CR Leaders: Curtis Ravenel

curtis-ravenel

AccountAbility interviews Curtis Ravenel, Global Head of Sustainability at Bloomberg.
As Global Head of Sustainability, Curtis Ravenel leads Bloomberg’s sustainability initiatives – a Chairman’s Office effort and the result of his 2006 Bloomberg Global Leadership Forum proposal. The program aggressively integrates sustainability considerations into all firm operations and leverages the Bloomberg Professional Service to evaluate sustainability-related investment risks and opportunities for its 300,000 customers. 

 

AccountAbility (AA): You spearheaded the development of sustainability at Bloomberg – looking back, what were your greatest challenges and successes?

Curtis Ravenel (CR): I think the overall greatest success was the vision of my boss, Peter Grauer, Chairman of Bloomberg, to recognize the importance of a sustainability program and one that would report directly to him. That signal, organizationally, was really important, and it has been a big enabler of everything else that we’ve done. The biggest challenge, which I’m sure sounds familiar to many CSOs, is that just because you report to the Chairman, it doesn’t mean you have institutional buy-in. Sustainability as a concept is still pretty nebulous and complex, and it doesn’t lend itself to sound bites that always resonate. You want to be considered as a resource to your organization rather than a compliance officer. You have to find that sweet spot where you’re really adding value. 

AA: Can you describe your vision of sustainability at Bloomberg?

CR:  When we started this journey it was intended to be an internally focused effort. Our goal was to make sure that our operations were having minimal impact on the environment, while at the same time maximizing our operating margins. It was focused on engaging our employees, and to some extent the communities in which we worked, and our vendors and so forth. And we’ve been able to demonstrate a lot of savings financially, so we now have the attention of the CFO’s office.

But now I think in our second phase, which is our 2020 vision, we are realizing that we can do much, much more. If we leverage all of Bloomberg’s unique assets, we can accelerate our impact in a really big and meaningful way. We have a very strong operating team. We have very strong philanthropic commitments.  We have a strong market position around financial information. And so our vision for the future has become, how do we leverage these assets in a more integrated way that is meaningful for us and our partners? How do we use this as a lens for value? We are pretty excited about some of the opportunities.    

AA: Could you speak a little more about your 2020 vision, and what the challenges and opportunities are that you see ahead?

CR: As part of our 2020 vision we would like to leverage our philanthropic work and build on our business case. It can sometimes be hard for companies, even a company like Bloomberg, to build and to invest in the market development that needs to happen. The NGOs are still the innovators right now. It’s organizations like the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI), the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and the INCR (Investor Network on Climate Risk) that are creating demand. And so we want to continue to use our philanthropic assets to support this development, but we also want to use our own breadth and depth to demonstrate the value of sustainability and ESG considerations to the financial community.

There are really five prongs to the strategy – thought leadership, partner engagement, operational excellence, financial integration, and market development. With thought leadership, we want to do a lot more analysis and tool-building, and we’d like to collaborate with partners to introduce more ideas. And we want to continue pushing operationally. We are projecting to save a combined $200 million by 2020 while reducing our emissions 20%. When it comes to the financial community, we want to work on developing the business case for integrating sustainability considerations into investment analysis. And lastly, with market development we have to in some ways create the demand and market for sustainability and ESG – but we need education and capacity building. 

AA: What are some ways in which you’ve integrated sustainability into your corporate strategy? And what is the quantitative value you have realized as a result?

CR: As a result of our operational excellence projects, at the end of this year, we project a net savings of about $53 million and an ROI of over 50%. And this is what I call true savings because we’ve also taken into consideration people’s time. We track every single project we’ve ever done, and how we have calculated it. We’ve been very detailed about why and how we’ve done it and we have had to engage with the accountants to get their sign-off, and our methodologies are consistent with the way that we do business.

For example, our 1.8 MW solar project in New Jersey has been a great success. It’s been about two years and it’s on target to meet all its metrics, from both a clean energy perspective and a financial perspective. And while there are tough decisions ahead with regard to ROI, there’s still so much low hanging fruit out there.

I would advise others to go do the things where there is ROI, but to also take a little bit of a portfolio approach. There are some things we’ve done that as stand-alone projects may not make economic sense.  But they have made very good environmental sense, and then combined with larger projects still the ROI was quite good. You want to maximize your environmental and financial returns.

AA: Reflecting further upon the savings you have realized from adopting sustainability, where do you think it has been the most impactful?

CR: In the area of the environment. These projects can fall into three big buckets: The first is in demand reduction operating projects – and not just in terms of electricity usage, but everything. For example, we print half the paper we used to print five years ago and we’re 35% larger. That’s money saved. Second, it’s about energy efficiency projects, and energy efficiency projects are investments, generally capital investments that we make, such as variable speed fans or free cooling in our data center. And third, it’s about on-site clean energy, and we say only where it makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense everywhere.

And then there are hundreds of other projects, probably close to 400 projects that we’ve done since we started in 2008. Everything from encouraging behavioral changes, like taking away my own printer, to putting everyone’s PC to sleep at night. We’ve done community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, we have an herb garden in New Jersey, we do all kinds of stuff. The pantry area in our New York office for example, has become in some ways the lifeblood of this firm. The pantry is where people congregate and everything in there is compostable. All the teas and coffees are fair trade, some of the food is local and organic, and we’ve actually just found a compostable bag machine we hope we can use to bag bulk foods and reduce packaging.

And all of these things you can wonder, if honestly, does it matter for our environmental impact? Not in any meaningful way. But it’s really educated everybody. We have over 14,000 employees and 2,000 of them have voluntarily signed up for our internal sustainability blog to follow what we do. And people stop me all the time and say they’ve learned about sustainability by what we’ve done in the pantry. So it’s funny, I was skeptical of employee engagement in the beginning, but I’ve realized I was wrong, I was dead wrong, because it’s actually smoothed the path for us to do more.     

AA: What is the material sustainability issue that Bloomberg is most concerned about?

CR:  We are most concerned about climate change and its impact on our information infrastructure.  Operationally, our data centers are the backbone of our business, and following hurricane Sandy, we are now spending a lot of money to mitigate future risks. We’ve had to change the building requirements to integrate more significant flood and wind requirements – all of these weather storms are making us rethink a bit. 

AA: In 2008, Bloomberg introduced environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data to its terminals. What was the driving force behind this and what kind of ESG data do you see the financial community looking at?

CR: Well, it was all about making the business case to senior leadership and our pitch was that this was a relatively cost effective way to begin exploring ESG data. It made sense, so we did it, and it’s grown over time. ESG data usage over the last three years has increased every year – I think it grew 25% in the first year, 35% the second, and 41% last year. The interest in ESG data amongst the financial community is high, but the integration of ESG data within the financial community in any meaningful way is still low, which of course means there’s an opportunity.

Part of the problem I think is that this stuff is still in its early days and therefore relatively small. It’s interesting to see what people are looking at because it’s always changing. Disclosure scores are popular – the disclosure score gives you an indication of how much data a company has disclosed. Environmental data was always popular but now we are seeing migration to governance data. And the social data is where it gets a little hard. I think the next big thing will be social valuation and what the impact is of this kind of valuation, which really means you have to price these things. How do you price employee turnover? It turns out there is a way you could. How do you price the value of stakeholder engagement with communities? How do you price investment in training? There are emerging methodologies in which it seems clear that traditional P&Ls are not capturing some of these costs and benefits, and that to me is sort of the next phase of how you prove the value of ESG data to the market.

AA: What do you think will be the driving force behind the growing adoption of ESG data? And what role do you see investors playing in pushing ESG considerations into investment decisions and analysis?

CR:  If we are talking about scale —the most significant influence— then it is the asset owners that are driving the investment managers to act. Institutional banks are influenced by the asset owners, who have also pushed the banks to sign the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI). And I think the UN PRI commitment is significant because banks don’t sign these things lightly. I think over time the UN PRI requirements will increase because it is a signatory-driven commitment and there will be innovators and leaders that will move the needle forward. But there are a lot of little pieces of activity that to me indicate that this is moving through the value chain – you’ve got US SIF (the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment) developing this education program, and there are the NGOs like GISR (Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and the emergence of SASB (Sustainable Accounting Standards Board) – there’s a lot going on.

This is an interesting time and I think that we will also be a driver. We have an opportunity here and a responsibility in some ways. We want to be able to provide insight to our customers in a meaningful way. There are still people who believe that you give up return when you integrate ESG considerations and we’ve got to fundamentally challenge that.

AA: What advice would you impart on others trying to steer sustainability efforts within their organizations?

CR: My advice would be to really understand the companies’ overarching objectives and find out where they intersect with sustainability efforts – they usually do. Sustainability shouldn’t be positioned as ‘compliance’ but rather as an opportunity to improve the bottom line and position the firm as forward thinking for employees, customers, and other stakeholders. And lastly, be a resource for other departments. Sustainability has spurred innovation and opportunity at Bloomberg. We have developed three business units now that we didn’t have before our program started – ESG, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), and our sustainability channel (bloomberg.com/sustainability).  These are innovative offerings and provide our customers with new insights into sustainability risks and opportunities.