When I lectured in a couple of classes last semester at Presidio Graduate School as Expert in Residence, I talked about my 12 years as sustainability manager at Genentech, a role which started while I was earning my MBA in Sustainable Solutions at Presidio. I organized my presentation around the three strategic objectives that we had developed five years earlier, and then I realized that our students would want to have the latest information about what is happening now, especially with regard to the impact of COVID-19. I wasn’t sure about the status of my project since I retired from Genentech last April, so I met up with the two Presidians that are carrying on the program, Jeannie Linam (C6 like me) and Erin Moore (C25). I decided that the best way to get an update from them was to ask how the efforts had changed within each of the three strategic objective areas. Here’s a summary of the three objectives and my conversation with Jeannie and Erin about the status of each objective.
Strategic Objective 1: “Our science and operations will support a sustainable future”
While I was at Genentech, this objective included making sure that our own operations were as sustainable as possible. I created and led a multi-disciplinary sustainability council which included the leaders of our Energy, Water, Waste, Transportation, Green BioPharma, and Wellbeing steering committees, and was supplemented by representatives from Government Affairs, Corporate Relations, Workplace Services, and Supply Chain. The council set public sustainability goals, tracked and reported on progress, and contributed to achieving Roche’s goals (our parent company).
KE: Hi Erin and Jeannie! Glad to reconnect on the status of the work I began at Genentech. It was wonderfully reassuring to be able to entrust it to fellow Presidians! Have there been changes to the sustainability council since I left?
Erin: Great to talk to you and share an update! Yes, we added someone from our D&I Office (which was formally established in 2019). We also have built upon some of the existing roles like Supply Chain and Government Affairs by bringing in more senior leadership from these groups. Our Government Affairs role now includes State and Local representatives. We have also asked them to be more proactive about bringing us up to speed on environmental legislation and opportunities for advocacy. Moreover, we’ve added “Business Reps” from across the company.
Prior to this year, the council was composed solely of subject matter experts. However, now that we are expecting business units across the company to form sustainability goals, we thought that bringing in representatives from those units would be helpful in making sure everyone is aligned. Lastly, we have added a more formal channel for employees to bring initiatives to the Council to be vetted and, potentially, implemented.
Jeannie: Hi Katie, happy to have an opportunity to share a bit about the work we’re doing. In addition to what Erin mentioned, our VP of Site Services is now serving as a formal sponsor on the council. He is a strong advocate and is closely connected to the executive committee. With Government Affairs more involved in the Council, we are working to leverage our trade associations to support our sustainability policy engagement. And with the voices from our business functions and the office of diversity and inclusion, it’s exciting to implement strategies that ‘multisolve’ for many issues important to us, like health equity and environmental justice. We’re integrating systems thinking, one of our fundamental learnings at Presidio, at a deeper level into the Sustainability Council.
KE: The 2010-2020 public goals have ended, obviously. I know we’d already met our CO2 from energy (30% reduction) and CO2 from transportation (10% reduction) goals a year early, but we hadn’t yet met our water and waste goals. So, how did you do on them and how has COVID-19 impacted the results?
Jeannie: I so appreciate this question. In our profession, we can be so focused on how much work there is still to be done, that it’s good to not lose sight of how far we’ve come. We are so pleased about our achievements toward our 2020 goals. You were instrumental in meeting our energy and transportation goals early, with our extensive commute fleet that includes the world’s first double decker corporate commuter electric buses, our expansive solar panel array (6 MW– one of the largest on the peninsula) and our first net-zero building
During COVID, our emissions were impacted unpredictably—working from home meant fewer emissions in many areas, yet COVID procedures could have the opposite impact. For water, we met our goal (20% reduction over 2010) despite a surprising increase of water usage in some areas during COVID. Our main water usage is connected to HVAC (heating and cooling) in our labs and manufacturing, during COVID we increased the rate of air changes inside buildings to ensure the safety of our employees, and that required more water usage. Nevertheless we still met the goal through our initiatives to recycle water and increase HVAC efficiency.
Erin: For waste, in particular, 2020 brought both challenges and opportunities. Our 2020 waste goal was to reduce our landfill by 80% compared to 2010, normalized by our onsite headcount. We have historically thought that this was the most appropriate way to measure a waste goal. However, we’ve now seen that even with the majority of our onsite population working from home, our overall waste footprint has only dropped by about half. It has been an opportunity to see just how much of our waste is generated by our essential manufacturing and R&D operations.
So, while this is a great insight that we wouldn’t normally have discovered, it really affected our progress toward meeting our 2020 goals. If we use our regular headcount, we look amazing. But, if we are to only use our onsite headcount (which is the true purpose of normalizing this way), our waste per person shoots way up. It has started a new conversation around whether or not normalizing by headcount is the best way to measure impact. Or, should we consider normalizing our next set of goals by something else, such as kg of product (for example), given that our actual research and manufacturing are such heavy drivers of waste?
KE: Great to hear that the pandemic has provided such clear opportunities for learnings. What is the plan for the next set of goals, beyond 2020?
Jeannie: In the past, we have typically established our own Genentech site-specific sustainability goals that were quite ambitious. This past year, Roche set some very strong long-term goals that align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s target to limit global warming to 1.5 C for the best chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. We are excited to align our site-specific goals with theirs with a few additions that are meaningful to the work we do here in South San Francisco.
Roche has set a 2050 goal to eliminate Scope 1 and 2 emissions. There are two notable aspects of this: (1) no offsets are allowed so real efficiencies and innovations will be required; and (2) the emissions reductions are frontloaded—40% reduction is required by 2025 and 75% by 2030 (over 2019). Related to this, in January of this year we achieved, ahead of schedule, our 2025 goal to use 100% renewable electricity in all buildings in SSF which include offices, manufacturing and labs. We are also making great headway in the electrification of our buildings, fleet and commute vehicles.
The other significant goal is a 2030 Ten-Year Roche Ambition to reduce our site’s environmental footprint by half. This goal is unique and exciting because it is tied to everyone’s employee bonus—that’s not something you see very often, and our Executive Committee is very much behind it. But achieving this goal requires significant transformation in our air travel, our waste generation, and our field fleet—and to do so, we need strong engagement from all levels and functions. And we’re seeing it!
Erin: Roche has also set waste and water goals that we will be aligning with. We also have Genentech-specific goals around construction debris diversion, and the carbon footprint of the food we serve onsite.
Jeannie: Because a little organism that’s one tenth of a thousandth of a millimeter stopped us all in our tracks, we have had this unexpected reset and an opportunity to capture these new behaviors and ways of working. For example, senior leaders have seen that much of the work can get done without air travel—something that would have been unheard of pre-COVID—and they are beginning to set impressive air travel reduction goals for each year 2021-2025 (over 2019).
Erin: COVID-19 has also provided some opportunities to understand our waste generation. Because our office population has been working from home for the most part, this has been a great opportunity to reset a few behaviors to ensure that our “new normal” is a bit more sustainable. For example, with the help of some upcoming city-wide ordinances, we’ve finally gotten the green light to totally eliminate all plastic beverage bottles across our dining program and vending machines. It’s such an obvious step in the sustainability world but has taken years of garnering support to actually push through. We are also going to eliminate our single-use bioplastic—which is another win we’ve gotten pushed through during the pandemic. So, overall 2020 was a year of learning and, I think, some big successes despite our 2020 goal status.
Strategic Objective 2: “We will collaborate with others to learn and expand our positive impact”
During my time at Genentech, we were members of many local and national organizations, and I enjoyed attending conferences and meetings, and sharing best practices with other sustainability managers. We signed onto letters, sponsored events, and pooled our purchasing powers with other companies to drive change.
KE: I would imagine that COVID limited your ability to travel to many conferences, but has the explosion of virtual conferences opened the door to more? What do you see as the pros and cons?
Erin: There are almost too many to choose from now! In the past, you could only take advantage of one or two, so you had to be very discerning—but now, it feels like there’s a conference every month! I love that this improves accessibility, especially for our non-sustainability employees. However, it can definitely be information overload at times. I would love to say I go back to watch the recordings if I’m not able to attend a session but I just don’t have the time!
KE: What are some examples of the organizations you’re now involved with?
Jeannie: We continue to be very involved with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), GreenBiz, and the GreenBiz Executive Network, and we sponsored GreenBiz VERGE where we had nearly 60 people attend from many different functions. Erin and I are both active members of the Business Council on Climate Change (where we get to work with you, since you’re the new board chair). We continue to participate in collaborative initiatives like EV100 and the CoolFood Pledge to reduce the climate impact of our meals at work.
KE: How is collaboration going with our colleagues at Roche?
Erin: I don’t know if it is a result of COVID or if everyone is coming to the same conclusion that we need to be unified globally—but there have been greater communications across our global green team networks this year. We have developed a monthly check in with affiliates from Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, Canada, and more! We didn’t have this regular collaboration in the past and it has helped to: 1) provide activity and content ideas for the sites that don’t have as many resources to dedicate to communications, and 2) align our campaigns so that we’re all talking about similar impacts at the same time.
Jeannie: We had a fantastic global effort last Fall: nearly all Roche sites participated in a two-day design-thinking workshop focused on reducing air travel! The first day was a deep immersion into our air travel and its connection to climate change and wellness, then we had hundreds of people go into breakouts to create solutions specific to our Roche and Genentech culture. It was an outstanding success, and garnered board-level support. It succeeded in greatly raising awareness on this topic, plus we have some very clever ideas being implemented.
Strategic Objective 3: “Sustainability will be integral to our culture”
The main way we connected to Genentech’s culture was through “Green Genes,” the 4000-person green team. Erin had been doing the heavy lifting on Green Genes for the final few years I was there, so I knew I was leaving it in good hands.
KE: Erin, how has Green Genes changed both due to my leaving and to COVID-19 arriving?
Erin: It has been a pretty stressful year for employee engagement! At first, it felt like people were more engaged than ever, and now it feels like pulling teeth to get folks onto an optional virtual event. While we still have our die-hard employee advocates, it has been a roller coaster in terms of participation throughout the year.
KE: Jeannie, for years we talked about moving our sustainability engagement beyond Green Genes to reach all employees and embed sustainability thinking into decision-making. I hear you’re making some progress with executives. Tell me more!
Jeannie: Yes, the change we are seeing now is very exciting. Now the urgency and need for truly transformative change requires leadership support to integrate climate action into all functions. This started to happen naturally because the connection of the climate crisis to our health mission became more apparent with the wildfires and the zoonotic nature of COVID, which in turn have impacted our employees and patients. Now we’re no longer pushing the ball uphill so much as shaping and guiding it.
We also have an ethical imperative because air-polluting emissions generated from our work can contribute to the diseases we are working to treat, including asthma and lung cancer. We are engaging more with the Executive Committee and the Officers to elucidate the health and climate connection, our new goals, and the shift in mindset that’s needed to meet them. In return, executives began asking for more resources and support.
In response, we recently launched a new initiative, Climate Action: Act Now Act Together, a comprehensive platform with strong videos, graphics, and toolkits for management and employees to pinpoint actions with material climate impact for their work. Employees can assess their carbon impact, see how it relates to health, social justice, and other initiatives we care about, and then set goals and share best practices. It’s designed to be very interactive and alive, like a living toolkit. Even though we aren’t flying like we used to or having catered meals, people are engaged and posting ambitious goals for when they return to campus later this summer. We are on the path to making our way of working and manufacturing to be as healing as our medicines.
KE: Thank you both for participating in this interview with me, but mostly, thank you for carrying on the sustainability program at Genentech… and making it even better.
Erin: And thank you for all you did while you were here!
Jeannie: Yes, thank you for getting so much of this important work started!
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