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Shared Success at Verizon: No Silver Bullet for Sustainability, Say CSR & Sustainability Chiefs

“[Sustainability] is going to take a lot of trial and error and a lot of commitment. While we think and look at our lifecycle approach, we’re still in our immaturity stage.”

By Aman Singh, CSRwire Editorial Director

Verizon recently released its second Integrated Report, combining the company’s financial and non-financial data and metrics into one clean look at its overall performance.

While the technology giant has been publishing its environmental, social and governance results for almost a decade, integration with the firm’s financial performance is relatively new. And Verizon saw several significant changes in 2012 to its approach to sustainability and shared value – which Verizon calls “shared success” – including a reformat of its Foundation’s model.

In a recent webinar, I had the opportunity to discuss the report, Verizon’s goals, challenges and a whole host of issues with Verizon’s CSR and sustainability chiefs Kathy Brown and Jim Gowen, along with an engaged audience.

Here are excerpts – and a link to the webinar recording.

Whether you’re eager to learn more about Verizon’s approach to sustainability or what the future holds for integrated reporting and sustainability standards, the webinar will provide you with exemplary context, insights into one company’s efforts to reduce its impact, and how a multinational must pick a strategy that is holistic, focused and measurable.

Shared Success:

Kathy Brown: “When Lowell McAdam became our CEO a year and a half ago, he brought with him a set of principles by which he inspired us to live. It is a value-based approach to our work in the market. We deliver outstanding communication and technology for our communities and country. And we are to share our success with the community. While Michael Porter gets a deep bow for creating Shared Value, these pillars – solutions, service and sustainability – state our mission and our version of shared success.”

“We want to achieve measurable social impact. We can do a number of things at one time because our technology is powerful enough for us to find a way to do well for our shareowners and stakeholders, communities and countries in tackling the world’s problems…Specifically, we are focusing on how technology can bring transformational change in education, healthcare and energy management. The platform is our fiber network [and] our wireless network. Through these [networks] we are able to reach millions of users and applications that can literally change the world.”

Setting Aggressive Targets:

Jim Gowen: “Our sustainability program includes aggressive targets, follow-up and our people [who] really do make the difference. In September 2009, when we created the Office of Sustainability, one of the challenges was how were we going to make an impact on a business that [in many areas] is growing exponentially. So we set the Carbon Intensity Metric as the way to grow most efficiently. We set an objective by 2020 to improve our carbon efficiency by 50 percent. Since 2009, we have driven our carbon efficiency 37 percent.”

“But as I often tell my employees, that was the easy part. Now comes the tougher part. We’ve taken care of all the low hanging fruit. How do you keep that momentum going? For example, e-waste is one of our biggest impacts. We’ve set a goal of collecting more than 2 million pounds of e-waste by 2015. That’s no small feat.  We’re doing that internally as well as externally with our Recycling Rallies.

In the last two years, we’ve held 36 of these [across the country]. That objective is very important to Verizon and our customers.”

Environmental Footprint: Setting the Stage

Jim: “Our environmental footprint is quite large. Supporting hundreds of millions of customers takes a lot of work. We operate 42,000 cell towers, 31,000 facilities globally, and [a] 38,000 private fleet of trucks and vans, etc. We had to concentrate on our own resources and see how to become sustainable.”

“We focus on four key areas: making our networks more efficient; expand[ing] our renewable sources of energy; run[ning] our fleets more efficiently; and reduc[ing] the lifecycle cost of ownership of how we operate.  From purchasing to logistics and sustainability – they all match up nicely.”

Highlights from 2012: From Packaging to the “Magic Bus”

Jim: “How do we make our packaging more environmentally-friendly? How do we handle the end of life for that? We asked our OEMs to make their equipment more energy efficient – 30 percent more than legacy equipment. Then we looked at our consumer stores: 131 stores have been LEED certified so far with the U.S. Green Building council, and a pilot is underway to increase that number across our markets.”

“We recently launched our Magic Bus program. The idea was generated by one of our line managers in New York who suggested that, instead of driving our own vans around very congested areas of New York, why couldn’t we drop off our employees with their equipment to provide service to our customers?”

“From that originated a three-month pilot where we used vans that could host eight to 10 technicians with their equipment and inventory on board, and we started driving them around areas of Manhattan. We would pick [up] and drop them [off] and provide service to them throughout the day when they needed it. The benefit was significant – for our customers and our employees. We’ve now started 25 of those Magic Buses in New York and removed 250 of our vans off the roads of New York City.”

No Silver Bullet for Sustainability

Jim: “There is no silver bullet and no magic button. It’s going to take a lot of trial and error and a lot of commitment.

While we think and look at our lifecycle approach, we’re still in our immaturity stage,

and the opportunities ahead of us are so powerful that we can have a significant impact”

From Sustainability to Integrated:

Kathy: “Our Shared Success Council is made up of senior executives across the company – including marketing officers, product managers, general counsel, etc. – who are clearing the strategy for growth and in the process, sharing the idea of Shared Success. The report recognizes these efforts.”

“The process involves a lot of collaboration between executives and the folks on the ground. We focus a lot on our data, and we don’t see this journey as involving any one data point. It’s a journey of doing business, and the report reflects that. We’ve shown enormous efforts and growth, and the information is easy to read and use for our stakeholders across the board.”

Jim: “The report also helps us tell our story concisely. Our customers are asking, as are our investors. They are asking how we’re measuring ourselves? What are our goals – people want to invest in sustainable companies – and how are we incrementally achieving those?”

Technology and Health Care: Powerful Answers

Kathy: “We need to work on reducing costs on factory delivery systems and improv[ing] patient outcomes. Think about what you have on your iPad or phone today. We believe we can, in a more systematic way, think of security and identity issues for patients, fast connections, and [the] ability for patients and doctors to talk to each other in a secure environment through our technology, etc. We call this Powerful Answers.”

Who’s Reading the Report?

Kathy: “Internally, the audience is our employees who can have sense of our values as a company. Externally, people want to do business with companies with a heart but also have the technology and wherewithal to solve their problems.

Beyond individuals, this includes communities [and]

governments who take on big ideas about congestion, smarter cars, health care, etc. This report does a good job [of] painting the bigger picture for this audience.”

Jim: “[The] hip market that will change the world [is] using our technology, and this report helps them see first-hand the choices they have. Sustainability at Verizon is driven by our employees and our communities, not just one executive.”

Supplier Responsibility:

Jim: “Over the last couple of years, we have queried our top 200 suppliers, which represent 80 percent of our total spend, to ask them how they manage their CO2 and greenhouse gas impact. What goes into the products they supply to Verizon? And we were very surprised at the answers we got back and tallied them up and graded them.”

“Whether they’re early adopters or much more mature with their sustainability strategies, we’ve set ourselves a 2015 goal: to operate with over 40 percent of our suppliers that have targets and greenhouse gas emission goals. That impact is significant, and we’ve already seen that through the innovation they’re bringing to us about how they can become more sustainable and continue working with us.”

Evaluating Success:

Kathy: “We get all sorts of consumer indicators of how we’re doing in our community. We know how they use our network, what they think of it, etc. Once we start asking consumers how we’re doing in terms of impact, the responses have been very good. But it has been a challenge to do that in a broad way across many segments.”

For further insights from Verizon, listen to the webcast.