Are Women the “Greener Gender”?

WNSF West Coast Summit Explores the Convergence of Businesswomen, Technology and Sustainability
WNSF%20logo.gifSilicon Valley’s businesswomen gathered on Thursday, May 21, at the Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara to discuss the topic of “Clean Tech’s Advantage for Growth.” The gathering was the first West Coast Summit held by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF). Attendees explored how clean tech can help organizations achieve their sustainability goals and discussed the unique contribution businesswomen can make to this effort.
WNSF is “committed to three things: women, business and sustainability,” said Ann Goodman, the WNSF Executive Director, in her opening remarks. The New York-based non-profit provides opportunities, like the West Coast Summit, for business and professional women to meet, reflect and act on the issues of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development.

Panel Discussion Highlights – Small Changes Make a Difference
WNSF assembled an impressive panel that included businesswomen in leadership positions from Intel, UPS, Silicon Valley Bank, Hewlett Packard and The Climate Group. They shared their companies’ sustainability strategies and then engaged the audience in a lively Q&A session.
Lorie Wigel, General Manager of Eco-Technology at Intel discussed their 2% – 98% approach. The world’s IT systems account for 2% of GHG emissions. Intel is continually focused on improving the energy efficiency of their semi-conductor products to reduce this 2%. And they are exploring the uses of IT to impact the other 98%, specifically in transportation, manufacturing, and construction, the industries having among the heaviest carbon footprints.
UPS, as the world’s ninth largest air carrier, knows all about the environmental impact of transportation. Nancy Parmer, Senior Director Sustainability at UPS, described the major upgrade of the entire UPS air fleet from 727s to the much more efficient 757s. For their massive truck fleet, they instituted a “no left turn” strategy that greatly reduced the amount of time their trucks idle waiting to make left turns. This simple measure has reduced the footprint of their fleet and now saves UPS about three million gallons of gasoline each year.
Bonnie Nixon, Director of Environmental Sustainability at Hewlett Packard, reminded the audience about the importance of communication. “Sustainability is journey, and you will make mistakes along the way,” she commented. But it’s important to maintain transparency through your communications to show “warts and all” to your stakeholders. She warned against promoting a green message without also acknowledging your shortcomings and areas for improvement.
Addressing the role of women in the sustainability movement, Ms. Parmer from UPS described women as “multidimensional and multi-generational, so they understand that what we do today impacts the future.”
Keynote Address – Government Policy Must Lead
Mary Nichols, Chairman of California’s Air Resources Board, just back from her trip to the White House, provided the keynote address. She was in the Rose Garden for President Obama’s announcement that California’s standard for vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions will be the basis for the new national standard. She cited this event as a major tipping point because for the first time “the environment came first” rather than the auto makers.
Throughout her talk, she emphasized the role of government to set standards and lead the way. Without this leadership, business will not follow. She also emphasized the leadership role played by many women in government advancing the “whole idea of sustainability.”
As far as the challenges that lie ahead for enacting sustainability initiatives, Ms Nichols described three areas of concern: 1) Aligning incentives to produce desired results. Our systems today don’t always incent businesses to do the right thing. 2) Providing better information resources. It’s difficult for many businesses, especially small businesses, to find the information they need on initiatives and programs. 3) Measuring impact. We need a better, more standardized approach to measure and communicate impact.
So, Are Women the “Greener Gender”?
A gender debate was not really the main focus of the day, even though several participants offered anecdotal comments about the strengths that women bring to these issues. Ultimately, the focus was how to push the sustainability agenda forward and the role of technology and women in this movement.
For me, the most important takeaway on the gender issue came from an attendee who made the connection between financial success, sustainability initiatives and the gender diversity on a company’s board and in senior-level management positions. She made the very relevant observation that:

Real change happens at the top of the company.

She cited a study that shows Fortune 500 companies that perform the best financially are also the ones with the highest ratios of women to men in senior positions. She expects this same finding would be true for corporate responsibility performance.
But a significant gender imbalance still exists at the top levels of our corporations. A 2008 survey conducted by found there are far fewer women than men reaching board-level roles. In 2008, women held only 15.2 percent of directorship positions on the boards at Fortune 500 companies.
I think everyone can agree: resolving this gender imbalance should be an ongoing and parallel process to moving the sustainability agenda forward. In the meantime, how do women gain a voice in the sustainability debate? Through the excellent work of organizations like the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future. Check out their website in the coming weeks to get transcripts from the Summit.

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at

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