On November 30, 2016 REV hosted our first of an ongoing series of Business Sustainability Workshops — this one at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. As part of the half-day interactive event, Shelley Billik, Founder of the sustainability consultancy EcoBiz and former VP of Environmental Initiatives at Warner Bros. Studios; and Chris Anderson, Energy Manager for the Pasadena Unified School district, shared their experience, insights, and advice. We’re excited to share a few highlights from their talks.

Christopher AndersonChris Anderson, Energy Manager for Pasadena Unified School District

In most school district budgets, utilities are the second highest line item. At the Pasadena Unified School District, which is comprised of 34 sites with 1300 employees and 18,000 students, managing utility costs is an especially high priority and challenge. The district is working toward the goal that 50% of school sites will be net zero by 2030.

Chris Anderson explained the importance of engaging senior management across the organization, noting that one of his most impactful endeavors involved creating green teams consisting of managers and leaders with direct decision-making ability from inside the district including the director of maintenance, principals and board members, as well as external leaders from nearby CalTech and JPL who could provide a community perspective.

Site analysis and technology were the underpinnings of the district’s most impactful sustainability initiative, which was also its least expensive. Originally, with just one Energy Management System (EMS) controlling the HVAC at the schools, having just one classroom in use for an after school program for instance, required all 40 rooms in the school to be on. Through systems analysis, Chris installed zoning controls at a cost of $8400. Investment payback was less than a month, with savings of $375K. The success of the program built trust, which has led to greater management support and the ability to invest in additional sustainability initiatives including LED and solar installations, and water reduction programs.

Chris also highlighted how engaging students in a Zero Waste Lunch Contest reduced the amount of landfill waste from a typical lunch to about one-fifth. The pilot program is now expanding to other schools.

Lastly, Chris emphasized the importance of stakeholder communication to build upper management awareness of positive impacts and potential for savings, especially in an era of school cutbacks. He also touted the benefits of maintaining a strong cohort – he currently keeps in contact with energy managers from other districts to share ideas and supplier recommendations.

Note: Chris Anderson and the Pasadena Unified School District completed a REV Sustainability Circle® in June of 2014.

Shelley BillikShelley Billik – Founder of EcoBiz, former VP of Environmental Initiatives at Warner Bros. Studios

For Shelley Billik, it was her childhood experiences on an agricultural kibbutz in Israel that established her love of nature and environmental ethic. As the VP of Environmental Initiatives at Warner Bros. Studios, she was driven to find ways to instill this ethic across the organization, to engage management and leadership.

While there is a tendency to say that sustainability is “someone else’s job,” she emphasized that it’s not necessary to have sustainability or CSR in your title in order to embed sustainability in what you do — that the key lies in linking initiatives to one’s role and passion, whether that’s organizational change in HR, the built environment in Facilities, or communications in Marketing. At Warner Bros., she worked to tie sustainability to all of the various departments, to have people “own” it, ensuring it was attached to things like performance reviews, bonuses, and attracting and retaining employees. The key was to make sustainability a deep business value, to embed it into business strategy.

Shelley Billik REV business Sustainability WorkshopShelley shared a number of stories and principles, many of which involved creating visibility for sustainability efforts to make them live within the company. With a belief that recycling is the “gateway drug” to embedded sustainability, she made it more visible by switching the custodial staff, now the recycling crew, to daytime shifts so that employees could witness the challenge of collecting and centralizing recycling. In addition, she ensured that new hires were indoctrinated in the company’s sustainability values from day one by engaging HR in creating a new employee orientation packet that included physically handing new employees their own blue recycle bin and reusable water bottle.

Similar to Chris Anderson, Shelley underscored the importance of building trust by using metrics, compelling visuals, and stories to show success on small projects and gain buy-in. Starting with one tiny lighting project, this approach led to more investment so that by the time she left Warner Bros., the company was saving $1.5 million in energy efficiency alone. She noted that “we can’t just leave metrics to the numbers people” — that measuring what we do is the only way to create substance and convince the nay-sayers. Even if you can’t measure something like well-being or comfort, create a conceptual example that shows, for instance, how much of an employee’s time is wasted in thinking about being too hot or cold, and how that can add up and impact the bottom line.

Shelley BillikShelley also emphasized the role of procurement and the importance of embedding sustainability policies and language into contracts to send a strong message to suppliers and encourage supplier innovation. “Procurement is where a company votes with its dollars,” she commented. The more high profile a company’s name, the more power they have to encourage suppliers to engage in sustainability initiatives.

Collaboration involving internal and external groups, and those who don’t normally interact was also a key talking point. Externally, Shelley brought together other studios — Disney, Universal, Paramount and Sony — to talk about what they could do collaboratively on operational programs.

Internally, she created a Sustainability Council of senior management from every side of the company. Typically siloed in their respective departments, this gave these leaders the benefit of rare access to each other while also making them accountable to each other — an opportunity they valued and one that benefited the company beyond sustainability.

Lastly, Shelley gave kudos to REV’s focus on the importance of purpose – something she acknowledged that you don’t see much. She highlighted the transformations that can occur when you bring executives and employees together around shared purpose, and get them out of doors, whether it’s doing beach cleanup or tree planting or for other community environmental or social causes. The bonding and storytelling that occurs is essential to helping embed sustainable values across an organization. According to Shelley, “you don’t have to be a sustainability guru to have an impact.”

REV’s Business Sustainability Workshop is an interactive half-day event bringing together a wide variety of companies and organizations looking to expand their capacity to develop sustainability initiatives that save money, reduce risk, increase engagement, satisfy customers, and improve brand. The workshop includes guided exercises to identify areas of opportunity, group discussions, and presentations from REV and industry experts. Upcoming workshops are taking place January 25, 2017 in San Jose and January 31, 2017 in San Francisco. To learn more and register, visit www.revsustainability.com/sustainability-workshop.

Images: Sloane Morrison Photography