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Sustaining a Green, Global Business

When you're managing a multibillion-dollar global company, going green involves more than changing out incandescent lightbulbs. The environmental program becomes even more complicated when that company is a leading player in the electronics supply chain with a massive logistics and integration structure across the world to consider, not to mention a vast range of customers that look to you for smooth process and procedure.

John Beimfohr, Avnet's senior director of integration operations, who is based at the company's largest integration center in Chandler, Ariz., shared his expertise on what it takes to be an environmentally conscious organization and the green, financial, and social benefits of doing so. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

How have the sustainability efforts in Avnet's Global Solutions Center (GSC) in Chandler, Ariz., led to a greener and more profitable business for Avnet?

Promoting more eco-friendly operations has been a priority for Avnet for some time, and one thing that I think has made us so successful to date is our focus on the “triple bottom line.” What I mean by that is, when we are evaluating a new initiative, we consider the environmental impact, financial impact, and social impact.

There are a lot of feel-good initiatives that save Avnet money and have enabled us to keep some 126 tons of electronic waste out of landfills. For example, in the Chandler GSC, we maintain a number of recycling initiatives that not only reduce waste but have a social benefit, as well. We take CDs that are to be discarded and donate those to the Boys & Girls Club for use in projects. We take foam that comes with computer products and give it to a group called Treasures 4 Teachers for their creative projects.

Right now, efforts like these have enabled us to recycle more than 99% of those byproducts that come with the components of the systems we integrate. Our goal is to get to 100% waste-free.

Avnet's Global Solutions Center in Chandler, Ariz.(Source: Avnet Inc.)

Avnet's Global Solutions Center in Chandler, Ariz.
(Source: Avnet Inc.)

What have been some of the challenges to incorporating sustainability into a facility that is as large as the Chandler GSC?

Well, with a facility that is a total of 228,000 square feet and handles a diverse array of warehousing, repair, and integration services, it definitely could have been an overwhelming task. But we knew we wanted this operation to be a model of efficiency and sustainability from the very start. So, before we broke ground on this facility, which is now five years old, there was a lot of very deliberate planning, all with the intent of making it as green as we could, particularly in terms of energy efficiency, waste reduction, and recycling.

For example, we operate 24 hours a day, five days a week, so energy conservation is critical. We have occupant-sensing technology for automatic control of lighting systems, the building's glass has low-E reflective coating, and we installed foam in the roofing system with an insulation value of R-6.8 per inch of polyurethane foam applied. The production and warehouse operations have the ISO 14001 certification, which establishes the criteria for an environmental management system.

Avnet's data center has been recognized for its conservation programs, including last year's 2013 Green Enterprise IT (GEIT) Award from the Uptime Institute. Tell us a little about these efforts.

Efforts to improve the energy efficiency of our datacenter are definitely another green success story for Avnet. The data center houses approximately 1,700 servers and manages approximately 1 petabyte in data storage. As you can imagine, all those servers could be a cooling nightmare. But Vice President of Enterprise Infrastructure Brad Kenney and his team have implemented a creative solution utilizing the first air-side economizer air-conditioning system in the Southwest, which allows us to save approximately 220 to 260 megawatts of power a year. In addition, by implementing virtualization, deploying a new storage environment, and replacing metal halide lamps with T5 fluorescent tubes, we have reduced energy consumption by more than 6% and saved millions of dollars.

What type of results has Avnet seen by working to decrease its carbon footprint?

Since 2010, we have had an annual carbon footprint [CF] analysis done by a German group called DFGE — Institute for Energy, Ecology and Economy. What is great about this analysis is that it doesn't just provide a single score but puts it in perspective by providing a breakdown of our CF by revenue, surface, and the number of employees. In 2013, for example, we increased our location surfaces by 18.7%, but our CF rose only 6.9%. That demonstrates that the various efforts we have discussed today are truly making a difference. It also helps to identify those areas with the greatest opportunity for additional improvements.

This year's Avnet Tech Games featured a Green Data Center Challenge, a Solar Scrimmage and a Green Video Challenge. Why choose to focus in on green with this next generation of leaders?

Those individuals involved in the design, manufacture, and distribution of electronics products in the coming years will face even greater regulatory pressure than we do today. It is essential that they learn to promote environmental stewardship early in their careers. An environmentally optimized design calls for a systems-level approach. This includes the use of fewer and more eco-friendly components, as well as maximizing product longevity and considering the eventual reusability and recyclability of the end product. The more ingrained this is in their thinking, the better able they will be to find that sweet spot where innovation and sustainability come together to create a product that is highly marketable, profitable, and environmentally friendly.

Any final thoughts?

It is important to remember that going green is a multidimensional commitment, and a journey that must be carried out in steps. Sometimes they may be giant leaps, and sometimes it's about small personal gestures, like when a group of EBV employees in Munich participated in the “By Bike to EBV” program and rode more than 53,000 kilometers during a six-month period to reduce carbon emissions, or when Avnet employees in Guadalajara, Mexico, planted 20 fruit trees for a local nonprofit organization, or when employees in Colorado created a tree nursery to provide shade for the animals at the Colorado Wild Animal Sanctuary. These activities, which were done voluntarily, on [employees'] own time, demonstrate how easy it can be to be a part of the solution.

This article originally appeared in the Avnet Velocity e-magazine, “ The Sustainability Balancing Act.”

6 comments on “Sustaining a Green, Global Business

  1. Ariella
    June 9, 2014

    I love the idea of encouraging biking. I recently read about a plan in Sweden to give commuters free bikes to use for 6 months as a way of testing out a bike program. See http://inhabitat.com/swedish-city-gives-commuters-free-bikes-for-six-months-to-reduce-the-use-of-cars/

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 9, 2014

    It's clear that sustainability and greenness is something that needs to be in the DNA of the organization. When it is, the end result is that it touches corners of the organization that you might not even imagine. In my experience, when it's encouraged, employees come up with a lot of great ideas for new initiatives that others will jump on as well.

  3. Susan Fourtané
    June 10, 2014

    Ariella, 

    In the same city of Göthenburg (second largest city in Sweden after Stockholm) where the government is giving bikes for free with the intention to renounce regular cars circulation, the Volvo self-driving car program is taking effect now with the intention of populating the streets with these cars by 2017. 😀

    Let's not forget Sweden being the first country in the world getting rid of cash to become the first cashless society. Sweden is a very nice and green place. 🙂 

    -Susan

  4. Ariella
    June 10, 2014

    @Susan thanks for the additional insight. Does Sweden also welcome bitcoin and other digital currencies? 

  5. Susan Fourtané
    June 11, 2014

    Ariella, 

    A large Swedish electronics retailer accepts Bitcoin and it seems to do pretty well. There are Bitcoin conferences so there is an obvious response to cryptocurrencies.

    I think it was at the beginning of the year that there was something about a Bitcoin VAT that Sweden wanted to add to Bitcoin purchases. I don't know what happened to that. Maybe I should check. :/ 

    -Susan 

  6. Ariella
    June 11, 2014

    @Susan a VAT on the digital currency would be most unwelcome, as one of the virtues for such a system is taking fees and costs out of monetary exchanges. I find that particularly valuable as a practical applicaton when working out payments between people who use different fiat currencies. 

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