It’s true! In the world of sustainability, large firms tend to get a bad rap: a 2017 report noted that just 100 fossil fuel corporations account for 71% of global carbon emissions. Some of these companies are notorious for corrupt and unethical practices in the name of profit. What happens though, when a large firm decides to take aggressive, effective action towards minimizing their carbon emissions and environmental impact? What is it like to be a part of a sustainability team in a company that is doing that?
Amma Boakye, who works as a Sustainability Analyst, and Terrie Tschetter, who works as the Senior Creative Brand Manager, revealed aspects of their jobs at Rheem Manufacturing, a leading global producer of heating and cooling ventilation systems. Through marketing team collaborations, Rheem has been able to use its influence as a corporation to steer consumers toward cleaner energy consumption. From internal frameworks to external outreach programs, Amma and Terrie have provided just a peek into the constantly evolving strategies of promoting ethical practices and integrity in situations previously ignored by many large firms.
Societies tend to default to their past actions, even if it’s obvious that these actions are killing us and the environment. While the thought of driving off of a cliff after seeing multiple signs saying “CLIFF AHEAD” may seem ludicrous in theory, it’s surprising how deeply ingrained these types of path dependencies are in our society. The reason for that is quite simple: change is hard. Admittedly, it’s difficult to identify a problem, rapidly decelerate, and steer in the other direction. Especially when the direction in which you’re going can make you billions of dollars in the short run.
In the Driver's Seat
Companies like Rheem, though, have been leaders in evolution, even when it requires a rewriting of a tried-and-true past approach. During the interview with Amma, she describes how companies are finally trying to slam on the brakes on pollution practices, and accelerating economic pursuits that drive towards sustainability. While big investor money was once funneled into short term, expendable, and environmentally damaging efforts, Wall Street investors are increasingly turning towards sustainability, looking to make a difference, and realizing that the shortcomings in our planet’s environmental stability can also be viewed as opportunities for many industries. As a company, Rheem has created aggressive objectives which it is striving to achieve in order to minimize its environmental impacts.
Amma Boayke began her work with Rheem after landing an internship with the company during graduate studies at Emory University. As a part of this independent study, she analyzed gas emissions for the company, which led to her current role as a Sustainability Analyst on such endeavors as the Zero Waste Landfill Project. Terrie Tschetter, also on Rheem’s Sustainability Team, is involved in the marketing, communication, and legal side of Rheem’s sustainability pursuits. These two women are pillars for an expansive and multifaceted approach to environmentally friendly business action.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals
In 2016, The United Nations developed 17 main “Sustainable Development Goals” for their 2030 series of ambitious objectives covering from environmental, social, and economic issues. Rheem has aligned its goals with these 17 objectives and has organized its efforts into three pillars: Innovation, Efficiency and Leadership. This is comparable to the Triple Bottom Line Approach for Sustainability, which is the intersection of “people, planet, and profit” on both societal and corporate levels.
Rheem’s first pillar is “Degrees of Innovation.” The 2025 goal regarding innovation is to launch a line of heating, cooling, and water heating products which achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The goal consists of streamlined, purposeful innovation for long-term sustainability. This is implemented on all levels, from the materials utilized in their products to responsible recycling.
The second pillar is titled “Degrees of Efficiency.” In addition to a 50% reduction to greenhouse gas emissions, Rheem will also aim to achieve “zero waste to landfill in global manufacturing operations by 2025.” On the production level, Rheem has prioritized four main areas of focus: consuming less energy during manufacturing, water conservation and cleanliness, waste reduction, and transportation efficiency. The final and third pillar is “Degrees of Leadership,” which provides a stable, reliable framework for Rheem’s sustainability efforts. The Goodworks program is a notable aspect of this, which encourages Rheem employees to pitch their ideas in support of sustainability initiatives.
Steering Towards a New Destination
As for Amma and Terrie, planning the most effective long-term framework also requires considerable amounts of collaboration and brainstorming with other company sectors. The sustainability team has had to align its goals with those of Rheem’s engineers who have their own industry standards that need to be met. They are also creating new partnerships, such as a collaboration with Amazon for an energy dashboard on “Alexa” which will allow users to track their energy usage in real time. In addition, Rheem hosts two-hour “sustainability strategy sessions” where stakeholders meet to make products more sustainable. In the constantly evolving world of sustainability, a range of voices is imperative in forming the most socially beneficial strategies, as helping our environment is truly a group effort.
Although large firms may be notorious for their environmentally damaging tendencies, Rheem has proven that it is possible to maintain a viable business model while supporting a long-term framework for improvement and a clean energy evolution. Hopefully, more corporations will have the courage and the ingenuity to “slam on the brakes” in advance impending climate disaster and steer us towards a healthy and sustainable planet.