Many companies today are taking actions to improve their environmental footprint and their social impact under the banner of corporate social responsibility. In order to share these actions, many are publishing sustainability reports, targeted at raters, rankers, investors and analysts, as well as the general public. Each company’s story is a little different. Some companies, like raw material suppliers or airlines, use massive amounts of energy or other resources in their operations. Their reports typically describes their targets, efforts and accomplishments in improving their internal efficiency. Others, like carmakers, produce products that consume large quantities of non-renewable fuels. Their reports generally focus primarily on improvements in product efficiency.
Autodesk is a little bit different. As a global provider of computer-aided design (CAD) tools, it provides the means by which their customers can design both facilities and products that can operate more cleanly and efficiently with a significantly smaller footprint.
I spoke with Ben Thompson, Autodesk’s senior sustainable business program manager, on the occasion of the release of its 2015 Sustainability Report, entitled, "Sustainability in Action."
“Autodesk’s core opportunity, when it comes to sustainability, is through the enabling capabilities that we have and through the influence that we have,” says Thompson, who has been with Autodesk for six years.
Those capabilities and that influence largely come through the software in which it they are embedded, though it seems to show in just about everything the company does these days.
TriplePundit: How would you characterize this year’s sustainability report?
Ben Thompson: The Sustainability Report is really our greatest hits. We cover everything from our operations, what we’re doing there and what we hope for the private sector to do; highlights of our latest sustainability solutions and our sustainability solutions micro-site, which includes solutions for building designers, infrastructure engineers and manufacturers. Because this is the first year of our foundation, we’re also going into our philanthropic efforts. (Note: For more on the Autodesk Foundation, including their support of clean-tech startups, see our interview with Lynelle Cameron here.)
3p: I see in the report that you’ve made the commitment to power the business with 100 percent renewable energy. That’s great! How does that fit into your overall strategy?
BT: On that front, we really think that this is going to be a transformative year for climate action. We really wanted to demonstrate to policy makers leading into COP21 in December that the private sector is onboard with an internationally-binding commitment that limits global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. This commitment that we’re making is just us, as representatives of the private sector, doubling down and hoping to get more of our peers onboard as well.
3p: Do you think we’ll see a commitment in Paris?
BT: We believe we’re going to get a commitment in Paris. But we’re really looking at what’s going to happen after Paris.
3p: Because that’s when your work really begins...
BT: When it comes down to it, we’re making the solutions, and providing the design tools, that are going to make these commitments achievable. That’s really what it comes down to for us. Our little footprint doesn’t matter much compared to how we can influence other footprints.
3p: The EPA has designated Scope 1-3 for different emission sources, but it doesn’t track the emissions of customers using tools like yours. Is that something you track or have thought about tracking?
BT: It is something we’re thinking about. But we’re not interested in taking credit for things that our customers are able to create or invent on their own. But we do want to better understand the type of impact that we’re having.
3p: Do you think we are evolving in how we look at companies and their sustainability efforts?
BT: Moving forward, in many cases, it’s going to be the handprint rather than footprint. How do you make sustainability part of your business? How do you make it a service offering? How do you provide it to customers, not only to sustain your own business with revenue from those services, but also to create better environmental and social outcomes for your customers? Our sustainability solutions group has done a really great job of making sustainability core to our service offering. So, it’s going to be more positive — not just making less bad, but making more good.
3p: What products and features are you offering today that embody that? Can you give some examples?
BT: Our RevIt building solution is a Building Information Modeling (BIM) app. It allows users to simulate proposed modifications and see the impact on performance. We are also starting to incorporate Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) into tools like Tally.Tally enables Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of materials used in buildings.
3p: What other accomplishments would you like to highlight in this year’s report?
BT: There is an infographic online that summarizes it. We hit our GHG reduction target of 27 percent right on the nose. Overall emissions from our facilities are down 65 percent over 2009. The science-based approach to emissions targeting called C-FACT, which we invented almost seven years ago, [not to be mistaken for the climate denial website CFACT.org] is getting really popular. [C-FACT enables companies to align their targets with goals from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, adjusted for GDP contribution, recalculated annually based on performance.]
3P: Last question: What is the thought that keeps you moving forward?
BT: If we’re trying to make a better world, how do we make a better Autodesk first? How do we get our business lined up right, how do we get our products, our employees doing more for sustainability?
Image courtesy of Autodesk
RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org