For Adobe Systems, Earth Day Is No Small Matter

Adobe’s West Tower at its San Jose Headquarters was the first building in the world to achieve LEED certification at the platinum level for existing buildings in June 2006.

For some companies, Earth Day means asking the marketing department to wrangle up some big slogans for small environmental accomplishments. With so much Earth Day greenwashing competing for our attention, even the most dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists could be forgiven for expressing some cynicism about what can seem like an annual rush to claim eco-credit, deserved or not.

Every year, as Earth Day approaches, my inbox contains an escalating quantity of emails from companies looking for someone to write about the annual day of summing up their eco-initiatives. This year, there was a very large exception to eco-business as usual: a message about the sustainability efforts of Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE), the San Jose software company of Flash and Photoshop fame.

In lieu of bandying about eco-phrases, the email contained just a few facts, which I enthusiastically reproduce for you here:

" have helped Adobe considerably decrease their natural resource usage and environmental footprint by the following amounts:

• Reduced electricity use by 56%

• Reduced water use by 78%

• Diverted 99% of all solid waste from landfills through recycling and composting

• Reduced or avoided 56% of carbon emissions through sustainable operations

• Reduced carbon emissions through sustainable operations and purchase of carbon offsets by 100%

Additionally, Adobe is a leader in LEED certification. Since receiving their first LEED certification in 2006, Adobe has gone on to receive 22 additional certifications with 17 at the platinum level."

My curiosity piqued by this record of quantified achievement, I got in touch with Michelle Yates, Adobe's recently-hired Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. Yates has been in the CSR game before most people knew it had begun, and brings a wealth of knowledge that is helping turn Adobe's already formidable CSR program into the best in the business.

"As our business continues to grow and evolve, we remain committed to responsibly managing the impact of our operations," Yates wrote in an email. "We strive to exceed industry certification standards and maximize efficiency with leading edge technology - all while fostering a culture of environmental sustainability."

One of the company's most impressive sustainability projects is its Net Zero program. In 2012, all Adobe facilities in North America as well as locations in London and Ottawa achieved Net Zero status - a term that refers to a building which consumes zero total energy and produces zero total carbon emissions.

By 2015, the company aims to achieve Net Zero status at each of its owned and leased facilities worldwide, including in San Francisco, San Jose and Boston, through a combination of "conservation strategies, on-site renewable solutions, and renewable energy credit purchases," according to Yates.

Adobe's Michelle Yates, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, joined the company in March, 2012. "As our business continues to grow and evolve, we remain committed to responsibly managing the impact of our operations," Yates said in an email.

"We've achieved many of our outcomes through efforts to better measure, monitor and manage our energy use and reduce our overall energy demand through unique improvements including efficient ventilation systems, electrical timers, and plans to develop a high-efficiency data center," wrote Yates.

"We've also invested in alternative and renewable energy sources that can generate power directly on-site, including Windspire wind turbines at our San Jose Headquarters, and Bloom Energy fuel cells - Bloom Boxes - at the San Jose and San Francisco facilities."

An important factor in Adobe's CSR success is that it makes sure to offer opportunities for its employees to get involved.

The Adobe Green Team, an employee-led sustainability program which the company plans to expand to all 12 of its major sites by 2015, has helped facilitate an ongoing, company-wide discussion about environmental issues. The Green Team also organizes educational programs and volunteer projects for fellow employees.

Last year, Adobe galvanized more than 1,200 employees to volunteer in their communities, contributing more than 4,000 hours of community service. This June, Adobe will celebrate "Be Involved Month" with the goal of increasing employee participation in volunteer projects by 20 percent.

"One of Adobe's values is to be involved in the communities where we work and live, which is why Adobe created Be Involved Month," wrote Yates. "During the month, with support from the Corporate CSR team based in the Bay Area, the 19 CSR Action Teams will lead volunteer and educational activities in three key areas: Community, Adobe Youth Voices and Green."

Ultimately, Adobe seems to have managed to find an effective balance between corporate responsibility and profitability. As the company has rapidly expanded its CSR initiatives, its share price has increased around 23 percent in the last five years.

To keep its myriad stakeholders up-to-date on its CSR initiatives, Adobe publishes a quarterly CSR Brief, and the company plans to release its first ever CSR report this year.