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Management in Practice

Does a ‘Both/And’ Approach Work in Sustainability?

Tradeoffs are an inevitable part of doing business. And sustainability work in particular involves spending a great deal of time in the tug of war of competing priorities. Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens USA, discussed that company’s efforts to minimize tradeoffs.

A recent report from World Wildlife Fund noted that 43% of the companies in the Fortune 500 have set goals related to climate change or clean energy. But integrating sustainability goals into business operations is a challenge.

For instance, renewable energy could be a clear win-win if its cost comes down below that of fossil fuels. However, the demand for more sustainable energy may be outstripping supply. Companies seeking to buy renewable energy from large utilities are finding their options limited, according to Fortune. While they are sometimes able to piece together deals with smaller players, that creates unwanted complexity. Twelve major companies, including Walmart, GM, Facebook, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Intel, have endorsed principles that they think will help push toward a solution.

Yale Insights talked with Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens USA, about how that company seeks to unite good business and sustainability. “We see sustainability as part of our overall corporate strategy. It also can drive competitive advantage,” he said. Spiegel points to the company’s portfolio of products that support energy and water conservation as well as CO2 reduction.

According to Spiegel, as a 160-year-old company, Siemens understands the value of a longer time frame. It seeks to develop technology for a range of energy sources. “We are pushing on all the avenues, because you just don’t know what is going to happen in the world and what breakthroughs are going to happen in various technologies,” Spiegel said. As an example, he noted that despite the loudest of the buzz having faded on clean coal, carbon capture, and sequestration, Siemens continues working on options. “Coal is going to be around for a long, long time. We need to think about ways we can make coal more competitive and cleaner and how we can capture and sequester or use other technologies for limiting the CO2.”

And the same push for incremental improvement is happening with renewables. “We spend a lot of our effort driving down the cost of these technologies and making them more effective,” Spiegel said. Today, wind power, in certain places, is competitive with natural gas. He added, “No one would have thought that 5, 6, 7, 8 years ago.”