Leading an Environmentally Sustainable Enterprise

author: Martin Madaus, Millipore Corporation
published: June 29, 2011,   recorded: April 2009,   views: 2779

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Climate change poses perhaps the premiere threat to coming generations, says Martin Madaus, but to avoid its worst impacts, we must confront the issue now. To that end, Madaus exhorts business leaders to focus immediately on building environmental sustainability into their operations, as he has begun to do at Millipore.

The challenge is figuring out how to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels while expanding economies worldwide. In practice, reconciling these objectives involves squeezing more productivity out of each ton of carbon by a factor of 10. “The good news,” says Madaus, is that “this is actually doable.” Reaching this level of “carbon productivity” entails major public/private spending, but, says Madaus, “This is certainly a good investment, particularly when you consider the mitigation cost of climate catastrophe, which would be unbelievably expensive for all of us.”

While government must play a role in establishing regulations and incentives -- especially by imposing an unpopular but essential higher carbon tax -- industries of all kinds must integrate sustainability as a business practice. Madaus offers Millipore as an example of how “being at the cutting edge of environmentalism is a good business idea.” His company has focused on changes in products and packaging, and reducing waste in energy, water and waste.

In its biotech tool research and production facilities, Millipore figured out how to upgrade boilers, generators, lighting systems, compressed air piping, and use wind energy to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 15% since 2006. “The amazing part of this, it was so doable, because there was so much inefficiency and waste of energy.” Millipore’s return on new infrastructure investment came in less than two years.

Millipore also developed compostable bio-plastic lab devices, recycling programs for customers, and paradoxically, a disposable product (replacing a large, stainless steel vessel), which ends up saving energy and water throughout its lifecycle. Beyond innovations in product lines and operational efficiency, Madaus says he wants “to make an impact on people’s lives so their habits change.” Millipore offers incentives for employee to use hybrid vehicles and to make their homes energy efficient, and encourages staff to come forward with ideas for sustainable living. “I wish we could make energy saving and eco-efficiency really cool and interesting; today it’s still viewed as a tool, a behavior change.”

These small steps are just the start, and Madaus sees a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases as entirely feasible -- and not just at Millipore. “If anyone tells you it can’t be done because they’re growing their company, they’re full of it.”

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