ITAC Online - The Sustainability Issue - March 2012
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Objective: Sustainability

Helping customers achieve their business objectives is pretty much the raison d’être of the ICT industry. But in the era of triple bottom line accounting, achieving business objectives is no longer restricted to fiscal objectives like reducing costs, expanding markets and driving productivity. It is also about having as positive an environmental impact as possible.

Better access to information and better ways of manipulating this information leads to better use of the inputs of production, whether it’s the electricity required to operate a plant or as in the case of J.D. Irving’s forestry management, which features in one of our stories this month, the number location and health of the trees in the forest.

The tools we produce for sharing information and communicating ideas also contribute significantly to the reduction of environmental impacts. The telecom sector is a huge proponent of the virtues of teleworking, and as Allstream’s Gary Davenport points out, it also practises what it preaches… and in the process achieves compelling environmental results.

There is a strong community of interest in environmental matters at ITAC. For example, our Environment and ICT Forum is an industry-government policy roundtable that meets quarterly to discuss issues such as the role of ICT in reducing the carbon footprint, product stewardship, the smart grid, reduction of toxic substances and design for the environment. For more information, contact Bill Munson, bmunson@itac.ca.

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Workplace 2.0 builds a greener Allstream

Gary Davenport, Vice-President, Information Technology, Allstream Gary Davenport, Vice-President, Information Technology, Allstream

As Canada’s only business-focused telecommunications company, Allstream knows what it means to home in on a corporate objective. The proof is in the way the division of MTS Allstream delivers on its commitment to reduce its environmental impact and help customers, stakeholders and employees do the same.

When it comes to the latter, the company provides its 2500 employees with incentives, information and tools to help them reduce their personal environmental impact—including an innovative employee teleworking program called Workplace 2.0. 

Gary Davenport, Allstream’s Vice-President, Information Technology, says the company’s green commitment begins at the top. “As part of our social responsibility, our board of directors and our CEO defined a few years ago that one of our key strategies would be to move the company as fast and as far as we could toward becoming more green in terms of our operation.”

As the corporate champion of the Workplace 2.0 program, Davenport views an aggressive remote-working strategy as not only a green initiative, but an essential human resources tool, a cost-saving measure and a business continuity strategy. 

To put the environmental savings in perspective, each month, enough commuting kilometers are saved by Allstream teleworkers to circumnavigate the Earth 223 times. And on the human resources side, Davenport explains: “We’re in a war for talent, and we want the best people.  One way we’re working to get—and keep—them is by providing more flexible work options that address work/life balance and travelling challenges.” 

The effect on employee attraction, retention and engagement has also been positive. “Engagement of our 700 Workplace 2.0 workers in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal is extremely high, according survey results,” he says. “More than 90 percent of the program’s participants recognize the positive impact Workplace 2.0 has had on them.”

The business continuity benefit of Workplace 2.0 was proven during the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto. “Because employees were equipped to work elsewhere, Allstream didn’t miss a beat for those two or three days when most of downtown Toronto was in lockdown or faced severely reduced travel.”

And to top it all off, Allstream is saving significantly in real estate costs.
As a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, Allstream knew the right technology would be key to the program’s success. “We rolled out VoIP phones and Microsoft OCS, which includes Live Meeting and a few other tools. The technology doesn’t actually solve the problem, but it provides the foundation.”

Even more important though, is a corporate approach to change management and ‘cross-enterprise engagement’. For Allstream, six departments were involved: human resources, IT, legal, corporate communications, facilities management and finance.

“It was a joint effort. We established a steering committee, and ran hard with it. We began with a pilot of 50 volunteers, and grew the program from there. Along the way as we saw what worked and what could be improved, we changed things here and there. We continue to refine and improve upon the little things even today.”

One important lesson was that employees need to be able to come to the office on a regular basis, to stay connected with co-workers and continue to nurture the overall culture of the organization. Allstream has made that possible by providing dozens of temporary workstations for teleworkers, and by training leaders to manage and involve teleworkers effectively.

For a teleworking program like Allstream’s to be successful, Davenport says, “it needs review, governance and ongoing improvements in order for the business and its employees to get the full value.”

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Using ICT to see the forest and the trees

Alex Miller, President and Founder, Esri Canada Alex Miller, President and Founder, Esri Canada

Few systems in nature are as complex as the ecology of the forest. An intricate web of interdependence maintains a perfect balance of growth, death, decay and regeneration.

The responsible management of such an advanced system requires sophisticated technology. This allows managers to monitor changing conditions and make intelligent decisions for sustainable care. Forest stewardship entails dealing with conflicting issues of planning, production, business challenges and environmental regulations.
 
Since 1983, J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) has been using geographic information system (GIS) solutions from Esri Canada to evaluate forest conditions and develop strategies for operational management.

Based in Toronto, Esri Canada builds applications based on ArcGIS technology, an integrated suite of GIS software that can be deployed throughout an enterprise via desktop computers, servers, mobile devices, online and in the cloud. Privately held, the company employs 300 people, and sells its products to a wide variety of sectors, including public utilities, retail, health care, government, education and natural resources.

 The power of GIS lies in mapping diverse information.

“People say that a picture is worth a thousand words,” says Esri Canada president and founder Alex Miller. “A map then is worth a million pictures. The key characteristic of GIS is its ability to visualize vast areas on a map. Typically, an organization captures a significant amount of data on bar charts, pie charts and the like, but what’s missing is the context. If you can put those charts on a map in the right spot, or symbolize a map in a way that speaks to something tangible—such as where you should harvest, or where to build a road—that visualization process becomes really powerful.

“GIS has one characteristic that makes it unique: you can share one set of data across multiple applications. If you have distributed systems, you need to share them and make sure everyone keeps them up to date.”

Miller says that JDI was his company’s second customer. “In 1983, they were ahead of everybody in the country in terms of how they leveraged GIS to integrate their forestry operations. Being an early adopter of GIS has helped them lead the revolution in land management.”

JDI’s leadership in forestry is not a recent phenomenon; the company has been planting trees to offset its pulp-and-paper and lumber operations since the 1930s. Since 1957, the company estimates that it has planted more than 850 million trees, and it continues to re-populate its massive land holdings at a rate of 30 million trees a year.

As a highly integrated organization, ArcGIS allows the company to share information on the full cycle of its forest management business—from planting, growing, thinning, cutting and transporting fallen trees to the mill and then lumber on to retailers.

“A business like JDI asks: Where are my customers? Where are my resources? How can I best organize my resources to deliver my goods to my customers? GIS is probably the most effective enabler for managing business for anyone with a geographically dispersed workforce or facility.”

JDI uses the ArcGIS Workflow Manager extension to shift work through the organization as a business process, maximizing efficiency. In addition, GIS extensions help the company make optimum use of image analysis, allowing it to use digital imagery to determine the health of individual trees, and understand where specific species are located.

GIS can also allow companies like JDI to assess forest conditions, using historical analysis, stand inventory, soil types, weather patterns and land-use practices. Modelling permits them to test and consider options in both temporal and spatial contexts, while geospatial records provide forest managers with a baseline for evaluating plans.

“By adopting technologies like GIS, the forest industry in Canada is way ahead of other countries,” summarizes Miller. “In the U.S., for example, you find lots of private land that isn’t managed very well. As a nation, we’re much more efficient at managing our costs. JDI has been willing to invest in cutting-edge technology. They’ve taken the long-term view.”

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Making electronics recycling a sustainable imperative

Cliff Hacking, President and CEO, EPRA Cliff Hacking, President and CEO, EPRA

The path between the moment when a consumer pulls a shiny new tablet or laptop from its packaging to when that device—having processed billions of pieces of data—is safely and responsibly recycled is growing clearer in Canada. Provinces have begun to enact laws to enforce extended producer responsibility for a broad range of technology and electronics products, and manufacturers, retailers and all others in this complex supply chain are enhancing their recycling efforts.

Working to ensure that path is evident to Canadian electronics consumers, while being efficient for the vast array of industry that is regulated, is the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), whose task is to promote electronics recycling in Canada and manage what’s returned.

“It’s essential that we make it easier for consumers and business to recycle their electronic products, and that they understand how to do it,” says EPRA President and CEO Cliff Hacking.

A national non-profit that is founded by electronics manufacturers and retailers, the EPRA was the brainchild of Diane Brisebois, President and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, and Lloyd Bryant, Chair of Electronics Product Stewardship Canada. In 2010, when the majority of provinces had enacted legislation to manage product returns and implemented provincial programs in compliance with them, it was evident that the patchwork of processess would be unwieldy without a national body to ensure the efficiency of regulated e-waste reclamation and recycling.

“We serve an operational role,” says Hacking, “working on behalf of the various industry-led and regulated environmental stewardship programs already established.”

Under Bryant’s chairmanship, the EPRA board has representatives from both the manufacturing and retailing sectors, including: Hewlett Packard Canada, Sony, Compugen, London Drugs, Toshiba, Dell, CDW, Staples and Best Buy.

As provinces finalize their legislation, and local programs are developed, EPRA is hiring program managers to oversee the effectiveness and integrity of each program, in addition to publicizing the responsible and verified recycling process they require. In each province, the EPRA will contract with various third-party vendors, including collectors, transporters, consolidators and primary recycling processors.

In Manitoba, for example, program manager, Dennis Neufeld is currently working to launch a program by August 1. “Beyond these short-term goals, we want to create greater awareness about electronics recycling and expand the network of locations to return electronics. This includes the voluntary participation of some retailers in point-of-purchase recycling. It just makes sense that when you buy a new printer from a retailer, you can leave your old printer with them.”

In addition, the EPRA will seek to partner with other organizations, including community groups or schools, to conduct local ‘take it back’ events.

But, underlying these types of initiatives, Hacking says it’s essential that a harmonized legislative framework be put in place across the country.

“Right now, very few jurisdictions have landfill bans, for example. That’s a first step; it’s imperative that we get these things in place. But even more important than the legal underpinning is making electronics recycling a moral imperative. In the long term, the understanding that recycling is the right thing to do is going to be more far more important than fines.

“We have to work toward making Canadians realize that recycling is good for everyone. It creates jobs, it protects the environment and it can help us recover the rare minerals and other metals that are present in some devices.”

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