In conversation with Bloomberg’s Lee Ballin

This week edie talks to Bloomberg's sustainability manager, Lee Ballin, on the evolution of sustainability standards and what he thinks is "on the cusp" of being the next big sustainability issue.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

We are currently focused on setting goals, targets and strategy for BSustainable 2020 – our comprehensive commitment to considering environmental and social impacts, along with traditional economic analysis, in all aspects of the business decision making process. This commitment extends across product development, operations and our citizenship programs.

From the operating side, we will continue to identify opportunities to use less, invest in infrastructure improvements and develop onsite renewables. Those have been the cornerstone of our program since inception, and will continue to be. Our overarching goal, is to show the business community that you can achieve environmental returns without sacrificing financial returns – in fact, we believe companies who go through this exercise create financial savings and returns to the company’s bottom line, which you might not have realized had you not looked at the business through an environmental lens.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

I see companies stepping up and filling the void left by policy and government. I also see standards evolving, such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), to help guide companies in identifying the material sustainability issues within their industry and integrating that materiality into their financial reporting processes.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

Further integration of sustainability considerations into the business planning process and proving the value of sustainability across the firm. There is a constant education element of our job and the onus is on us to prove a project is worthy on a financial, environmental and social level. We are very lucky to have a ‘coalition of the willing’ and strong leadership support at Bloomberg to help the company achieve its sustainability goals. Many people that help us do not have sustainability as a formal part of their job description, but they find the time and the passion to help us. Without them the company couldn’t have achieved what it has.

What motivates you?

As cheesy as it might sound, my travels have taken me to some of the most beautiful natural habitats around the world – Zanzibar, Tanzania, San Blas Islands in Panama, Thailand, to name a few. The precarious situation that many of these habitats are finding themselves in due to climate change was my first motivator. As I have grown a family, the notion of leaving the world in a better manner than I inherited it for future generations to enjoy it as I have, motivates me today.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Interacting and learning from so many diverse people within our organization and being exposed to new opportunities every day. Additionally, achieving goals, such as our 50% carbon footprint reduction target, that we set for ourselves.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

I’m really excited about the new biofuels big airlines are working on and enhancements in the transportation sector in general. Companies like Bloomberg need to be in front of their customers and unfortunately, the amount of emissions from air travel aren’t easy to cut. It’s nice to see the airline industry taking a proactive approach. From a personal travel emission perspective the advances we’ve made on hybrid and PEV cars has really been exciting to watch. I think this is one area where government is spurring innovation here in the US, through the CAFE standards improvements that were enacted by the Obama administration, mandating a 54.5 mpg by 2025.

What’s the big focus over the next 12 months for the environment?

Reducing carbon and preserving water. I think water is on the cusp of being the next big topic, and not just for areas of the world where it’s expensive or scarce. It’s going to start permeating the main stream.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Measure, Measure, Measure. Until you go through the exercise of measuring all aspects of your company’s environmental impacts, risks and opportunities, you won’t know where to start, and the entire job can seem daunting. Once you start focusing on your biggest sustainability impacts, you will also identify your biggest sustainability opportunities. That’s when the fun starts.

What do you like most about your job?

The fact that I can do well by doing good. When I tell people what I work in sustainability, they look at me strangely, but then I boil it down and tell them that I help implement recycling and composting programs at our offices, do lighting retrofits and project manage large solar installations to power our offices. Then their eyes light up and ask “how do I get a job like that”. I’m lucky. I have a cool job.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

The pace at which some of this stuff takes to implement. Our solar field took nearly 2 years from the idea phase to turning on the power. There are so many stakeholders that you need to engage, analyses that needs to be done, vendors vetted and contracts negotiated – to name a few. But in the end, you need to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

Exactly 100 years from today, to see what type of planet we have left and whether any of this change is paying off. I’d like to hope we’ve curbed some of the warming and cleaned up our act a bit.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Personally, completing my MBA while working part time. That took a lot of discipline, hard work and dedication. Professionally, changing the culture at Bloomberg to embrace sustainability. Our employee engagement efforts have really paid off. Today 78% of our employees believe sustainability is a part of our culture and 89% of our employees are aware of our sustainability program.

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

Music – Kurt Cobain
Politics – Margaret Thatcher
Civil Rights – Martin Luther King
Sports – a young Muhammed Ali
Food – Julia Childs

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never talk business in the men’s room. My grandfather gave me this advice, and while at first I found it funny, I now abide by it strictly.

Worst advice?

Go for the money. Employees who only seek monetary reward for their work are doomed to be unhappy in their jobs. While we all want to be properly compensated, there are other externalities in factoring whether or not that job will make you happy.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Use everything at your disposal in terms of company communication assets to convey your message. Some employees respond to blogs, some email, others signage and yet others lunch and learns or speakers. Find out what you have at your disposal, and craft messages accordingly. What works to engage one employee will be completely useless to engage others and vice versa. It’s a challenge, but in the end, it’s worth it.

What state do you see the planet in in 30 years?

Unfortunately I don’t see it improving at a rate fast enough to mitigate the trajectory we are on. I see more violent storms, more floods, more drought and higher sea levels. I hope I am wrong.

What do you say to the climate change skeptics?

If 9 out of 10 doctors say you have cancer, are you going to listen to the 1 doctor that says you don’t or the 9 doctors who believe you do? The consensus has shifted. 97% of climate scientists agree that human activities are leading to climate change. We should trust the experts. You have to really wonder about the skeptics at this point. Perhaps they should come live in NY for the next hurricane.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

The installation of our 1.8 megawatt solar array at our New Jersey office which, on a bright, sunny temperate day, keeps our New Jersey office independent from the power grid, and powers our office solely on renewables.

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?


Books or kindle?


For more interviews with industry’s leading sustainability professionals check out edie’s full ‘In conversation’ series here

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