“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.
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.”