Reflecting green customer initiatives Featured

3:04pm EDT June 23, 2011
Sarah Hansen, Director of Sustainability, MACTEC Inc. Sarah Hansen, Director of Sustainability, MACTEC Inc.

When a company’s projects include cleaning nuclear reactor test sites, building clean coal power plants and restoring wildlife habitats, you don’t have to look too deep into its operations to label it sustainable.

But environmental services alone weren’t good enough anymore for MACTEC Inc., which was recently acquired by international engineering and project management firm AMEC plc. Both inside the company and out, people started asking what really made it so sustainable.

“Whereas answers like, ‘Yes, we provide sustainable solutions,’ may have been acceptable in the past, people want you to demonstrate today how and what it is you do, both internally and externally,” says MACTEC Director of Sustainability Sarah Hansen.

As the conversation around sustainability matures from environmental generalities to business specifics, leaders like Hansen keep up by walking the talk, both through operations and projects. After all, industry credibility and image are on the line — not to mention client shareholder value.

“Our clients have certain expectations of a company that they hire because their stakeholders have certain expectations of them. It’s somewhat of a flow-down,” she says. “The ability for us to say, ‘Yes, we’ve been able to reduce our water use. Yes, we’ve been able to improve our recycling program,’ — we are asked those questions as part of proposal processes. Our internal performance does feed directly into what clients are asking of us.”

To answer some of those questions proactively, MACTEC released its first Sustainability Report, detailing the company’s accomplishments through 2010 and outlining plans and metrics for moving forward. It was a way of actively engaging dialogue around the question: How is your company sustainable?

“The scope of the question has expanded beyond health and safety, diversity, wellness, cost savings, risk reduction, etc.; today it is an integrated ‘sustainability’ perspective that seeks to measure organizational behavior and service delivery in terms of social responsibility, environmental stewardship, and economic benefit,” the report reads. “The challenge in measuring sustainability in our projects is establishing a shared understanding with our clients of what is to be measured and the expectations of performance.”

Building the big picture

MACTEC’s leadership had to connect the dots of sustainability’s shifts to be able to lay out expectations for clients. The first step was defining what sustainability meant and how it would be measured, inside the organization and out.

“We at MACTEC see it as having a responsibility to see that future generations have the resources they need to grow and prosper. That’s the global perspective, and everybody’s going to say something similar to that,” Hansen says. “More locally, sustainability means providing a preferred workplace for our employees, creating value for our shareholders, improving our community and preserving the environment through what we do.”

Most companies have general commitments, but MACTEC went one step further by breaking sustainability into three pillars that would be used to measure it, both operationally and through client projects.

“With sustainability, it’s a balance between the economics of the situation, the environmental impact and the social impacts,” she says.

When it came to measuring sustainability on a project-by-project basis, then, Hansen looked at three criteria within each of those three elements. For a project to pass the test, it had to satisfy at least one from each category:

  • Social responsibility: enhancing community stability, health and welfare, and aesthetics
  • Environmental stewardship: resource conservation, habitat restoration and ecosystem diversity improvements
  • Economic benefit: avoid/save costs, avoid/mitigate risk and enable client goal

When it came to measuring sustainability internally, Hansen wanted to give employees more concrete areas where they could control each office’s footprint. She surveyed each office last year about energy and water use, waste management, recycling and general facility management — and identified this list of Operational Sustainability Indicators:

  • Green cleaning
  • Energy-efficient lighting
  • Programmable thermostats
  • Access to public transportation
  • Energy sub-metering
  • Ride sharing
  • Work from home
  • Energy Star
  • Flow-limiting devices
  • Water sub-metering
  • Recycling

For sustainability to truly live top-down in the organization, Hansen had to engage the local levels around these areas to contribute to that bigger picture. So she set the expectation that each office would create its own sustainability plan to implement at least one environmental improvement project. She measured them quarterly, using the shared indicators, and expected to see return on investment in less than three years.

The challenge was turning a general commitment to sustainability into a specific strategic plan that held people accountable. How do you do that?

“The big answer is you have to change the culture,” Hansen says. “And to change the culture requires strong governance in conjunction with committed leadership. At MACTEC, we have the directional support from the board. Our senior leadership provides a vision. My team translates that vision into a structure with roles and responsibilities.”

The CEO appoints senior leaders to the Corporate Sustainability Team to advise and assist Hansen in decision-making. From there, responsibility branches out to office managers, who make sure that sustainability plans and projects are implemented — largely through the efforts of Green Ambassadors. Those local champions serve as key links in Hansen’s communication chain.

“We have an internal structure around sustainability that has accountability and responsibility assigned to each office,” she says. “That sustainability plan is approved by that local operations manager, and so he’s held accountable for meeting that plan — just like a financial plan. But locally, the Green Ambassador has the responsibility for seeing that it gets done.”

But the responsibility doesn’t stop there. Starting this year, every single employee is accountable.

“Beginning in 2011, every employee will be measured on sustainability metrics that we’ve established,” Hansen says. “In our annual appraisal process when every manager sits down to review employees’ performance for 2011, there’s two line items that deal with sustainability. Each employee will have to show how they contributed locally and corporately to the success of our sustainability initiatives.”

Achieving the specifics

Once an organization has the structure — both people and plans — to take on sustainability projects, you still have the challenge of, well, doing it.

And when you lease your office space — like all but one of MACTEC’s properties, which range from two to 200 employees each — you have yet another challenge when it comes to greening your internal operations.

“Because we’re in leased spaces and our offices are variable in size, we have the challenge that some of our offices don’t have transparency on the utilities. It’s an all-in type of lease; we just pay one lump sum that covers energy, water, etc.,” Hansen says. “If you can’t measure it, it’s kind of hard to improve it — except in a qualitative way.”

Aware of this, she built the expectations so that leased offices could still control local sustainability programs, even when they couldn’t measure them.

“At those locations where we have that limited to zero visibility on water and energy use, we look for them to implement what we call best practices, common sense measures: shutting the lights off if you’re not there, only running water when you need it,” she says “The simple things — you know that has to help but you just can’t measure how much that helps.”

Here are a few examples of the big savings MACTEC could measure by taking some of these small steps:

  • Energy use: Just by installing motion sensors and reminding employees to turn off lights, one location cut energy use by 1030 KwH. Another reduced consumption by 18 percent, saving $2,500 just through the third quarter. After replacing an aging HVAC system, another office estimated 2010 cost savings of $70,000 and annual cost avoidance of more than $120,000. Others installed programmable thermostats, more efficient lighting, blinds and awnings and Energy Star appliances.

  • Water use: By installing low-flow devices on fixtures and toilets inside and rain sensors on sprinklers outside, one office saved 131,000 gallons of water, reducing operating costs by about $1,800.

  • Waste management: In addition to recycling paper, aluminum, plastic, cardboard, electronics and toner cartridges, the company identified nearly 100 items it could replace with items containing recycled content. About 30 percent of the offices pursued green cleaning, and 75 percent eliminated Styrofoam use.

  • Paper reduction: At one office, delivering just two projects electronically saved more than 200 reams of paper. Another office saved an estimated 90 minutes of printing and binding time per project by going paperless. Furthermore, the accounts payable and procurement departments began requesting that suppliers submit invoices electronically — which will not only reduce supply and postage costs but also ensure quick delivery.

Through simple projects like these, 76 percent of MACTEC’s offices achieved their 2010 sustainability goals. They invested a total of $15,000 — but by the end of the year, they already exceeded the estimated three-year ROI. The company ended up saving around $80,000.

But it’s not just about saving money, especially if you look at it from your customers’ perspective. What’s in it for them? By revenue, 77 percent of the company’s projects helped clients reduce or eliminate an environmental risk last year, which translated into improved shareholder value for them. When sustainability results from your commitment to meet client expectations, it’s a win-win situation.

“You’re bringing new ideas in, you’re solving problems with a lot of minds that come at things from different perspectives,” Hansen says. “That’s really what’s at the core of advancing sustainability, because oftentimes what happens is innovation results. With innovation, you’ve done something cheaper, better, faster — and that’s what it’s all about.”

How to reach: MACTEC Inc., (877) 762-2832 or