Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

In Green Company

In Green Company

Academy Governor R.K. Pachauri says business must take the lead in sustainability. Corporate Academy members are doing just that, some with support from NYAS sustainability programs and services.

Rajendra K. Pachauri stepped into the global green spotlight in 2007 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with former Vice President Al Gore. The 69-year-old industrial engineer and economist has chaired the IPCC, established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, since 2002, and recently took a half-time position as head of Yale University's Climate and Energy Institute. But he has been working on issues of sustainability and climate change for far longer. He has directed the The Energy and Resources Institute, one of Asia's leading centers of sustainable development research and education, since 1981, and he helped lay the groundwork for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

"Given the changes that are taking place in the world, customers and even suppliers are going to be much more sensitive to the corporate responsibility that leaders show towards society."
— R.K. Pachauri

In the interest of continuing to build its strength as a global resource of sustainable science & technology expertise, the New York Academy of Sciences recently elected R.K. Pachauri to its International Board of Governors, and will honor him for his work promoting urban sustainability at the Sixth Annual Science & the City Gala in New York on November 16. An ardent vegetarian who urges individuals to take responsibility for the environment, Pachauri has also been outspoken about the importance of corporate leadership in sustainability. The Fourth Assessment Report issued by the IPCC under his leadership is considered the most detailed analysis of global climate change ever undertaken. Among its numerous recommendations is the advice that "changes in lifestyle and behavior patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors. Management practices can also have a positive role."

Executive Editor Adrienne Burke visited Pachauri in his new office at Yale to talk about corporate sustainability, and followed up with the leaders of sustainability and green efforts at each of three corporate Academy members—IBM, Skanska, and PepsiCo—and with partner United Technologies Corporation. The companies are among those implementing the kinds of sustainability efforts that Pachauri extols. For an overview of the Academy's own sustainability efforts, also see "Green Academy", below.


How do you define sustainability?

Pachauri: Simplistically, it is what Mrs. Brundtland and the World Commission on Environment and Development put forward in 1987: a form of development which meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their own needs. It's simple, but how one applies it in practice is not all that easy.

Is there a different definition for corporate sustainability?

Pachauri: No, I wouldn't say so, because the principles are the same. Corporates also have a responsibility to see that we don't degrade the environment, that we don't overspend our natural resources.

Could corporations be models of sustainability for communities, cities, or governments?

Pachauri: As a matter of fact, they have to become models for all of society because there's going to be a greater and greater level of economic activity in the corporate sector, and therefore what they do will have a profound and a very wide impact on society as a whole.

What do you mean when you say that a "complete reorientation of thinking" among the leadership of the corporate sector is overdue?

Pachauri: There's been a disproportionate focus on profits, not only in the very narrow financial sense but also in the very short term. You've seen many examples of corporates who found over a period of time that their profitability was actually impaired because they had this narrow and short-term focus. Given the changes that are taking place in the world, customers and even suppliers are going to be much more sensitive to the corporate responsibility that leaders show towards society. If corporate organizations don't take this newly apparent dimension into account, they are obviously going to lose markets and their market share. This is why a complete reorientation of thinking will be necessary.

Sustainability contains a genuine profit motive?

Pachauri: Yes, and that profit motive essentially would require reflection for a longer period of time than has been the case traditionally. Let me take the example of Wal-Mart—this is one major company that has moved more genuinely towards sustainability, towards green issues. Or you take a company like General Electric. They're pursuing the business that they've been doing in the past, but they have shown a clear commitment to looking at the future of green technologies and investing in them. To different extents, a number of organizations are beginning to show this, and the ones that have practiced this philosophy have actually benefitted.

Where governments have failed, then, could corporations take the lead in promoting sustainability?

Pachauri: You really need the combination of the two. If government has policies, for instance, which impose irrational prices rather than promote sustainability, then clearly the corporation will not be able to do much about it. Corporations are answering to their shareholders. It's important, of course, for shareholders to be educated and to show a certain sensitivity to social causes, but there's a limit to that. If governments come up with policies that run counter to sustainable development, then there's nothing you can do about it. You really need a combination of enlightened government policy and enlightened corporate leadership. In the absence of that, I don't think you get the right results.

You've said it's crucial that governments from around the world reach agreement on tackling the challenge of climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this December in Copenhagen. What will you consider to be a successful outcome of that gathering?

Pachauri: There are three [desired] outcomes. First, a very firm commitment to reduce emissions by 2020. Then, a commitment to provide funding for those countries that are really deprived, that don't have the money to adapt to the effects of climate change. And something that allows relatively easy access to clean technologies for the developing countries.

Is addressing climate change and getting to sustainability a bigger challenge for policymakers or for R&D scientists?

Pachauri: First and foremost, it's a challenge for people at large. You really have to convince the public of the fact that what we've been practicing for a long time is not sustainable and we have to bring about a shift. In a democracy, you would expect that the public will put pressure on the politicians and the leadership to do what's expected.

And it's essential for scientists to become effective communicators. Unless they do that, the public is not going to get to know the seriousness of some of the problems that we're facing and the kind of solutions that are required. Scientists have an increasing role in informing the public.

The Fourth Assessment report from the IPCC suggests that management practices could have a positive role in climate change mitigation. What are examples of such management practices?

Pachauri: There's a tangible part of the impact and an intangible part. The tangible part is what you actually save, what you actually reduce in energy consumption. On the shop floor or in a factory, launch a program of energy efficiency whereby you ensure that every unit of energy is consumed using the most efficient methods, the most efficient ecologies. Just cutting out waste as part of management practices could have a major impact.

The intangible part is creating a culture that would ensure that the organization will always focus on sustainability. It's like safety. There are organizations that are extremely safety conscious with seldom any accidents or explosions. Similarly, for organizations that are very particular about the efficiency of energy use and minimizing waste, it's all part of managing practices which can achieve a great deal.


Skanska: The Green City Builder

Elizabeth HeiderElizabeth Heider, senior vice president at Skanska USA Building, founded and chairs the company's Green Council. Responsible for all internal and external green consulting at one of the world's leading construction companies, Heider says Skanska is focused on being the leading "green city builder."

"There are about 250 billion square feet of commercial and residential space in the US," says Heider. "In the next 20 years, 150 billion will be renovated, and 200 billion will be added. We have the opportunity to influence the performance of more than 80 percent of the country's building stock."

Appropriately, Skanska's own offices occupy LEED Gold-certified buildings in Atlanta, Orlando, and Seattle. And a recent major renovation of the thirty-second floor of the Empire State Building earned a Platinum LEED rating for Skanska's New York City headquarters.

Heider says the green design of the Empire State Building office relies on cool, efficient lighting and daylight to minimize reliance on heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. Carpets and furniture are made with low volatile organic compound and environmentally friendly materials. Low-flow plumbing and automatic sensor fixtures keep water use down, and energy costs are 50 percent lower than in the company's previous, smaller Manhattan office, she says. "Once our investment in energy efficient features is paid off, we have a tenant space that performs better," Heider says. "When you're your own client, you understand the economic consequences of what you're doing," Heider says. "It's helped underscore our belief that you have to take a long view."


PepsiCo: Supporting Human Sustainability

Mehmood KhanMehmood Khan, the chief scientific officer of PepsiCo, and a newly elected Governor of the Academy, says sustainable communities are in the interest of a food and beverage manufacturing company. For PepsiCo, that means sustainability is about more than its policies to partner with green-oriented partners and to reduce the company's carbon footprint with environmentally friendly packaging, reduced water use, and green manufacturing and distribution practices. It's about taking an active interest in global consumer health and wellness. In fact, one part of PepsiCo's three-pronged "Performance with Purpose" approach introduced by CEO Indra Nooyi is to support "human sustainability."

Khan's 25-year career as a practicing physician and pharmaceutical company executive informs this strategy. For instance, PepsiCo is engaged in programs that teach children in Latin America to introduce physical activity into their daily life, promote active lifestyles among 70,000 students in India, and reach millions of Americans with a YMCA public health initiative.

"As a clinician," Khan says, "I know that if my population is thriving, that's good for the company. That motivates PepsiCo to ask, 'What are the right food and beverage products we need to develop, produce, and distribute for our consumers?' No company has the size, scale, and diversity of PepsiCo. If we do this right, we can actually positively impact the way people around the world eat."


IBM: The Big Green Innovations Initiative

Sharon NunesIBM first formalized its environmental policy in 1971 and has been publishing annual corporate sustainability data online since 1990. The company is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and more than a quarter of all computers on the Green500 List—a ranking of the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world—are IBM-built.

Now its Big Green Innovations initiative aims to apply information technology to solve sustainability issues for customers. Sharon Nunes, vice president of the Big Green group, is charged with applying IT to water management and other environmental areas. Nunes, who holds a PhD in materials science, has worked her way though the management ranks at IBM, serving variously in hardware and software development, R&D and manufacturing, and as director of life sciences solutions, technology evaluation, and emerging business. She says "IT can be a tremendous help to businesses and governments in managing their environmental responsibilities."

For instance, she says, IBM is helping utilities, food and beverage companies, and processing plants save on operating expenses. In the Netherlands, IBM technology is helping control floods. And in Ireland, Nunes' team helps the Galway Bay harbormaster collect and assess data such as changes in algae growth, wave height, and fish populations. Nunes also sees a role for IBM technology in managing water security—keeping users and governments apprised of farm and industrial runoff into water supplies, or of intentional contamination by eco-terrorists.

On an even grander scale, Nunes says IBM computing can make predictions about the supply of water from the Himalayas to India as climate change shrinks the snowcaps, and help governments anticipate migration of people across borders as drought areas become drier and wetlands get wetter. "We don't think IT is going to solve all problems, but it can put people on the right track by giving them views of water systems that let them make decisions based on facts," she says.


UTC: Greener Operations, Products, and Advocacy

Michael McQuade"Our sustainability strategy starts with the assumption that if you're going to speak about the issue, you have to demonstrate internally that you're a sustainable operation," says UTC's Senior Vice President of Science and Technology, Michael McQuade. Indeed, McQuade says that since 1997, the building and aerospace technology company has grown 100 percent, while reducing energy consumption by 20 percent and cutting water use in half.

But, he says, greener operations is just one part of the company's sustainability strategy. Part two is manufacturing more sustainable products. For instance, the UTC jet engine manufacturing company Pratt & Whitney has introduced a new geared turbofan engine that is 12 percent more efficient and substantially quieter. Otis Elevator, another UTC company, has created regenerative elevators that capture the potential energy in the gravitational field on descent for use on ascent. The elevators use only 25 percent of the energy of conventional elevators, McQuade says.

The third component of UTC's strategy is advocacy—"to carry the message about the importance of the issue," McQuade says. UTC is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the company is particularly focused on energy efficiency in buildings. Through the council, UTC helped commission a program three years ago to develop a road map for creating zero-net energy buildings.

"Buildings consume about 40 percent of the energy in the US," McQuade says. "Reducing energy consumption in buildings by 70–80 percent is the number we need to get to by 2050." That would be the equivalent of removing all cars and light-duty trucks from the road, he notes. "It's a big message that we're helping to carry."


Green Academy: How NYAS Supports Sustainability

As Rajendra Pachauri notes, the pursuit of sustainability depends as much on building momentum among stakeholders as it does on developing new research and technology. In recent years, the New York Academy of Sciences has taken steps to support the growth of the global sustainability community with a plethora of new programs and products. As a provider of sustainability science & technology services and programs, the Academy has quickly become an international resource for scientists, engineers, policymakers, and others committed to going green.

The Academy's Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Green Science & Sustainability programs convene frequent meetings among scientists, engineers, and others working in the areas of renewable energy, green building design, and clean transportation technologies. Discussion groups on Green Science & Environmental Policy and Green Buildings take advantage of the Academy's downtown Manhattan location to provide context for events focused on topics such as zero-net energy buildings, urban agriculture, and electric vehicles. And the Academy will debut a Greening Transportation & Infrastructure group this year.

In July 2009, the Academy teamed with New Energy New York and the Energy & Environmental Technology Applications Center at the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering to present the Fourth Annual New Energy Symposium. There, experts discussed business opportunities and challenges in solar energy and energy storage, and clean energy entrepreneurs pitched to a panel of investors and financial industry experts. On November 13, the Academy and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health will present an afternoon symposium, "Water and Health: Global Issues and Our Shared Responsibilities," with talks by public health leaders including Peter Agre, Rita Colwell, and Erik Peterson. Two days later, the Academy will celebrate Sustainable Cities at its annual Science & the City Gala, where Rajendra Pachauri and Indra Nooyi, the PepsiCo CEO known for her expansive and integrated approach to global and corporate sustainability, will be among the honorees.

In addition to live gatherings, the Academy disseminates knowledge about sustainability through various media. The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published "The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 2009," the second volume of a series launched in 2008 to improve the flow of information between academic scientists and those charged with the conservation of species and natural ecosystems. And the inaugural Annals volume "Ecological Economics Reviews 2010" will examine topics at the crossroads of ecology and economics.

For the public, among numerous Science & the City podcasts covering sustainability topics, available at, is a visit to New York's Go Green Expo and a conversation with Columbia University's Assistant VP of Environmental Stewardship, Nilda Mesa, about greening the urban Ivy League campus.

Meanwhile, Academy eBriefings report on "Zero-Net Energy Buildings," "Clean Technology in New York," and the role of green chemistry in a sustainable world. Video available in the online NYAS Media Center includes interviews with longtime IPCC member Michael Oppenheimer on climate change, economist Charles Komanoff on carbon taxes, and beach erosion expert Stephen Leatherman on rising sea levels.

The Academy also has taken on a consultative role in sustainable development. In a partnership with the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology, and Innovation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Academy is advising the state on nurturing emerging cleantech industries. And as host of Scientist Without Borders, it has extended its reach into the developing world where sustainable, science-based activities are improving the quality of life for people and communities.

NYAS also tries to walk the green talk: its headquarters and conference center is in New York's first green office tower, which maintains gold status in the US Green Building Council's LEED program. And the magazine you are holding is printed by DG3, a company that is ranked fourth on the EPA's list of the nation's top 20 "green power purchasers" in commercial printing. It's truly a green Academy.

— Adrienne Burke & Christopher Cooke