BSR Conference 2012: Fast Forward / October 23-26 / New York

In Conversation with eBay: Getting to the “How” of Collaboration

Leadership in Action Session / October 25, 2012

Speakers

  • David London, Senior Director, U.S. State Government Relations, eBay Inc.
  • Lori Duvall, Global Director, Green, eBay Inc.
  • Jeremy Rodriguez, Data Center Distinguished Engineer, eBay Inc.
  • Ted Howes, Director, Advisory Services, BSR (Moderator)

Highlights

  • Sustainability is about internal as well as external engagement and collaboration. Often, the greatest challenges to finding sustainability solutions are the business unit silos in which we operate.
  • When working across business units to develop creative solutions, it’s imperative to come without an agenda. First, listen to and learn about the business priorities of colleagues as well as their challenges. Only then can trust be built, and only then can solutions be developed that are accepted across the organization.
  • At the end of the day, success is about sensitive and appropriate messaging. Working in sustainability, we can too easily be consumed by our own specific jargon, but this does not necessarily resonate with a community member, a local business owner, or a local government leader. To move the debate forward, we need to tailor our language to reach a diverse audience and speak to their issues.

Memorable Quotes

“This is a story about turning sustainability into a verb—internally, it’s about building relationships that facilitate collaboration to have a greater impact.” —Ted Howes, BSR

“The position of the sustainability team is about being an influencer, and much of this is understanding the business priorities. You have to spend the time to learn what the other teams are doing before you can be an advisor to them. —Lori Duvall, eBay, Inc.

“Don’t be afraid to go outside your own company, because you’ll find someone in a different company who has the same challenges and has thought about it in a different way.” —Jeremy Rodriguez, eBay, Inc.

Overview

EBay’s recent success in passing Senate Bill 12 in Utah demonstrates the results that can be achieved when solutions are borne out of internal and external collaboration. Signed on March 21, SB 12 allows companies to buy and transmit power directly from renewable energy developers. EBay lobbied for the bill in an effort to reduce its own dependence on coal energy sources.

This story of collaboration started in two very distinct business units within eBay. As the Global Director of Green, Duvall was intent on reducing eBay’s carbon footprint, 50 to 60 percent of which was tied to eBay’s data centers. Rodriguez, as an engineer, was also looking at the data center’s energy consumption. “The ratio of coal to renewable energy was not where we wanted it to be,” Rodriguez explained. It was this shared interest that brought about an unlikely partnership. As Rodriguez and Duvall sought solutions, the team found that they were looking at not just technical barriers but legal restrictions to sourcing from renewable energy developers. At that point, Duvall and Rodriguez reached out to David London in eBay’s Government Relations unit.

London’s first task was to understand the Utah landscape. He discovered the state of Utah relies heavily on coal and has a powerful utility company. Additionally, Utah’s legislation session is short, so bills must be heard, passed, or killed during a very short time. With those constraints, moving forward meant involving the right internal stakeholders and building external support. The team gained upper-management support by aligning the team’s objectives with the objectives of the company more broadly: Pursuing diversified energy sources would help the company keep its environmental objectives while also avoiding the risks inherent in sourcing coal. Involving other internal business units, such as corporate communications and finance, was similarly crucial. Internal success was entirely dependent on understanding peoples’ needs and business priorities within the company and finding ways to address them.

Externally, eBay proactively engaged utility companies in order to understand their concerns and address any misconceptions. Such external engagements demonstrated the importance of framing the debate around the economic opportunity rather than environmental benefits. The legislation eBay proposed ultimately focused on creating jobs, competition, and investments in the state. Increased opportunities for renewable energy would attract other large corporate actors in the industry.

Recognizing the success of eBay, Howes asked the panel how they expect to replicate this success in other regions. London explained that the bill will be presented at the next meeting of The Council of State Governments, which will raise awareness among other policy-makers. Beyond the political realm, eBay is sharing its lessons with others in the industry. “We all want data centers to be cleaner,” Duvall explained. “This is not an area of competition.”

During the question-and-answer session, one participant asked the panel whether eBay partnered with any local NGOs. Duvall explained that Utah Clean Energy was an important player that provided valuable insights on the local context. BSR’s Climate and Energy Manager Ryan Schuchard asked the team how the recent lessons will affect the location of data centers in the future. Rodriguez responded that the availability of renewable energy does figure into eBay’s considerations.

Howes closed the session by reminding the audience that “this is a story about turning sustainability into a verb—it’s about having internal relationships to build collaboration to build impact.”



Thank You, Sponsors

Executive Sponsors

Cisco Hitachi PwC Target UL Responsible Sourcing

Associate Sponsors

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Supporting Sponsors

Adobe AT&T ExxonMobil Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

Participating Sponsors

American Express Baker & McKenzie LLP Best Buy BNY Mellon Ford Hyatt Hotels Corporation The Walt Disney Company UPS Vale

Contributing Sponsors

Chevron icix Levi Strauss & Co.

Convening Media

Bloomberg Business Week Weber Shandwick

Marketing and Media

3BL Media BEF Caixin Media Corporate Knights Globescan GreenBiz Group Inc. Hemlock Responsible-Investor Sina Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Tomorrow Partners