pulled a cross-functional team together, had set some corporate goals, and were trying to drive it. But then he came down and said "I really want to have an executive focused on this." Now, there may have been some people in senior management who were a little more skeptical, but the CEO is committed.
Frankly, the discourse that's going on in the media over issues such as climate change is in some ways exacerbates the skeptics. Sometimes even the so-called green or the environmental press actually works against us because people are so determined to ferret out green-washing that they look for the negatives and start out skeptical. There are skeptics from both sides – there are skeptics from the "why are we doing this, it's not core to our business, go away," and then there are skeptics from the "it's just window-dressing, are you really making a difference?" But you're always going to get that.
On balance the support has been tremendous. The day they announced my position, I got some amazing emails from all over the company, many from people I knew, but also from all over the company globally from people I didn't know saying things like, "I'm so glad EMC is doing this," and "I'm so proud that I work for a company that cares enough to do this." I still get that, and it's very moving. But, I also still get the occasional eye-roll.
There has been a change, even in the last two years, and I can't say how much of it comes from my work within EMC and how much of it comes from outside changes, but yes it's talked about quite differently.
I had a hallway conversation with a woman last week who is part of our supply chain team. We have a very strong social and environmental responsibility program in our supply chain organization, and they are doing great things by working with our suppliers, conducting audits, making sure they know our code of contact, asking them to report their greenhouse gas emissions, working with them to reduce packaging, working with them to change material substances, etc. And she said to me, "It must be so great for you to be coming in everyday and doing things that help improve the world." I said, "Well, you are. You're the one that's doing it." And she just kind of looked at me, and said, "I haven't thought of it that way."
I'm thrilled that it's really being driven into the way in which we work, but I also want to find a way to make sure people know who are doing those things, to congratulate them and celebrate the things they're doing. My goal is to get this acknowledgement built into the process. If it builds itself into the process, people don't realize that they're doing it and then they don't give themselves credit. So that's one of my worry points currently. But it's certainly a change – people are just doing it. They know it's just part of doing business.
… Is a culture change, a way of work
We're doing a number of different things. One of them is to make a space for employee energy and creativity, and for groups to pull together their own initiatives. We don't want to be overly prescriptive; we want to leave them room to get together.
…Team India and Australia
Our team in India is very active. They've driven down energy consumption in the labs dramatically, they've made physical changes and they have their own website.
The team in Australia has given themselves their own name, they've set additional priorities. We used to use the phrase, "unleash the talent and point the way." We don't want to put reins or constraints on it. At the same time, there's too much to do, and we need to focus on the things that are most material and a priority for the company, and where we can have the most positive impact for ourselves, our employees, and our customers. So we set the priorities, communicate them and then provide the tools, mechanisms and support for all these teams, but not prescribe how they do that.
…IT industry leading the pack
When I look at what my peers are doing in the industry, I think we're way ahead of many, if not most other industries. There are some companies in other industries, but as an industry, the information technology industry has adopted sustainability like no other sector has, it really has.
…and Social media
We are using social media so that individuals (who we call Green Champions and Green Teams) can share their best practices with one another. We hold quarterly global calls. We have an internal website where we highlight our priorities and principles and we highlight things that people are doing. In our sustainability report, we try to put anecdotes and stories about what people are doing around the world. This creates interest with groups calling me and asking what they need to do to get in the report!
We also have an innovation conference annually with a competition to spur groups and individuals to submit an innovative project. This year we gave a special sustainability award for the projects that most embody sustainability. On Earth Day we're rolling out a 10-minute training module of the environmental sustainability priorities for the company for all employees. Our CEO speaks to all employees every quarter: About our results, what we are doing next quarter, and he embeds discussion in all of that, not a detailed discussion but one that highlights the importance of environmental sustainability to all employees and to his leadership team.
…Top-3 concerns for EMC
The first would be energy. The reason for that is two-fold; one is that the lion's share, more than 90% of our greenhouse gases from our operations/operational emissions are due to energy use. Secondly, we make IT equipment, which consumes energy. So our greatest impacts, both indirect and direct, on climate change, are from the use of electricity. Therefore, we focus on energy reduction in four scopes: in our operation, our products, helping customers run their data centers more efficiently and reduce energy consumption, and also by finding ways in which this technology is deployed to reduce energy consumption.
The second concern is material and e-waste, although these are almost two different issues. However, I don't really like to separate them because material is what we put in our products and e-waste is what comes out at the end. It's really a life cycle because e-waste is also about designing it up front, so that we're reclaiming the maximum amount of material and generating the minimum amount of waste that can be handled safely. As far as material goes, there are plenty of hazardous material regulations but we're going beyond them. For example, we know what materials we'd like to get out of IT, and we work collaboratively with the industry to come up with suitable alternatives that have the performance and are economically viable as well as environmentally attractive. This is our second biggest priority.
And finally, it's really about reporting stakeholder engagements. What do we need to track, what do we need to report, how do we make sure we're listening to all of our stakeholders? We have a lot of stakeholder engagement programs for interacting with our investors, our customers, our employees, and so on.
It's very hard to do. How do you calculate quality, for that matter? There are some metrics, but it's very hard to calculate sustainability. I'm asked questions like, "how much money do you spend on sustainability" or "how much extra revenue does it generate" all the time and it's really hard to answer them. If you're a company who is building one green product and that's what you're focusing on as your sustainability initiative, then you can measure your revenue. But we're trying to drive it across our entire portfolio, so measuring what it means in terms of building our strategic relationship with our customers who care about our performance is not an easy answer.
The second aspect is that sometimes what you count can be really misleading and may not have a context. For example; one of our facilities last year measured the amount of stuff they were recycling. But what did that mean? If the number goes up, does that mean that it's a larger percentage, or does it mean that you just threw out more stuff, that not only are you recycling but also throwing out more? It's important to have context. Numbers without context are meaningless and that’s a problem.
Frankly, there are plenty of improvements out there that require trade-offs, and you need to understand the context of the improvement. One of my pet examples is that I use a mug, I don't use paper cups. At EMC, we also have a big "love your mug" campaign. But, every time I give a public talk, someone gives me a reusable water bottle. Well, I don't need 50 reusable water bottles. It's not at all clear to me that 50 reusable water bottles are better for the environment than the paper cups I would've used instead; I only need one.
So, if you make the simple statement that reusable is better than disposable, it depends on your usage. As long as you're using them enough to compensate for the extra environmental cost of creating them in the first place, you're okay. But this is why metrics are hard.
…EMC and the UN Global Compact
We're definitely going back to look at it again, we just need to review the individual clauses. One of the things about EMC that I'm very proud of, while being a challenge for us, is that we don't sign on to things that we aren't absolutely committed to complying with, whether voluntarily or not. So, we've had some examples where we were dinged by some rating systems for not having made certain commitments, because we knew we wouldn't make them. And some of our competitors got a lot of credit for making those commitments, and then didn't achieve them. We subsequently found out that we were actually further along toward getting there, but we hadn't put anything out there because we knew it wasn't going to happen.
It sounds like a digression, but when I say the UN Global Compact, we just want to be absolutely sure that the principles make sense for us and are achievable for us, but we absolutely, certainly abide by the principles.
AS: There was news recently that the UN Global Compact removed hundreds of companies who had signed up but didn't follow through, or just fell through.
Exactly my point. When we sign on to something, we have these discussions and say, "What are the obligations it's giving us and do we have the manpower to go along with the intent to do it?"
It's also not about picking up logos for us. We want to pick organizations that we can work with to actually up our game. Sometimes there are some things out there that are fabulous, but I just don't have the bandwidth.
…and Government regulation: How much is needed, if any at all?
The investment community is going to have to step in. For the IT industry, historically it has largely been a customer issue, but lately, it is becoming a competitive one as well. In the midst of these, investors are going to have a huge impact. It's not just that investors are demanding evidence of sustainability as a governance issue; it is also a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders. Also, the pressures in implementing these turn out to be stress points between short-term financial metrics and long-term sustainability thinking. So, while financials tend to be short-term, making fundamental sustainability changes is a long-term plan.
So that’s where the tipping point could come: The investment community rethinking its own performance metrics to incorporate long-term thinking. In fact, I had been hopeful that this would come out of the economic downturn because people were so angry about the way the financial systems had operated. I was sort of hopeful at one point that it was going to mean fundamental changes for more long-term thinking, so that even economically they would be thinking long-term. I don't know if that’s happened though. But that's certainly where the huge potential is, because it not only drives companies toward sustainability, it also alleviates some of the pressure on the short-term versus long-term stress.
...And the future for a Chief Sustainability Officer
I'll probably be doing the same thing, but much less involved in the operational improvements and more involved in developing new opportunities—to actually contribute, combine business opportunities with social/environmental sustainability opportunities. Setting priorities being a spokesperson, but less involved in the nuts and bolts of setting the next goal, putting reports out and so on and so forth.
…as an Inter-company initiative
There's a lot of stuff going on. There's EITC (Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition) where we're working together on creating a sustainable supply chain. EMC is on the board of directors of the Green Grid, which is the data center ecosystem. There's the DES (Digital Energy Solution) campaign; there's SNIA (Storage Network Industry Association), which is working with the EPA on storage energy star-standards; we're involved in WRI (World Resources Institute), and CALCE (Center for Advanced Lifecycle Engineering), where we're collaborating with academia and other companies to reduce the use of certain materials in our products. And on and on. And these opportunities are necessary. If we're going to move a whole industry, it has to be done collaboratively.