Verizon is Dialing in to Shared Success


Last week, Verizon issued their 2012 Annual Report. For the second year in a row, the company used an integrated reporting format which includes their CSR report alongside the traditional financials. Verizon saw revenues of $115.8 billion, up from $110.9 billion last year. Two-thirds of that came from their wireless business.

The CSR team held a press conference last Wednesday, courtesy of CSRwire. Kathy Brown, Global CSR Leader, and Jim Gowen, Chief Sustainability Officer, were on hand to describe the results and answer questions.

This year’s theme was “Shared Success,” which clearly derives from Michael Porter’s concept of shared value.

According to Brown, their strategy rests on the three pillars of Solutions, Service/Philanthropy, and Sustainability.

The alliteration is catchy, though unfortunately it creates the impression that sustainability is a separate, bolt-on topic, which I don’t think is the message they are trying to convey. The sustainability pillar they are talking about here specifically refers to the efficiency and impact of their internal operations, while their efforts to help their customers become more sustainable are described under the Solutions heading. The Service/Philanthropy actions they describe tend to fall more or less along traditional lines of community service and giving.

Brown says, “As the company grows, as revenues increase, as we expand into various markets we can, at the same time, achieve measurable social benefit.”

They talked a lot about the idea of achieving on several fronts at once. In a sense, they almost have an unfair advantage, considering that Verizon’s core business is that of communication technology which inherently contributes to the idea of strengthening community and building social capital, both of which are central to triple bottom line principles.

Unlike other companies whose CSR and sustainability efforts have to overcome the damage done by the inherent nature of their legacy business, Verizon is, in a sense, in the right place at the right time. That’s not meant to be a criticism, though some might suggest it puts them in a position to aim higher than others might.

And perhaps they do. Brown asks, “How can our technology bring transformational change to the health care market, to education, to energy management?”

CEO Lowell McAdam offers the following answer. “Some of the biggest opportunities for Verizon lie in the intersection between our empowering technology and our society’s deepest needs. For example, we are expanding in the field of digital healthcare with a mobile health platform that gives clinicians and patients a better tool for monitoring patients and managing chronic diseases. Our machine-to-machine solutions are helping to modernize electrical and transportation systems, providing customers with greater control over their energy use. Going forward, we seek to build additional vertical capabilities centered on technology solutions in such fields as education, e-commerce and public safety.”

In education, digital content access delivered through tablets and other technology will enable individualized instruction. This will reach 12,000 students in 24 schools.

Verizon’s is an online educational resource with tens of thousands of free materials designed to help teachers use technology to increase student engagement and boost achievement.

In healthcare, they are developing more secure communication to facilitate health care applications of handheld devices. They will facilitate access for under-served populations like children of low-income families or rural people areas.

In energy, the Envision Charlotte project, real-time interactive energy ecosystem data is displayed throughout the city. Worcester, MA,  has a smart grid pilot program. Vehicle fleet efficiency is managed through Networkfleet. There are various smart home, remote energy management systems as well.

This is not to say that in doing all this, the company does not emit a sizeable amount of carbon of its own. Given its 42,000 cell towers, 31,000 global facilities, 200 data centers, and its fleet of over 38,000 trucks and vans, the company uses some 10 billion kWh and 50 million gallons of fuel annually.

This is a big opportunity and they are pursuing it vigorously. Some 131 of their retail stores have been LEED certified. The company has driven their carbon intensity down by 37 percent since 2009, and are on pace to meet the 2020 target early. They’ve engaged over 10,000 employees in 23 countries in green teams. They have set a goal to have 40 percent of their suppliers set GHG targets by 2015. They plan to have 90 percent of their stores LEED-certified by the same time. They set a two million pound goal for eWaste.

One of the more novel ideas was actually a low-tech innovation in NYC they call the magic bus program. Instead of each technician driving a van, there is a company bus that makes the rounds, dropping off and picking up technicians, saving both time and energy. There are now 25 of these vans operating which have enabled 250 vans to be taken off the road. At the same time, they have worked with Via Motors to develop an extended range electric cargo van that gets 100mpg.

So, does all this meet Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva’s definition of embedded sustainability? Their book, by the same title, defines embedded sustainability as “the incorporation of environmental, health and social value into the core of business with no trade-off in price or quality – in other words with no social or green premiums.”

The fact that Verizon still considers it a separate category suggests that they’re not quite there yet, though they are making progress. Given their somewhat privileged position at the heart of our societal transformation, as a company with a large footprint, a community-centric mission and a large reach, it would be nice to see them do more.

Their total Social Innovation funding of $55.9 million was less than 0.05 percent of annual revenue. And when they say that that they are still figuring out how to quantify how this new technology actually affects people’s lives and communities, they should take a look at the steps that other companies, like Puma are already beginning to take. Still, in a world where no company is really doing enough, Verizon is making a considerable effort that is worthy of recognition.