Marne Levine is the COO of Instagram (Facebook, Inc.). Previously, she was the vice president of Global Public Policy at Facebook. The company focuses on building environmentally friendly work sites and data centers and improving access to clean energy for all. This interview has been edited and condensed.

fep-levine-qa

Levine talked with HBR about her firm’s sustainability efforts as part of the Future Economy Project, an HBR initiative that shares real-world lessons on sustainability leadership.

HBR: Why did you decide to pursue a sustainability agenda?

LEVINE: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been very clear from the beginning that building a sustainable future is foundational to Facebook’s mission of bringing the world closer together. Without secure energy and a stable climate, we won’t be able to make meaningful progress on other challenges — like connecting the world. And as a company with over 2 billion users, and with 80% of our community outside the U.S., we have a responsibility to lead.

When I joined Facebook in 2010, it was already well established that sustainability was central to the way that we operated. That year we decided to design and construct our own data center; one of the most significant energy footprints for a tech company comes from the storage of data, which requires a huge amount of electricity. Before 2010, most of the energy powering these data centers was coming from coal. We designed a data center that was 38% more energy efficient and that cost 24% less to build than a traditional data center. Even more important, in my view, is that we decided to share our designs publicly.

Since then, we’ve continued to lead the way in terms of energy efficiency. One amazing statistic is that, for an entire year of one person’s Facebook use, our carbon footprint is less than the impact of boiling a pot of water. But we’re not stopping there. Our goal is to power all new data centers with 100% clean and renewable energy, relying more heavily on wind and solar farms. We also announced that we are switching all electric accounts at our Menlo Park headquarters to Peninsula Clean Energy’s ECO100 option. This means that Facebook is the largest participant in the program, and we are really proud of that.

Pursuing a sustainability agenda is a natural extension of our mission, because it means making sure that the communities we serve are healthy and resilient.

What are some things that have inspired you in this journey?

My personal interest in sustainability started when I was a senior in high school in Cleveland, Ohio (which was a very long time ago!). I took a job working for the local county commissioner, Mary Boyle, and was put on a team charged with reviewing Cleveland’s solid-waste management program to make it more efficient and environmentally friendly. While working on that project, I earned the nickname “Trash Queen,” which certainly wasn’t the most flattering, but I didn’t mind because I loved that job and learned a bunch doing it. That was when I really started to understand the importance of sustainability at the community level. I learned that inefficient waste management could seriously hurt the health of a community — waste in landfills contaminates our land, water, and air and is a huge financial burden to a city. More than anything, I learned that sustainability is local. It impacts people’s livelihoods at the personal and community level.

Several years later, in 2001, I was working as chief of staff to then-Harvard University President Larry Summers when we unveiled Harvard’s Sustainability Principles. Larry and his team were, I think, early in realizing that operating our campus in an environmentally sustainable way was not only the right thing to do but also a sound business decision. By instituting environmental impact reductions, we gained important cost efficiencies. Here’s just one example: The Harvard Green Campus Initiative’s Loan Fund offered more than $2,800,000 to facilitate 32 projects that promoted energy- and water-conservation strategies on the Harvard campus. On average, those projects generated enough financial savings to pay back the loan in just three years. I had always been interested in sustainability, and I had always been interested in running efficient organizations, and at Harvard I came to appreciate that the two go hand in hand.

Finally, it may be cliché, but it’s true: When you have kids you start to think differently about the kind of world you are passing on to them. My two sons are avid readers and parliamentary-style debaters, and through both activities, they have taken an interest in global warming and sustainability. My husband was one of the earliest investors in alternative energy technologies in the U.S., and so sustainability has been a frequent and consistent dinner-table conversation topic. I’ve listened with awe to the way our children and their friends look at a challenge like this and immediately think, “What can we do to help?” So when I think about sustainability, I think of it not just through the lens of a tech executive or a responsible global citizen, but as a mother who wants a better world for her children.

From which stakeholders have you received the most resistance to your sustainability agenda? How have you worked to bring them on board?

We’ve been fortunate that our leadership is completely bought in — there is really no question at the leadership level that pursuing a sustainability agenda is the right thing for us to do for our community, for our neighbors, and for our bottom line.

The challenge for us is to bring the entire industry along and, especially, to support small and medium-sized businesses that might not have the resources that we do. To address the sustainability challenges of today in a meaningful way, and to achieve the scale of impact we want, we know we need to work with others to get the job done. That’s why we’re so committed to releasing all of our projects as open-source. By publishing construction specifications of our data centers, from mechanical designs to cooling techniques, we can save other businesses time and money and make it easier for them to follow suit. Another way that we are supporting the ecosystem is through our founding membership with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), a collaboration of more than 100 companies working together to scale corporate procurement of clean energy. There’s no pride of ownership in sustainability — all of our children are going to inherit the same planet. Our goal is to help lead the way and to bring as many people along as we can.

Voluntary carbon reductions are unlikely to achieve the scale needed to solve climate change — we also need policy. Beyond operationalizing sustainability, what obligation do businesses have to lobby for action and engage in civil society more generally?

We need both. Having worked in the public sector at different times over the course of my career, most recently as chief of staff of the National Economic Council under President Obama, I fundamentally believe that policy is an important way to have wide-scale impact. But I also believe that it’s naïve to think that it is the only way or that we have to wait for policy to act. Especially now, at a moment when some policy efforts around climate have stalled, it’s more important than ever for businesses to take the initiative and lead using all the levers at their disposal to do so. As we have seen with Facebook and many other global companies, business can drive change through their operations, supply chains, and partnerships. They can work directly with local utilities to create new ways for all customers to purchase clean energy directly from the utility, such as with green tariffs. In fact, in connection with a new data center we are building in Virginia, we worked with the local utility to create a new green tariff, which will ensure renewable energy solutions are accessible to Facebook and other companies. Through efforts like this, we are not only closer to our goal of powering our data centers with 100% clean and renewable energy, but we’ve helped others too. To solve global climate problems, everyone — business, government, civil society — has to own their piece of the puzzle. We have to work together to get this right.

Silicon Valley skews young — do you think your workers care more than others about sustainability? How does that influence the company’s priorities?

I’m not sure interest in sustainability is bound as much by age as it is by spirit and commitment. One of the best things about working at a mission-driven organization is that it attracts mission-driven people. Our teams at Facebook and Instagram come to work every day to do something that will, in ways large and small, make the world better. They care deeply about the communities around us and around the world, and sustainability is a big part of that.

Many tech executives have started sustainability-oriented philanthropic organizations. Why do you think tech executives seem to elevate this issue particularly?

The global sustainability challenges align with the scale and magnitude of the problems the tech community seeks to address, and the spirit of optimism and ingenuity that defines Silicon Valley is well suited to the task at hand. Whether it is connecting the world or developing new zero-emission technologies to power everything from cars to mobile phones, the tech community has proven it is ready and willing to help solve big and complex problems.

/resources/html/infographics/2017/11/future-economy/js/pym.min.js

var pymParent = new pym.Parent(‘interactiveembed’, ‘/resources/html/infographics/2017/11/future-economy/index.html’, {});
pymParent.onMessage(‘childLoaded’, function() {
pymParent.sendMessage(‘setShareUrl’, document.URL);
});

/resources/html/infographics/2017/11/future-economy/js/hideheader.js

louisaproject2027

louisaproject2027

View all posts

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

--DEBUG