Verizon Goes Green: More than CSR?

Esha Chhabra

June 18, 2012

This originally appeared in

Jim Gowen, Corporate Sustainability Officer of Verizon, was recently at the UN Social InnovationSummit.  He spoke to Dowser about the “green” strides that Verizon is taking within the community and globally.  A move in the right direction for corporate America?

Dowser: When deciding what to focus on as a company for impact, why did Verizon place such emphasis on environmental programs?
‘Going green’ is a great opportunity to not only reduce our environmental impact, but also reduce our company’s costs. With the current tumultuous economy, every penny counts. Sustainability initiatives put us in a position to move forward in the most productive way. After all, sustainability, by definition, implies a focus on delivering consistent value over the long-term. Through our sustainability programs, we ease our burden on the environment and continue to provide high quality services to our customers- a win-win!

An important goal we have set is to cut our carbon intensity in half by 2020. Innovation is vital for our success. So far, we have developed and set solid metrics in order to measure our progress. Our current 30% reduction in carbon intensity has placed us in a great position to achieve our goal on time, if not earlier than expected. Our efforts have reduced air pollution, electrical and water consumption, deforestation, toxins in our landfills, and computer congestion. Additionally, our costs for electricity, water, paper, and waste have been reduced.

Of all the programs that you’ve done in sustainability, which one has surprised you – something that you found truly innovative or was a good learning experience for you personally?
The Office Supply Swap is one of our successful and engaging programs. Our employees love this mini one-day office flea market. After all, what is one man’s garbage is another man’s gold!

Additionally, Verizon holds recycling rallies where both employees and community members can recycle their electronic waste. We recognize the pervasive problem of electronic waste and understand our role in reducing the amount of waste thrown into our landfills. Since 2009, our Recycling Rallies have kept over 800K pounds out of landfills.

Another great initiative is our whiteboard program. This program also aims at reducing waste. Each Verizon call center employee uses around 67 pages of paper per month. In order to reduce the amount of paper used, an employee suggested using whiteboards to write down notes instead of notebook paper.  If the entire Lincoln Call Center uses our whiteboards, more than 4,100 pounds of paper – the equivalent of saving 162 trees per year.  And this is just ONE call center.

Overall, carbon minimization from this campaign has achieved a reduction of 188,310 pounds. Each of these initiatives have been extremely successful  with engaging employees  and reducing our company’s overall environmental impact.

Why did you get into this space – social impact in the corporate space?  What led you to this role?
Personally, I have five children who have grown up teaching me about ‘going green’.  It’s always been something important at home.  Now we’re able to talk about environmental issues in the business world too.  I think that’s part of the reason that many of our employee engagement efforts focus on encouraging green practices at home too.

There’s an ongoing conversation about transforming corporate philanthropy so that it’s more focused, and geared towards long-term investments, less so about charity.  How do you feel that Verizon is doing this, going beyond just charity and looking at innovative programs for impact?  Do any of the programs that you have currently echo this?
Verizon’s philanthropic arm, the Verizon Foundation, has been very focused on giving not for charity, but for long-term investments and to truly make a positive impact on society… our community.

Exemplifying this priority, the Verizon Foundation gave a grant of $90,000 recently so Clean Air-Clean Planet’s university carbon measurement excel spreadsheet can be web-based (and more user friendly).

Clean Air-Clean Planet’s calculator is already used by over 2,000 colleges and universities. Through Verizon’s grant, the measurement capabilities developed through this organization (called the Campus Carbon Calculator) can be improved in order to have a greater impact and be more easily accessible to  not only more university looking for solutions for wide carbon reduction, but corporate campuses too.

The big story in the developing world has been using mobile phones for social impact.  Do you see that happening in America where ICT4D seems to happening at a slower pace?  Does Verizon have any projects that use the mobile device itself for social impact? (the telemedicine program in VA, for example)
For five years now, Verizon has collected and donated over 1 million used phones to HopeLine, an organization that assists people affected by domestic violence. Verizon’s partnership with Hopeline helps many people in need of the added security cellular phones provide. This recycling program also innovatively reduces electronic waste. This component of our electronic waste minimization plan has produced both socially and environmentally beneficial results.

Additionally, the Verizon Foundation has recently awarded a $20,000 grant to the Department of Nursing at the University of Virginia-Wise for the development of telehealth curricula. The goal is to teach nursing students how to use telehealth capabilities. Telehealth can connect patients in rural areas with top-notch medical resources. This capability can provide the much need medical attention rural inhabitants may not normally receive.

E-Waste is a growing problem and is on the Verizon agenda.  Is there anything we can do other than simply donating old phones for recycling?  How can we truly address the root of the problem –  electronic devices that don’t last long and need to be replaced every year?
Recycling electronic devices is very important. Not only can these devices be donated to victims at Hopeline, but they can also be taken apart and used in the production of new phones. Additionally, the purchase of an eco-friendly cell phone is a fantastic alternative to a “normal” phone. The Motorola Citrus, for example, is a chic phone with minimal impact on the environment. It’s the world’s first certified carbon neutral smartphone. Verizon also has many options for set top box users to reduce energy consumption and recycle their old boxes.“Green” devices also save our customers’ money too!


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