Emma Stewart: Acting on climate a clear business opportunity for Autodesk

Author:
Ilario D'Amato
5 December 2015

Emma Stewart, Head of Sustainability Solutions at Autodesk

NEW YORK: There is an increasing expectation from customers to act on climate change, making it “a business opportunity for us,” says Emma StewartHead of Sustainability Solutions at Autodesk, in our latest exclusive Climate TV interview.

The leading US-based multinational software corporation recently joined The Climate Group’s project RE100, committing to source 100% of its power from renewable sources by 2020 or sooner. “As a software company that serves the engineering and the design of architecture disciplines, our customers are literally making environmental decisions every day – that can lock in the environmental footprints for 50 or 100 years ahead,” explains Emma Stewart. “Whether they know it or not, they are climate actors.”

Bringing them a better intelligence through innovative, sustainable tools based on science-based targets allows their customers to grasp huge business benefits, such as higher-performing buildings leading to greater productivity, higher rental rates and a better property value.

WEB TOOL

The most important of such tools is C-Fact, a corporate finance approach to climate stabilizing targets. “Six years ago, the company had done a carbon footprint for a couple of years, but it had not set a greenhouse gases target,” says Emma Stewart. “And when we looked at our carbon footprint, it was tiny – the majority of those emissions were in our supply chain. So, we looked at what was considered best practice of the day, and were thoroughly disappointed with the results.”

Autodesk then designed the C-Fact tool to explore what a more robust approach would look like. “When I talked to my CEO, who is a mathematician, we had a robust debate about the merits of this methodology,” remembers Emma Stewart. “In the end he approved it. It was a ten-year commitment, which is the longest I believe that a company has ever committed to anything.”

CLIMATE MITIGATION

The company also has an aggressive strategy to reduce its emissions in line with climate science. “Travel was one of our leading sources of emissions,” says Emma Stewart. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in virtual conferencing, which has also retention benefits on our employees.”

The company also worked with its data center vendors to purchase clean energy: this year alone, the use of renewable energy in its real estate portfolio accounted for 40% of its global electricity consumption – up from 33% in 2014.

Autodesk is moving from desktop products to the cloud, following the ICT industry’s trend. “We actually recognized that in some ways we were inheriting a huge amount of emissions,” explains Emma Stewart, “because what had been an emission that theoretically occurred on the desktop of our customers was now something happening in our cloud. We accounted for that, and we actually felt we now have more control over reducing those emissions.”

CLIMATE JOURNEY

“We want to be the leading providers of sustainable solutions to the design community,” continues Emma Stewart. “We’re told that would be about 75% of the market by 2020. We have to be the leading provider of sustainability solutions if we want to remain competitive. Operationally we are on track: we have met our science-based target every year, which represents about 38% absolute reduction since we began in 2009 – and we don’t see any signs of missing that.”

However, to succeed in this climate journey policymakers must support leading companies committing to tackle climate issues in their own business: “I think having a global price signal is very important,” says Emma Stewart, commenting on the climate talks in Paris. "Companies are actually stepping up and setting internal shadow prices. I am interested by the fact ExxonMobil shadow price internal price on carbon – and it’s almost twice that of the White House. I think that’s fascinating.”

However, global companies struggle with regional compliance mechanisms. Linking cap-and-trade systems, as The Climate Group States & Regions members Québec and California did last year, would be much more beneficial: “That gives us long-term planning horizons, which is ultimately critical to business success,” concludes Emma Stewart.

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