Written by Lauren Quillian
How do you make your company more sustainable? In search of the answer to this question, Adam Irwin, business development manager at juwi Wind, participated in the first ever Denver University Sustainability Leadership course.
Alongside 22 other business leaders, Adam learned how to integrate his company into the broader corporate sustainability movement through concrete and actionable strategies. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges for Adam was not that his company did not believe in sustainability, but exactly because it does. Thus, the sustainability course helped Adam answer the more difficult question: How do you convince a company founded on renewable energy development that there is a value-add to investing internally in sustainability?
Incorporating lessons from the esteemed professor, Hunter Lovins, Adam walked away from the course with the beginnings of a “Lean, Mean, and Green Plan” for juwi Wind’s Boulder office. Adam has designed the plan to a) build on the company’s sustainability background, b) prove the financial value of sustainability investments, and c) build organic support from colleagues.
The juwi Group was founded in 1996 by two German farmers who erected wind turbines on their family land. The owners firmly believe in renewable energy as a path to a sustainable future and have made the juwi Group a global leader in wind and solar energy. In 15 years, the company has grown to 1,700 employees across 5 continents.
Adam could boast a long list of impressive sustainability actions at the company’s headquarters in Wörrstadt, Germany: the building produces more energy than it consumes, and the company charters buses for employee commuting and builds human capital through a team-oriented and transparent work environment. Adam is increasingly focused on promoting similar sustainability efforts in juwi Wind’s Boulder office.
Given the juwi Group corporate history in renewable energy, Adam is not starting from scratch. But how does juwi Wind go from being a renewable energy company to a sustainably-managed company developing projects that deploy renewable technology? And why?
Proving the Financial Value
With a greater awareness of sustainable business practices, Adam’s plan will build a business case for sustainability that institutionalizes sustainability as a means to enhance profit. Through a simple opportunity cost analysis, Adam hopes to realize a 20% savings in budgeted overhead expenditures in the first year. The foregone overhead expense represents money to invest in the company’s front-line operations, which creates a multiplier effect on profits. Beyond financial metrics, Adam believes that the implementation of sustainability initiatives will improve profits through improvements in Human Resources metrics, such as reduced turn-over and easier hiring. Adam stressed the importance of starting with small, quantifiable, and achievable performance indicators. By achieving these goals, corporate executives will see the value in investing in the plan and a greener business model. Once its value is proven, the plan can begin to incorporate indicators that are more difficult to quantify.
The Leadership Course provided Adam with the foundation for an actionable sustainability plan and the goal of getting buy-in from below and above. Adam is now designing a simple, business-oriented sustainability plan that he hopes will empower his colleagues and show that sustainability promotes, rather than detracts from, the business model.
His 20 Boulder colleagues are also genuinely interested in his new knowledge and have been receptive to learning more. Adam has also shared his new vision for juwi Wind: “The growing awareness surrounding sustainability is quickly changing the way utilities and their customers use and understand energy. As a renewable energy solutions provider, we see our company becoming an increasingly important component of other companies’ sustainability plans. Therefore, we have a doubly-vested interest in sustainability, both in terms of how it can improve our financial success, and how we can help customers achieve their sustainability objectives.”
The DU Sustainability Leadership Course provided Adam with a toolbox to bring sustainability to his office. Adam says, in addition to the plan, the most valuable part of the course was learning how sustainability is viewed by the broader business community, and how participating in that community provides a way to improve internal operations and grow business. Adam thinks this course will be valuable to everyone, but particularly valuable to people in the manufacturing, transportation, logistics, extraction, and logistics industries, as well any company with international operations.