Verizon’s CSO James Gowen: Sustainability Matters for Our Children’s Future

Posted on July 20, 2012 · Posted in PK Metals Blog

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It was evident that from the beginning of the conversation that James Gowen, Verizon’s Chief Sustainability Officer, loves his job.  “I care deeply about sustainability because my children will be affected by my work,” said Gowen. “Everyone can relate to the fact that sustainability initiatives are crucial to the future of our kids, and the world.”

With a team of over 8,500 employee volunteers across the globe who help with sustainability initiatives, it is clear that Mr. Gowen, who is responsible for $2.5 billion in purchases and $500 million worth of inventory each year, has helped create a culture of corporate responsibility at Verizon. Gowen credits every employee at Verizon for the success of the sustainability initiatives, otherwise known as the “Network Effect” of collaborative influence.

“Verizon is in a natural position to take a leadership role in the sustainability space,” said Gowen. “ My goal is to tie sustainability and efficiency together to Verizon’s supply chain, and business model. We don’t want to go green for the sake of going green. My job is to create sustainability initiatives that make sense for our business and the environment.”

Near our 20 acre electronics and metal recycling facility on Long Island, we have seen firsthand Verizon’s commitment to sustainability. In 2010, Verizon unveiled five hybrid electric bucket trucks on Long Island as the first of 250 alternative energy vehicles to be used in New York.  These trucks will use between 750-1,500 fewer gallons of fuel annually and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 7-14 tons. And with more than 2,500 alternative-energy vehicles, Verizon cut its fuel consumption by 13 percent in 2011 vs. 2010.

Verizon is known for having one of the most fuel efficient fleets in the world, and we asked Mr. Gowen how Verizon views the alternative fuel space. “When we started our sustainability initiative in 2009, we were only .2% alternative fuel based. We are now closer to 7%.  But there is still a lot more to do.  I was recently invited to the White House, and was asked what some of the roadblocks to alternative energy are,” said Gowen. “Lack of infrastructure was the first thing that came to mind. Verizon currently has alternative fuel trucks on the road, and we are 100% committed to increasing their usage in the future. A more robust infrastructure for both electric and natural gas trucks will expedite the conversion.”

Verizon’s e-waste recycling has proven to be a game changer for the environment. Its aforementioned group of 8,500 volunteer employees, known as the Verizon Green Team, has helped collect and recycle more than 900,000 pounds of materials at community and employee recycling events since 2009. All of the set-top boxes it purchases  are now ENERGY STAR certified and the company was a pioneer several years ago when it began requiring its vendors to manufacture equipment that was 20 percent more energy efficient .

All in all, Verizon has cut its carbon intensity – which is the company’s main sustainability metric that measures the amount of energy it uses to transmit a single terabyte of data over its network – by more than 30 percent since 2010, and promises to cut it by 50 percent by 2020.

As my 23 year old chief of staff likes to remind me, young professionals are the next generation of business leaders, and are always looking for advice and guidance. I asked Mr. Gowen for two books that have had the biggest impact on his life and career.  He chose John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire. When asked if he could invite any four people to dinner, Gowen selected: Henry Ford, his grandfather, Pope John Paul II, and Lou Gehrig.

“We are at the cusp of an innovation revolution similar to the days of Henry Ford,” said Gowen. “ I am thrilled that Verizon is at the forefront of this industry. Stay tuned for more, the Sustainability team at Verizon is just getting started. Our children’s future depends on our success”