Sustainability Beyond the Photo Op

Sustainability Beyond the Photo Op

One of the perks of attending sustainability and corporate social responsibility events is exposure to business leaders who are genuinely excited about the way their organizations are making the world a better place.

Increasingly, I’m encountering senior executives who encourage their peers to look closely at CSR programs to make sure they have adequate scale to actually make a difference, and that they connect to a company’s mission.

Bill DiCroce, the newly appointed CEO Veolia North America, is publicly applauding American business leaders for focusing on sustainability as a route to profitability rather than an image improvement exercise.

It wasn’t always that way, the former U.S. Navy nuclear engineer told attendees at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in New York, adding that the installation of solar panels on the roofs of corporate headquarters over the past few decades had been largely symbolic until recently.

“It was the attempt to foster a culture of sustainability,” DiCroce said, adding that his company now finds many more conversations center around “solving an economic problem first that’s also sustainable.”

A business unit of Europe’s water company, Veolia North America has been tackling massive energy and waste recycling infrastructure projects.

At an Intel chip manufacturing facility, a move toward spraying on the many layers of a processor, rather than dipping, resulted in an increased use of solvents, DiCroce said.  A Veolia project recaptured solvents for re-refining, allowing the material to be used repeatedly.  Waste product was used to clean rail cars, and the remaining unusable solvent created fuel for cement kilns that produced energy.

“It’s digging deep into the business model, the supply chain,” DiCroce told the sustainability business leaders gathered at the Bloomberg summit.

A similar project at the Novartis corporate campus in Basel, Switzerland, recaptured water containing solvents, he said.  The recycled water heats the campus and the adjacent shopping center.

DiCroce’s orientation toward massive industrial projects doesn’t necessarily exclude the occasional photo op.

The Veolia marketing and communications team, understanding the benefit of a pretty backdrop, scheduled a media event at a “green steam” project along the banks of the Charles River in Boston.  The Oct. 20 event celebrates completion of a cogeneration facility that improved air quality and eliminated thermal pollution in the Kendall Square and Cambridge neighborhoods.


(Photo Caption: Charles River in Boston, where Veolia North America just completed a “green steam” project)