BOISE - As a corporate sustainability professional, John Bernardo walks a tightrope. Bernardo, an executive in residence at Boise State University’s College of Business and a sustainability strategist at Idaho Power, can’t identify himself with environmentalists in a state and industry where that group is viewed at best with suspicion. Yet he’s charged with saving money and energy at the state’s public/private utility, a place with a gigantic impact on Idaho’s carbon footprint and its future energy use.
So Bernardo, like his counterparts elsewhere in the corporate world, has come up with a formula that puts the financial benefits of sustainability first. He describes sustainability as a three-legged stool where the business, and its profits, are the seat. The legs – all the same length – are financial, environmental, and social considerations.
“I lead with, ‘What are the financial benefits from doing this project?’” Bernardo said.
At Idaho Power, projects include things like increasing Idaho Power’s reliance on renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. The company says its carbon dioxide emissions dropped 12 percent between 2015 and 2016, and the company now buys power from 47 independent solar and wind projects.
Bernardo belongs to a growing group in Idaho. Nationally, the idea of having a dedicated corporate sustainability leader on staff just started taking hold 12 to 15 years ago. The positions have multiplied rapidly in response to shareholder and customer pressure for things like ethnic diversity and better working conditions in the supply chain, and for the cost savings that come from saving energy. Last year, 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies produced a sustainability report, Bernardo said.
Nearly half the U.S. companies surveyed by Weinreb Group, a sustainability recruiting firm, reported they had increased sustainability positions in their organization in the last two years. The report, “State of the Profession 2016,” said companies were spending more on sustainability in functions such as supply chain and product innovation.
In Idaho, the J.R. Simplot Company hired its first dedicated sustainability director, Brandy Wilson, in April. Simplot was already well known in agribusiness for the energy-saving measures at its food processing plants, and the company has had corporate-wide energy savings goals for years.
Read more about Wilson and other sustainability directors online at the Idaho Business Review.