Navigating Energy at Viawest - An EDF Climate Corps fellow's three commandments

EDF Climate Corps fellow | January 11, 2012

By TC Rangarajan,  2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Viawest and MBA candidate at Pennsylvania State University's Smeal School of Business

This summer, I went for evening drinks with a colleague, and as we strolled through downtown Denver looking for a nice place to relax, my friend pointed to one establishment and said, "Let's not go to that pub. They still use incandescents."

It's certainly not far-fetched to think customers will make purchasing decisions based on a company's sustainability initiatives.  Similar to the way people have demand healthier options from fast food chains, many corporations have started expecting their vendors and partners to provide environmentally-friendly alternatives.  If you're a major co-location provider with two dozen facilities across five states, you better be prepared for this trend.

This is exactly why Viawest –a data center and managed services provider based in Denver – signed up for EDF Climate Corps. I was hired as a fellow at Viawest, and was tasked with- creating a formal green program. This involved developing several different sustainability projects, from recycling to renewable energy and from water efficiency to vending misers.

I walked into Viawest with little corporate sustainability experience under my belt, but walked out at the end of the summer with a wealth of knowledge. My goal with this blog is to share what I learned so  small and medium business without  dedicated sustainability resources can follow these leads.

Sympathize: In my view, the foremost step in creating a sustainability program is to understand the internal and external stakeholder values. If an organization intends to invest resources in green efforts, the result has to return value for the stakeholders. At Viawest, we kicked off this project by assessing the green programs of our customers, major competitors, utilities, non-profits, state and city green policies, and Federal regulations. In addition, our internal stake holders came together and discussed their expectations for a sustainability program. This helped us identify the critical areas in corporate sustainability most relevant to our industry,  ensuring  our program adds significant value to the organization while  helping us "do the right thing."

Customize: Sustainability programs are not "one size fits all." The options available around corporate sustainability are limitless. It is therefore critical to tailor  programs so their impact is maximized. While a comprehensive sustainability program does include diverse environmental programs, start with the one that addresses the industry's core problems. Since Viawest owns thousands of servers, which consume millions of kWh of electricity every month, managing the company's energy consumption proved to have the biggest potential for environmental and financial savings.

Socialize: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the staff and departments, and figure out how to make alliances to further your initiatives.. This is probably the most critical step to help you integrate a green mentality into the culture of the company into your green policies. At Viawest, I had to interact with various departments – sales, marketing, HR, products, IT, facilities and housekeeping staff. Every one of those conversations helped me fine-tune my recommendations.. In addition to discussions with department heads, I reached out to individual engineers and managers to understand their views on the program. Many corporate sustainability programs seldom reach or inspire employees at every echelon.  Often times, these types of initiatives can be an exclusive conversation for only top-level executives– missing an important human resource component: employee buy-in and adoption.. At the end of the day, a program's success will depend on the employees implementing it every day. That said, it is imperative that policies framed at by executives consider the views of everyone within the organization.

In most cases, it all boils down to maintaining an open outlook. If you keep your eyes and mind open  to new ideas, you will notice there are opportunities everywhere that could affect your organization and the environment in a positive way.  As more people make purchasing decisions based on companies' sustainability initiatives, perspective is imperative.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.