United States: Q&A With Vince Digneo, Sustainability Strategist, Corporate Responsibility, Adobe Systems

EDGE: Adobe has adopted some fairly aggressive sustainability and renewable energy commitments. Can you tell us about the origins and evolution of those commitments?

MR. DIGNEO: Adobe's founders created a culture of sustainability. They figured out, early on, that reducing waste, minimizing water consumption and saving energy were not just the right things to do, they are good for business. So, setting meaningful sustainability goals is part of our culture. A good example of this is Adobe's response to the California Energy Crisis in 2001. At that time the company's leadership decided to voluntarily reduce electricity consumption with a goal of 20%. Adobe beat this goal through energy efficiency projects and saved a lot of operational costs in the process. Since 2002, close to 200 sustainability and efficiency projects have been implemented, with payback periods generally less than about 18 months. At the end of 2015, 73% of all Adobe employees are working in LEED certified workspaces, with our sites in San Jose and San Francisco as LEED platinum certified. Last year, we set the goal that Adobe will power all of its operations and digital delivery of products with 100% renewable energy by 2035. However, we expect the vast majority of our footprint will be powered by renewable energy between 2020 and 2025. A lot of that is centered in the U.S., with interesting opportunities emerging in India. For the rest, the last few miles getting to 100%, that will be the most challenging. We are working with our data center and cloud suppliers to also commit to a low-carbon economy. In addition, we are engaging with local utilities, governments and NGOs to move policy in a direction where not just Adobe gets renewable energy, but the people in our community can also enjoy the benefits of having clean air and paying lower utility rates.

EDGE: Adobe's energy demand is not as great as that of major data center companies like Google and Apple. But you have been a champion for corporate purchasing of renewable energy. What is driving your leadership in this area?

MR. DIGNEO: True, we are not at the same scale as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and others. But we have to thank them for moving the market forward. Those companies had the wherewithal and the commitment to move the energy markets towards renewable energy. They were able to make large purchases driving down the cost of grid-scale renewables. Doing so, they made it possible for us to set renewable energy goals for our operations and digital delivery of our business in a way that makes business sense. That said, we feel very strongly about working with our peers in this space regardless of their size. Our commitment goes beyond energy usage to advocacy and influencing policy. We think it makes economic and environmental sense for everyone in our industry, and we know the importance of doing everything we can to take that path.

EDGE: Looking to the future - what is Adobe's strategy for purchasing renewable energy?

MR. DIGNEO: There are four elements of our renewable energy strategy. Energy efficiency is first, because without it you would not enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), or provision onsite renewable energy, unless you have a good handle on your energy efficiency and the reductions you can expect to achieve over the next five to ten years. You need to have a good idea of a forecast for 15 years out.

The second piece would be to implement onsite renewable energy wherever possible. As an example, a few years back we installed wind turbines at our headquarters in San Jose. It was a forward-thinking move, but they do not produce the amount of renewable energy that we need onsite, given the limitations of our footprint. In other locations, including our sites in Lehi, Utah and in India, we have more options that we are looking at for onsite. I think we have some other opportunities in the U.S. with that as well.

The third piece is working with our peers, with NGOs, policy makers, local governments, and especially utilities and regulators to help support policies favoring aggregation and utility supply. Rather than us bearing the sole burden of having to put onsite solar or purchasing a PPA for an Adobe site, the goal would be to partner with local utilities in order to spread the benefits to local communities where we work and live.

Then finally comes the PPA. We are actively exploring them for our operations in the West, where there are a lot more options than there were even a year ago. In India, we are quite close to finalizing a PPA within the next year. We feel strongly about the importance of demonstrating that renewable energy is an excellent business decision.

EDGE: When evaluating potential projects and PPAs, what are the primary considerations you are looking at?

MR. DIGNEO: We always start by evaluating the ROI. There are several complexities of PPAs along with the ever-changing market. Not only has pricing been falling every quarter, PPA contracts have been getting more complex. Considering a PPA should be easy – a clean process without the guesswork. One of the main benefits is stabilizing costs, so it needs to be easy to communicate to management.

EDGE: Thinking about corporate purchasing of renewable energy more generally, for companies with energy loads similar to yours, are there recommendations or advice that you would offer to energy managers embarking on this process?

MR. DIGNEO: I would suggest taking advantage of the resources and groups that are out there. One group we have been involved with since 2013 – we were founding members – is Business for Social Responsibility's Future of Internet Power Group, a group focusing on powering internet products with renewable energy, including peer companies such as Facebook, Salesforce, HP-Enterprise, Symantec and eBay. In addition, we are also members of the Rocky Mountain Institute's Business Renewables Center (BRC), and work with other NGOs, including World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund. These groups provide an array of resources for companies to use – so they aren't approaching this alone.

One easy step I recommend is to sign onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles which is a function of the BRC and now expanded to the Renewable Energy Business Alliance (REBA) along with the NGOs mentioned above. More than anything, it is a commitment to do everything possible to power your business using renewable energy. Another step would be to reach out to peer companies to share ideas and best practices. No one entity has all of the answers, but together we can find them. Finally, bringing in the right experts, firms like yours and outside groups can help you become a partner with the utilities and local governments. It all comes down to collaboration.

EDGE: Great, thanks very much Vince.

MR. DIGNEO: Glad to participate with EDGE, thank you.

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