Employees drive sustainability

Katie switched careers to become Sustainability Manager at Genentech. Her enthusiasm and ability to connect people have moved the needle in engaging employees and reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

In 2005, after 20 years of working in R&D and management for a leading laboratory equipment manufacturer in California, I decided to take some time off. During that break, I saw a compelling documentary about the urgency to act on climate change. It inspired me to re-evaluate my career goals and reflect on how I could contribute to positive change.

I decided to pursue an MBA in Sustainable Management, which led to a job as a sustainability intern at Genentech in 2007. I knew the reputation of the company from my scientific background in genetics and from living in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, I was thrilled to be hired full-time as Sustainability Manager in 2009.


Reduced energy and water consumption

Sustainability is a cross-functional issue that often requires expertise and input from a range of different people.  An important part of my job is to connect the right people and resources from across Genentech to make things happen. I have assembled a Sustainability Council to develop our sustainability strategy and goals and to encourage cross-functional collaboration. I also liaise with other companies to share best practices in sustainability and to leverage our collective influence to realise sustainability benefits.

One of my tasks is to connect the right people and resources to make things happen.

When I started my position as Sustainability Manager, there was already a successful programme called ‘Green Genes’ that engaged employees in environmental sustainability, and part of my role was to provide deeper opportunities for employees to live out their commitment to sustainability in a meaningful way at work. Many employees are environmentalists at home, but were not sure how to bring that lifestyle into the workplace. By enlisting employees as sustainability ambassadors and through educational outreach, we were able to overcome that challenge.


Decreased waste

During my tenure, Green Genes has grown to 2,800 of the total of 12,000 Genentech employees – a leading benchmark in terms of employee engagement in sustainability. In addition, we have about 300 ‘Green Guides’ with a deeper level of training and environmental expertise. Some lead teams on Energy, Water, Recycling, Transportation, Wellbeing and Green BioPharma. I work with each team to set up activities such as recycling month, Earth Week, beach clean-ups, Lunch & Learns and other awareness events.

That high level of engagement and evolved organisational structure gave us a solid foundation for a new initiative in 2012.  Alongside other leading companies, we participated in the US Green Building Council’s Best Buildings Challenge and committed to reducing energy, waste and water usage by 20% within just two years.  Our aim was to achieve these reductions on a per employee basis in five of our high-occupancy buildings, which included energy and water intensive lab buildings.

Green Genes - Engagement for environmental sustainability exists at high levels, employees welcome suggestions to implement it at their workplace.

One of the challenges we faced as we launched the initiative, known internally as Dash to 20, was a lack of detailed data. So, we installed new water metres, smart lighting sensors and Wi-Fi-enabled energy-use strips in office cubicles. With more specific information, we were able to prioritise our efforts and share progress with employees through touch-screen dashboards in the Dash buildings.

In June 2014, we concluded Dash to 20 with results that exceeded our expectations, reducing energy and water usage by 33% and waste by 47% per employee. The financial returns on our investments showed that sustainability also makes good business sense.

We saved 12.5 million gallons of water over two years, helping conserve during a historic drought in California.

The water savings were particularly important for our community, given that we are based in California, which is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. In some areas, farmers are struggling to irrigate their crops and wells for drinking water are drying up. By fine-tuning our air conditioning systems, replacing water-thirsty lawns with drought-resistant landscaping and other initiatives, we saved 12.5 million gallons (47,312,000 litres or 47.312 m3) of water over two years. Our efforts helped to prevent mandatory water restrictions that might jeopardise our production of life-saving medicines.

The energy efficient new building currently under construction will contribute to these efforts by significantly reducing heating and cooling demand for energy and water. The construction was optimised by using the innovative FLEXLAB technology.

In partnership with the USGBC Building Health Initiative, we are joining with other companies to make buildings as healthy as they can be for occupants. The first important step is to require increased transparency from suppliers about the content of building materials and office furniture, so that we can make more informed decisions about what to purchase.

I see an increasing number of employees who want to do something for the environment. If we build on that momentum and mobilise our colleagues, families and friends, we can make a meaningful difference in our impact on the world around us.

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Tags: South San Francisco, Society, Environment, Sustainability