From the Weather Channel's low-flow toilets and waterless urinals that helped the company cut water usage by 20% in one year to HGTV's newly certified green building, the cable industry is doing a lot behind the scenes to enhance sustainability and combat climate change. Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable take you into the offices of three channels and one cable system to introduce readers to this year's Green Team.
VH1's Lydecker: 'Mountains of Waste'
When VH1 hired Margaret Lydecker, an environmental consultant with no television experience, to assess how to make the network's productions more green, Lydecker had no idea what to expect.
“I didn't imagine the scale of the production until I got there,” she said of last spring's VH1's Rock Honors. Lydecker, 38, found on-site generators running constantly for fear they wouldn't turn back on at showtime; an overwhelming flow of paper for constant updates on the program's rundown; and, of course, the waste — starting with plastic water bottles.
“The massive amount of people descending on [the location] and the intensity of the craziness, in particular during the last 48 hours — a company really has to have goals in place, but everything has been done one way for years, so you just can't stop the machine,” she said. “You have to work within the system and take a gentle approach.”
For the Critics' Choice Awards in January, Lydecker, who grew up in the Adirondack Mountains and founded the international environmental networking event Green Drinks, tried small touches. For instance, she asked everyone on the set to put an identifying sticker on their water bottle.
“People would say, 'Frank, here's yours,' and people would finish the bottle or even refill it, instead of it just getting tossed.”
But she also pushed for some major changes — the generators were shut down for four nights prior to the show and rundowns were printed on double-sided paper. The network also bought high-recycled content copy paper as much as possible.
Lydecker also called officials in Santa Monica, Calif., and found a recycling program in place — the city provided specific bins for the set and even explained that there was a food composting program and a way to recycle batteries. The production recycled 1,235 pounds of trash, composted 275 pounds of food and recycled 10 pounds of batteries. Best of all, she said, “Everyone started getting really excited.”
Nearly all VH1 staffers at the Ritz-Carlton participated in an effort to conserve water and energy by turning off air conditioners and lights and by requesting (on cards made of recycled paper) to not have towels, sheets and soap replaced each day.
“People started saying, 'we can do this' and 'why not try that' — it was like confession,” Lydecker said. “They vented a lot of feelings because they wanted to contribute so I went to the senior team and said it would behoove you to do something everyone can participate in.”
Now, VH1 has brought her inside. Lydecker was impressed that the company used eco-friendly cleaning materials; was getting rid of Styrofoam cups in favor of recycled paperboard; distributed solar-powered backpacks at Christmas; and put an energy-usage meter on each floor, giving a prize to the one that saved the most energy each month. However, an internal survey revealed that although 95% of VH1 employees recycled at home, only 60% of them did so at work, often due to confusion about where to put things.
“We have created green teams to help people out and we are taking other small steps,” Lydecker said.
But despite the gentle approach, ultimately she believes people must change their behavior, forgoing bottles of water for old-fashioned tap water. And she says they will once they understand where their behavior leads.
“We have to make them connect their bottles to the mountains of waste and get them to feel responsible,” she said. And if they don't? “The company will have to set rules and create policies limiting some of the things people can have.”
Turner's Holland: An Outlook at Work
Betsy Holland was already looking to change the world — as overseer of Turner Broadcasting System's community-outreach programs, that was her job description.
But over the past two years, her outreach efforts have taken on a more specific focus: Saving the world from the risks posed by climate change.
“I saw An Inconvenient Truth and I was just part of a trend of becoming more educated and aware,” she said. “I changed my own behavior. I'd been driving a Chevy Tahoe and I changed to a Honda Fit. I became a big recycler.”
But Holland, 32, also took her new outlook to work. Outreach programs had occasionally dealt with environmental issues, but now the Atlanta-area native wanted to ratchet up Turner's focus on the issue. “I asked if I could just add this [task] to my job description,” she said. She is now Turner's manager of community relations and corporate sustainability.
Knowing that she “did not know 2% of what I needed to know,” Holland's first step was becoming more informed about what was being done and what could be done. Last October, she helped convene a “Green Team” that brought together 30 people from across the company to share information and ideas. The effect was immediate.
“The first thing we noticed was the lack of communication in the company,” she said, which meant that starting conversations often led to simple solutions. Turner had been throwing away all its copper wire to discourage dumpster divers. After Holland's committee brought together people from the technology, facilities and philanthropy arenas, the wire is now sold and the proceeds donated to charity.
“It was an easy fix, but the people were just not sitting at the same table,” she said.
And once the group started discussing the waste in the cafeteria (such as foam trays and plastic cups), vendor contracts were renegotiated. “Our employees saw the impact and the commitment of the company,” Holland said, and became more excited about sustainability.
To capitalize on that enthusiasm, Turner in February formed a task force for interested employees whose jobs didn't relate directly to sustainability.
And while the human resources department already had flexible carpool, vanpool and mass-transit programs in place, people were reluctant to give up the freedom of their cars, she noted. “The people who have used it are [so happy], so we need to get their stories out there,” Holland said, adding that there will be an increased emphasis on sharing information within the company. “Communication is one of our biggest focuses for 2008,” she said.
Nat Geo's Fletcher: Green Is In The DNA
You can't work for
National Geographic Channel and remain unaware of or unconcerned with environmental issues. After all, the National Geographic Society focused on green before the term existed and the company's headquarters is certified green, with wind power, low-flow toilets and even a composting program for excess food and paper towels from bathrooms.
The channel's co-owner, News Corp., is also extremely committed to the environmental cause with its “Cool Change” program.
“Being green is part of the DNA here,” said Nat Geo vice president of production services and network operations John Fletcher. Nearly half of all the channel's waste is recycled and furniture is made from sustainable resources — when it has outlived its usefulness, it is put out for anyone to take for their office, or even their home, to extend its life.
Like so many other eco-oriented executives around the television industry, Fletcher came at the issue because he was focused on efficiency, not on saving the planet.
“I come at it from an operations and engineering viewpoint,” said Fletcher, 44, who has lived in the Washington D.C. area his entire life. (He now lives in Montgomery County, which he says has a superb recycling program.) “That's the way I look at things in my personal life too. I see what's economical and energy efficient with something like our washer and dryer — you can see a real drop in water usage.”
At the channel, Fletcher has been working to reduce paper usage by purchasing double-sided printers and scanners that can allow the company to print fewer versions of contracts and other paperwork. (This would also reduce electricity in off-site storage facilities.)
And while Fletcher says that on environmental issues he usually learns from the folks at the society on the company's Go Green committee, this year he has undertaken an ambitious project of his own.
“One of my goals for this year is to figure out the carbon footprint for an hour of our programming — the editing, the packaging and the promoting,” he said. “Once we know that we can find offsets for it, and once we identify the process, we can see if there are ways we can reduce the footprint internally.”
It's a big first step but it doesn't tackle the actual impact of show production, which Fletcher acknowledges. “After that, maybe we'll move on to working with the production companies,” he said.
Cox Conserves: Company-wide drive
Everyone sings the praises of grassroots efforts, but when leadership is strong and vital, a top-down effort can also be powerful.
Cox Communications and its parent company, Cox Enterprises, have undertaken an ambitious and far-ranging program called “Cox Conserves.” The driving force behind it all: the man at the top, CEO Jim Kennedy.
“This company is often more we than I, but this time I did decide to make a big push,” Kennedy said. He hopes to change not only the workplace, he said, but the personal and home habits of his 83,000 employees, possibly even via financial incentives.
“We're a private company, so everything doesn't have to translate into quarter-by-quarter earnings,” said Kennedy. “Still, most employees really want to do something for the environment but they are hesitant because of concerns that it might cost more or look ugly. But if I open the door for them, they can all follow through.”
Kennedy has long donated to environmental organizations and has been funding an effort to turn the boarding school he attended in Hawaii into one of the greenest campuses in America. Five years ago at Cox, he decreed that parking-spot priority would go not to the biggest bosses but to the most fuel-efficient cars (or carpool participants).
“Now, the whole ground floor of the garage is taken over by fuel-efficient cars and you still have to get there by 8:15 to get a spot,” he said. “I think we have effected some change in people's habits.”
There wasn't a single epiphany that prompted the launching of Cox Conserves last year, but Kennedy said turning 60 and becoming a grandfather led him to think, “What's going on here? We have to do better.”
Gil Rapley, vice president of field operations in Cox's San Diego system, was inspired by Kennedy's initiative. “When he started talking about this, saying, 'This is important to me,' I said to myself, 'I get that,' because it's something I felt but would never have put it together that way,” said Rapley. The 52-year-old grew up in the Ozark Mountains loving the outdoors, but has formal training in industrial engineering and approaches green projects from an efficiency-oriented perspective.
“We've had many initiatives to reduce our costs in fuel or electricity that are good for business, but there's a growing sense that we have to become good corporate citizens,” he said. “We're at a tipping point now.”
Since 2000, Cox Enterprises has reduced its energy consumption by 10% while growing at an annual rate of nearly 12%. But now, with Kennedy's big stand, the goal of Cox Conserves is to reduce the company's energy consumption by an additional 20% by 2017. Cox's plans are company-wide and nationwide, ranging from a push to get vendors to use paperless invoices to putting green goals into all system business plans, and from a green telework call-center program in Arizona to HVAC controls for window shielding in New England and Florida.
Inspired by relatively strong tax incentives, Cox Communications installed a $650,000 solar power system on the roof of its Orange County system headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The photovoltaic system uses nearly 600 roof-mounted panels, eliminating about 100 tons of greenhouse gasses each year.
“It was something we've wanted to do, but that we didn't have the budget for here,” said Orange County's facilities manager Dave Deweese.
Deweese, 43, said that he has long aimed for greener results, but before Cox Conserves, there was always a primary emphasis on payback and return on investment, which limited his options. “Now we look at things differently,” he said. “It's also just about the impact a project will have on the environment.”
Sharon Smith, vice president of people services in the Orange County system, volunteered to be the market's Cox Conserves ambassador. In addition to the solar panels, Smith said, Cox Orange County has undertaken several other efforts:
Installing GPS systems in company cars to reduce driving distances.
Adding high-quality, permanent air filters to those vehicles to improve gas mileage.
Creating a vanpool program and paying for drivers' gasoline.
Eliminating all bottled water and juices in employee meetings.
“We want to set a good example for people to change their behavior in the building and at home,” said Smith, 53. “That was both symbolic and real. We eliminated 10,000 bottles a year.”
Down the road a stretch in San Diego, Rapley is overseeing an innovative program well-suited to that particular environment.
“Our offices in Poway, 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, are in an area that's semi-arid and has extreme heat in the summer,” he said. Thus, Cox has installed Ice Bear air conditioning from the Colorado-based Ice Energy company. The Ice Bear units create ice at night when electricity costs are less and the grid isn't working as hard; the ice is then stored for use during peak hours.
“At peak hours, the power companies have to bring in older plants which have a higher carbon footprint, so this is not just a cost savings, it helps the environment,” Rapley said, adding that the company is working with San Diego Gas and Electric on the project. He hopes to see this expanded to all nine technical and six administrative buildings in the market and then copied elsewhere — just as he hopes to someday have solar power in San Diego.
Like Orange County, San Diego also has plans to reduce vehicle mileage, including allowing employees to take vehicles home so they don't have to drive into the office before making their first trip.
Cox's Oklahoma City division is converting its fleet of cars to hybrids and, like other businesses, working on replacing Styrofoam coffee cups with recyclable cups or mugs. But that Cox system also has some other unique projects and partnerships, said vice president of sales Rick Schultz
“Our next level is a lot more fun and fulfilling,” said Schultz, 42, a St. Louis native. Cox has teamed with the city government's waste management agency, the public schools and Midland Recycling on a pilot program to get some schools to recycle and to cut down on Styrofoam.
“Midland is a customer of ours and we're a customer of theirs,” Schultz said. “They donated bins and are picking up the recyclables, Cox is bringing everyone together and contributing money, the waste management people have helped coordinate and the principals and teachers have gotten students to volunteer, turning it into a work study project.”
And he's moving on to other projects, including one with Midland Recycling that will enable people and companies to shred and recycle their paperwork.
“When you have a top-down initiative like Cox Conserves and the company you work for makes this a priority, things get done,” Schultz said.