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Category: Sustainability

Salesforce turns the San Francisco skyline green

Soon, the tallest building in San Francisco also will be the greenest. The 61-story Salesforce Tower opened its doors in early 2018 and is about to undergo construction of the largest on-site water recycling system in a commercial high-rise in the United States.

“Offices can be a physical expression of our values,” said Patrick Flynn, MBA ’12, senior director of sustainability at Salesforce. “The blackwater system was a natural fit for our mission.”

Blackwater? It’s wastewater from toilets, as distinguished from greywater, which comes from other household uses, like bathwater. Salesforce is installing the system in collaboration with the City of San Francisco and Boston Properties, and it’s expected to reduce the building’s water consumption by 76 percent and save up to 30,000 gallons of fresh water a day—that’s 7.8 million gallons a year, equivalent to the water consumption of 16,000 San Francisco residents annually.

The water-recycling infrastructure will take about six months to install, after which municipal agencies will perform extensive water quality tests. Salesforce expects the system to be up and running by early 2019. The building will collect water from a rooftop rainwater system, cooling towers, showers, sinks, and toilets then process it in a centralized treatment center to prepare it for reuse in toilets and drip irrigation systems.

Goal: 100% renewable energy

Flynn notes that Salesforce is committed to incorporating sustainability into all areas of its business. The company’s goal is to achieve 100 percent renewable energy over the next few years by building to LEED standards whenever possible and increasing its investment in virtual power purchase agreements.

Founded in an apartment on Telegraph Hill more than 18 years ago, Salesforce is now San Francisco’s largest tech employer. “We may have grown as a company over the years,” a company statement notes, “but our commitment to improving the state of the world through our business has never wavered. At Salesforce, real estate is more than architecture and design, it’s about creating a positive impact on all of our key stakeholders, including employees, partners, customers, communities, and the environment.”

Read the MIT Sloan News article.

Learn more about the project.






Graphic: Salesforce

Moving on your sustainability agenda

Sustainability has become an imperative for organizations, but when it comes to moving forward on that agenda, many are lost about where to begin. What can an organization do to become more energy efficient? What can manufacturers do to preserve water? What are the best practices for recycling in a large organization?

The ambitious cross-sector online platform SHIFT is making it easier for leaders of organizations large and small and at all stages of development to “hardwire” sustainability into their organizations. A collaboration led by the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan and the management consulting firm Valutus, SHIFT is helping leaders to improve the trajectory of their progress.

SHIFT allows site visitors to search for tools according to the business goal they’re trying to achieve and to forge a path to implementation that’s right for their individual organizations. The sustainability frameworks and environmental, social, and governance resources on offer have been carefully curated by MIT Sloan’s team of researchers and practitioners.

Visitors to the site can search for resources by:

  • Sector (food and beverage; agribusiness, consumer products, energy, finance, healthcare, IT, infrastructure, retail, mining and metals)
  • Environmental issue (chemicals, energy, water, biodiversity, materials, waste, climate, land use)
  • Social issue (human rights, labor, diversity and inclusion, health and safety)
  • Governance (public policy, investor relations, executive management)
  • Job function (supply chain, human resources, operations, manufacturing, facilities, procurement)

One of the characteristics that sets SHIFT apart is its vast network. SHIFT is essentially a community of practitioners working together to curate and review tools based on their own experiences. The community includes hundreds of organizations—from multinationals like AT&T and Levi Strauss to nonprofits like the 2030 Water Resources Group and the New Climate Institute, from industry groups like the American Institute of Architects and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to government organizations like the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

SHIFT effectively crowd sources intelligence from organizations around the world, and as the number of contributors grows, so does the relevance and importance of SHIFT as a resource.

Check out the SHIFT website.

Read more about MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative.

Pioneering water recycling technology wins MIT $100K grand prize

Every day, four thousand children die because they don’t have access to clean water. That stark fact is what drove the winning innovation at this year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition on May 14. “The water crisis is only getting worse,” says Maher Damak, PhD ’17, cofounder of Infinite Cooling, the grand-prize winner. “Our mission is to help solve the water crisis and save power plants $10 billion a year.”

Nearly 40 percent of all the water drawn from lakes and rivers in the United States goes to thermoelectric power plants. Water is continuously dumped into cooling towers, where some evaporates to cool the remaining water. A 250-megawatt power plant spends $5 million on water every year and consumes an amount equivalent to 100,000 residential users.

Infinite Cooling is developing a system—based on Damak’s mechanical engineering thesis—that captures and recycles the vaporized water from thermoelectric power plants. The recycled water would be reused continuously in the plant’s cooling system

saving millions of gallons—and dollars—annually. The team estimates that its collector could capture 80 percent of the liquid water droplets in the air and cut a power plant’s water consumption by 20 to 30 percent. And the newly potable water could be shipped to water-scarce areas.

2018 Clean Energy Prize winner

Backed, in part, by funding from the MIT Tata Center for Technology and some of the country’s leading startup competitions—including the Clean Energy Prize—Infinite Cooling has developed a system that can be retrofitted on top of cooling towers, where it captures escaping water vapor. The system also eliminates the need for treating the water with thousands of gallons of chemicals before it’s recycled.

Cofounder and co-inventor Karim Khalil, PhD ’17, noted that because their device is able to collect this pure, recondensed water, “not only do we reduce the evaporated losses, but also [reduce] costly water-treatment requirements.” The startup is planning a seed round by the end of the year and a Series A in 2020. It is also exploring applications of its technology in refineries and chemical plants.

Now in its 29th year, MIT’s iconic entrepreneurship competition is run by MIT students and supported by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Sloan School of Management. In the final round, eight teams pitched concepts to a crowded audience and to a judging panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts. Steve Conine, cofounder and co-chairman of e-commerce giant Wayfair was the keynote speaker.

Watch the Infinite Cooling video.

Read the MIT News article about Infinite Cooling’s 100K win.

Read MIT Sloan’s coverage of the event.

A Spinout with Olympic Impact

When the International Olympic Committee settled on Vancouver for the 2010 games, Bruce Dewar, MOT ’92, wanted to make sure the region could survive it. Host cities have suffered devastating economic fallout, and Dewar was determined that the Vancouver Games would give back to the community as much as it reaped.

As CEO of 2010 Legacies Now, he developed and supported projects to help British Columbia leverage the games to strengthen local communities—an effort that the International Olympic Committee has lauded as best practice. Today, seven years after the event, Dewar is still tapping the impact of the Games. In 2011 he launched a venture philanthropy organization called LIFT Philanthropy Partners that grew out of the new enterprise climate generated by the Olympic Games.

LIFT invests in building the capacity, sustainability, and impact of charities, nonprofits, and social enterprises working to remove barriers to health, education, and employment for vulnerable Canadians. Dewar, who is president and CEO, says that LIFT is improving the fabric of society. “We’re building self-sufficiency. We’re building confidence. We’re building support networks.”

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Social responsibility must be a team effort

You’re a founder of a new enterprise and one of your top priorities is social and environmental responsibility. Your management team, however, can’t think of anything but the balance sheet.  By year’s end, your bottom line is healthy, but you don’t feel your new enterprise has contributed much to society.

It’s a common dilemma that comes down to a core disconnect that many founders don’t think to look for when pulling together their C-suites. But compatibility surrounding worldview, ethical issues, and dedication to social responsibility can be as important to the success of a business as professional qualifications.

Gustavo Mamão, SF ’11, founder of the Brazilian startup Flourish, which guides entrepreneurs in the creation of mission-driven organizations, has always focused on businesses that demonstrate how a company dedicated to a better world can also be profitable. But it’s an ethic, he says, that the whole management team must get behind. “The extent to which a business embraces sustainability and environmental goals is something that should be decided among founders and investors in the earliest days of the enterprise.”

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What’s in that apple? Elif Buluç can tell you.

Don’t think that digital tools can bring you closer to nature? Elif Buluç SF ’08, might be able to convince you otherwise. Buluç is CFO of Anadolu Etap, Turkey’s largest fruit producer and distributor. The company processed 162,000 tons of fruit last year purchased from 150,000 farmers in 3,000 villages across the country. It’s also the first Turkish agribusiness executing its operations within the framework of sustainable agriculture principles.

elifBuluç says that software innovations are making it possible for Anadolu Etap to disclose the specific origins of every piece of produce it brings to market. “The only way to better know the provenance of a piece of fruit is to pick it yourself,” she says. The company worked with a digital development firm to create a revolutionary new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system that gives the company the ability to monitor every aspect of the growing and processing of fruit.That traceability means that the company—and its consumers—are able to learn where and how the fruit or fruit product was produced.

“Knowing the origins of what they’re eating is important to today’s consumers,” Buluç says. “They worry about safety—especially the safety of the fruit, juice, and baby food they feed their children. Every step of our growing process is digitally recorded, so we can vouch for the full life cycle of every single piece of fruit. That makes full disclosure possible and gives our customers a sense of comfort.”

Monitoring the life cycle of a piece of fruit

The ERP system integrates information from three business units: operating plantations for the growth of fruit (more than 100 varieties), producing processed fruit for the makers of fruit juice and baby food, and selling fresh fruit for consumption. The analysis it generates informs management about the production of every piece of fruit at every plot at every Anadolu Etap plantation as well as the costs and outcomes of production, how much labor was used to produce each crop, climate conditions, and other essential metrics. “We can compare and contrast the success of various methods of planting and processing and quickly course-correct when necessary,” Buluç says. “We learn something every day that allows us to maximize our harvests, boost our productivity, and design new plantations with those lessons in mind.”

Buluç says that she has new reasons to be excited every day about the advances Anadolu Etap is able to achieve because of the continual flow of digital knowledge. “When people think digital, they think it’s a substitute for the human factor. But our digital tools have everything to do with the human factor. They connect the entire Anadolu Etap family, from climate scientists and agronomists to workers in the fields and processing plants. Everyone is part of this network—including the consumer. It’s now possible for us to draw a direct line from the farmer to the consumer. When someone eats a pomegranate that we grow, they know exactly which little rural farm brought it to life.”

Read more about Anadolu Etap’s digital quality control system.

Moving a company forward with system dynamics

Patricia Winand, SF ’13, Senior VP of Sales & Marketing, Americas at Close the Loop, first started ruminating about loops when she studied system dynamics (SD) as an MIT Sloan Fellow. “For me, SD was love at first sight because I am a very spatial person, and my brain responds best to visual stimuli. The graphic explanation of a complex problem makes it so clear.”

Ctl1The beauty of system dynamics, Winand says, is that it is a wise combination of simplicity and analytical power. But although she enjoyed learning the technique, she wasn’t sure she knew how she might use the tool in the real world. “The professor who taught the course was a master at the subject, but my million-dollar question was: how can a mere mortal do it?”

After graduation, Winand realized that, indeed, system dynamics could be second nature. She found that the course had changed her mindset and that she was using SD automatically when analyzing problems and identifying their root causes. Then she joined an Australian-based company called Close The Loop (CtL), which seemed like kismet, given that it was all about loops—in this case, the recycling loop. CtL turns used printer cartridges into other products.

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The U.S. Postal Service goes green

The prevailing misconception toward the green-oriented world is that sustainable practices are something of an ideological luxury. Organizations are quickly coming to realize, however, just how wayward that myth is. The U.S. BrennanPostal Service, for example, saved $52+ million in 2012 alone with green initiatives. CEO of the USPS, Megan Brennan, SF ’03, says that the economic success of those efforts illustrates that sustainability can be as much a financial boon as an environmental benefit when tackled strategically.

With a 25% decline in mail volume over the last decade or so, the USPS has seen a severe cut in revenue. Even the federal government has gone over to e-commerce. To make up the shortfall, the postal service has been aggressive at cutting costs—and many of those savings have been driven by comprehensive facility energy projects.

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