Category Archives: GoGreen 2010 Seattle

GoGreen Seattle Green Line Series: How To Keep It Real With Parsons PR President Joanie Parsons

One of the hardest lessons learned in taking on sustainability at your business is how NOT to greenwash. As we heard from GoGreen Austin Speaker Valerie Davis a few months back, sometimes it’s not a conscious action—many times offenses occur due to lack of knowledge. Today we take the conversation on talking responsibly about sustainability even deeper with Parsons PR Founder/President and GoGreen Seattle speaker, Joanie Parsons. She gives us key insights on how to keep it real with our communications while actively working towards the triple bottom line.

GoGreen: What makes green communications different than regular communications? Why is it harder to get right?
Joanie Parsons
: The story is constantly changing – green is a fast evolving arena with new technologies, methodologies and certifications every day, as well as an ever-expanding conversation about what green is and can be. You also always have to ask yourself, “How do I communicate the green story in a way that is relevant and that resonates with people’s own lives?” It’s about benefits, not features.

GG: What called you to make this your living? And to integrate sustainable practices so deeply into your own business?
: Communications has always been my passion. For nearly 20 years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing great companies and stories to light.  That said, about eight years ago, I decided to change the focus of the company. I had a strong roster of clients and a solid reputation. It was no longer satisfying to simply make money doing work I was good at, I wanted to do work with extraordinary clients who were making a difference in the world.,

From a very young age I have felt a deep connection and affinity for the earth and found myself wanting nothing more than to have my company be a change agent for the environment. Green building was an emerging trend that resonated with me, and I decided that I would put all my energies toward working with clients with a sustainable focus, whether in green building, green products, green retail, clean tech smart grid, etc..

A natural progression from there was to transform my own operations to be as green as possible, and into triple bottom line and beyond. You absolutely have to live green in order to understand and communicate green to the world.

GG: What were the first initiatives you took on?
: We invested a huge amount of time to learn everything possible about the technologies, practices and products to make us leaders in the field of sustainability.

We offered our services pro bono to green events and organizations to gain credibility and build relationships. Since then we have enjoyed a client roster of some of the West’s most cutting edge clients.

GG: Where is Parsons now?
JP: We are continuing to evolve as a triple-bottom-line company. We were one of the first BCorporations in the country and continue to challenge ourselves daily to look at our business from the inside out. That’s everything from our purchasing practices to actively seeking out clients that are the most forward-thinking, risk-taking, and committed to a better future so we can support the boldest visions out there.

GG: What’s the key to avoiding greenwashing, while still leveraging the sustainable success a company may have had?
: How to avoid greenwashing? You have to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of research and due diligence on companies before we both sign on the dotted line. Our reputation is everything. If we compromise, or represent a company that is indeed greenwashing, it could cause irreparable damage to our brand. We have worked very hard to earn our reputation for representing the best of the best. We help our clients navigate the complexities that a company must face when it goes down the path of being a sustainable company, and help them understand the vital importance of transparency and integrity.

GG: When can a company legitimately start talking about their green initiatives? Do you have to be deeply green before it’s OK to promote the fact that you’re working on these things?
: Today, you have to have some kind of green initiatives in place – it’s simply expected that most companies will have taken some measures to be more environmentally responsible. We believe it’s okay to say that a company is starting and looking to evolve its commitment. It’s all about transparency.

GG: What is one of the most troubling trends you see in how companies talk about sustainability today?
: Companies jumping on the green bandwagon and not substantiating their claims. You have to walk the talk. You also have to be prepared to be called out for anything you’re not already doing and have a response.

GG: What are some things to keep in mind—best practices—when actively talking about your business’ sustainable initiatives?
: It’s important to stay on top of what forward-thinking, sustainably minded companies are doing for their sustainability initiatives. There are always new ideas out there, and ones that will become tomorrow’s expected elements. You cannot become complacent and say, “Well, we already have sustainability initiatives in place.”

GG: What kinds of things should companies be prepared to defend in speaking out about their sustainable efforts? How should they approach this if called out about something?
: They should be prepared to provide proof – a carbon footprint, formal sustainability goals and measurable successes, a CSR report, etc. Something that shows that they’re not all talk but that they set benchmarks and then measure against them regularly. Again, companies need to stay on top of this rapidly evolving conversation so that their efforts do not become calcified into some outmoded idea of green practices but instead they are continually raising the bar for themselves.

GG: Who do you think has done a great job in talking about their sustainable initiatives without greenwashing or hype? Why?
: Patagonia – they did it before it was hip to be green. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Their president, Yvon Chouinard, said in a recent interview, “This company is an experiment.” What he means is that it’s business conducted in a new, radical way, on purpose, to prove Chouinard’s intention that “business can make a profit without losing its soul.” Imagine that! It’s so inspiring to see them do business on their terms – uncompromising with regard to environmental impact and with regard to their values around balance. Focus on creating high quality stuff in a responsible way, and preserve each employee’s quality of life along the way – and the money will follow.

GG: If you could offer just a single piece of advice to our readers about successfully navigating green communications, what would it be? The most important thing to always keep in mind, in your opinion?
: Yesterday’s green is not tomorrow’s green. Be a part of the evolving conversation. Keep your eyes on the horizon, keep your ears to the ground (well not at the same exact timeJ) and stay informed.

Joanie Parsons is founder and President of Parsons Public Relations and a featured speaker at GoGreen Seattle 2011, April 20th at the Convention Center. For more information and to register to see Joanie at GoGreen Seattle, visit:

To learn more about Joanie and Parsons PR, visit:

Be a part of the conversation! Join GoGreen on Facebook + Twitter!

GoGreen Seattle Green Line Series: Scott Jenkins Scores Big For The Mariners With Green Savings

Scott Jenkins, Vice-President of Ballpark Operations, Seattle MarinersJust five short years ago the Mariners were a pretty typical baseball franchise when it came to sustainability. They were recycling a bit here, trying to save some energy there, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Then Scott Jenkins came in as VP of Ballpark Operations and made some changes—that’s the short and sweet version anyway.

Today the Mariner’s have a diversion rate of over 70 percent with their sights firmly locked on reaching 80+ for 2011. That’s up from 12 percent in 2005. And Jenkins’ success in this area, among others like energy efficiency, has earned support from the ballpark’s executives for other, more sweeping initiatives. In our interview, he details how he’s been able to create such dramatic impact in a shining example of winning the business case for sustainability.

GoGreen Conference: Sports and sustainability aren’t always considered natural bedfellows. Have people told you that achieving a zero-waste ballpark is impossible? If so, what’s your response?
Scott Jenkins: If you had asked even me about that three or five years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of a zero waste facility. At that point it seemed like we generated so much waste and I couldn’t fathom how we would possibly recycle it all. We were diverting less than 20 percent of our waste, so it was inconceivable to me how we could get to the point we’re at now—and I’m a green thinking person.

But in that short period of time we’re now, during season, recycling over 80 percent of our game day waste. And it makes me really excited to see that, because now I think that we can possibly get to zero waste—though it matters a bit how you define “zero waste.” In my mind our current waste streams, with what we’ve done in the last year in switching to compostable service ware, make it very feasible for us to get to 80 percent diversion on the year. And we’re still looking for ways to get to that 90+ percent recycling rate. It’s gotten a lot closer and a lot more conceivable that I would have thought even a year ago.

GG: Your rate of recycling has increased substantially in recent years. A lot of people tackle waste because it seems like a low hanging fruit, but are you seeing benefits from a profitability standpoint? Are your efforts saving the Mariners money?
SJ: Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to make the business case for it and there are a couple of ways we’ve done that. One concerns the sheer cost of getting rid of the waste.

For us, it costs less to recycle than it does to send something to the landfill. So last year, with an average diversion rate of over 70 percent on waste, we saved about $70,000 just by recycling.  That’s a pretty good business case. Now that changes based on where you live and what it costs to send things to the landfill, but we’re able to benefit from the fact that we’ve seen growth here in terms of facilities that can handle our compostable waste in an economical way. So it makes direct bottom line sense for our club to do that and it also greens our brand—which ultimately makes bottom line sense as well.

GG: When did the importance of greening your facilities hit you?
SJ: I’ve always been green minded. I grew up appreciating the environment and the natural world, which provides us everything we need to live. I think we have to be mindful of the waste and pollution we create, and also of what we consume. As the manager of operations at the ballpark, one of my jobs is to be efficient and not waste resources—so those two things go hand in hand.

From a business standpoint it’s mostly about dollars and we’re lucky that green initiatives that save resources—like energy and water—also save money. It just makes sense all around to be as efficient as we can with energy, water and the way we handle waste. Even if I wasn’t green minded, I’d like to think I’d be doing the same kind of things, but it becomes even more fulfilling to me as a person to know that we’re lessening our impact on the environment as well as improving our bottom line.

GG: Did waste seem like a natural place to start? Or did you go through an analysis and strategic planning process of some kind?
SJ:  It started with data. Fortunately, before I came to Seattle, the data was being kept on energy and water use and recycling rates. So I had the numbers in hand. When I first took a look at the baseline, I immediately saw room to get better from what we’d done historically with those three areas—energy use, water use and recycling.

The first year, I looked at the resource use and thought we could save $100,000 in year one alone if we considered what we’d used in the first six or seven years of being in the building and stuck to a goal of keeping to the low end of usage at all times. We found that $100,000 of savings in the first six months and ended up saving around $274,000 in that year compared to the previous one. After that it became pretty obvious that there were some tremendous opportunities to save money by being more efficient—turning off equipment, using automation, setting back temperatures, decommissioning equipment once the season was over, weather stripping and faucet aerators—without actually investing any real money. I knew we were on to something pretty big.

GG: Has hitting those efficiency points without major investment helped earn buy in for more initiatives from the C-Suite?
SJ: Absolutely. You might not be able to get everyone to talk green and see the benefits of lessening our impact on the environment. It sounds good and while I’d like to be optimistic about getting everyone on board and willing to invest in those values, but the reality is that we’re a business like any other business. When you’re able to talk seriously about bottom line savings—which just happen to comes along with this “side benefit” of green opportunities—then you can get that investment you need to take it further.

In the four years since we did our baseline on energy and water, we’ve saved $1.2 million. So in 2010, I’d put a placeholder in our budget of about $500,000 as TBD capital improvements and consumption reducing investments. We’d hit that point where we needed to do that, because we’d done just about everything we could without investment. So I put this placeholder into the budget—not knowing exactly what those projects would be—and I came back after we’d approved the capital budget with a plan for the exact projects and how they would pencil out money wise. I presented well over $1 million worth of projects and they approved them all, even though the capital budget originally only had a placeholder for half that. I think that was a direct result of achieving credibility and showing how the future projects made good business sense as well.

GG: Nobody likes to talk about what stands in their way of achieving greater success with sustainability, but we also know this isn’t a cakewalk all the time. What are some of the challenges that have come up in the time you’ve been working with the Mariners on green initiatives?
SJ: The supply chain is definitely one. Trying to find greener products that meet your needs and are priced competitively. We’ve ultimately been able to do that—in paper products and cleaning chemicals—but sometimes you have to ask deep questions of your suppliers. Price will always be an issue. Performance will always be an issue.

Fortunately we have great folks in our procurement and promotions department that are on the lookout for those opportunities. And once you get people in the mindset of looking across your organization, you start finding more opportunities. You need that teamwork. You can’t do it all yourself, because you’ve likely got a full-time job already. When you’re working at a large organization, you have lots of people who impact decisions that affect your bottom line and your green status. So the more you can help develop a culture that sees the value in greening your business, the easier it will be to find the solutions. And the supply chain is wizening up as well. They’re getting more price competitive in offering products with a lesser environmental impact.

GG: Cowboy Stadium in Dallas promoted this year’s Super Bowl as the greenest ever. Obviously your ballpark is taking sustainability seriously, but are other major facilities following suit? Is there some sort of peer pressure going on to invest in going green?
SJ: Yes. Though I don’t view it so much as peer pressure as I do illuminating the opportunities that exist to save money, lessen your environmental impact and green your brand. All of which have value to a growing percentage of the population—and the executives who hold the purse strings. Those are three really compelling reasons why businesses should go green.

The exciting thing for sports businesses is that we’re very visible, public serving facilities. We touch a lot of people through the team brand and the building brand. If we can use that facet of our influence to promote sustainability and efficiency to the greater public, we’re able to make great impact just by the sheer number of people we touch. If we can do these things, then just think of the opportunities that are there for other businesses and at home. As people see this integration becoming more mainstream in the teams and buildings, I think it will open up a lot of eyes.

Scott Jenkins is the Vice-President of Ballpark Operations for the Seattle Mariners. He is also a featured speaker and case study presenter at the GoGreen Conference Seattle, Wednesday April 20 at the Convention Center. Register today to lock in Early Bird Rates (through March 1, 2011):

To learn more about the Seattle Mariners’ sustainability initiatives and 2011 ticket information, visit:

Say Cheese! Pictures From GoGreen Seattle 2010

Let us first say a big THANK YOU! to all of you who attended, spoke, sponsored and/or exhibited at GoGreen Seattle 2010. We’re still blown away by the incredible response GoGreen received in Seattle + excited to come back next year!

Our awesome event photographer, Sara Gray captured so many of those memorable moments + we’d like to share them with you.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Want to re-live the day? Check out the highlights from Twitter:

Stay in Touch:

Tweet at Us: @GoGreenPDX + @GoGreenConf
Be a Fan on Facebook:

Thanks again for a fantastic and inspring day! See you next year Seattle—We’ll be back for more sustainable business action Wednesday, April 20, 2011!

Creating Change At Scale: Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft

Rob Bernard is the Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft. He’s is a featured Keynote Speaker at GoGreen ’10 Seattle on Wednesday, April 21st. Join us to hear more from Rob and over 60 other green business leaders on the cutting edge of sustainability in their company.

There’s no question that change is coming. In fact it’s happening right now. But change at broad scale has been more elusive for many. For Microsoft, with 80,000 employees in 100 different countries, affecting the kind of broad-based change is seen as both an opportunity and an obligation to society. With Rob Bernard at the helm of their sustainability efforts, they’re pushing for mass impact at breakneck speed.

GG: As an 80,000 person company, Microsoft has the potential to make a huge impact on the Earth’s systems—both positively or negatively. How do you handle that responsibility?
There are a couple of ways. One is what we hope is a clearly defined strategy and then secondly, making sure we put the right sort of governance model in place to execute that strategy. Then we try to use the appropriate level of communications so that people understand the strategy.

We look at several things when we develop strategy. The first is looking for energy efficiency gains for both ourselves and for society. We’re looking at how to leverage IT gains for all sectors. The second is looking at how we use technology tools to accelerate breakthroughs and scientific understanding of what future climate situations look like, and also working on modeling adaptation or mitigation strategies in the face of climate and environmental changes on our planet.

The third area is to make sure that we’re being responsible environmental leaders in the way we run our business. Here we’re looking beyond just energy efficiency to places like paper use, food services, transportation policies and travel policies.

Underpinning all that is this governance model that asks the question: How do we make sure that environmental sustainability becomes a core tenant in the way we do business, so that regardless of whether you’re a engineer writing software or a sales person, we’re providing the tools and support to make good decisions?

GG: What is Microsoft’s role in the broader sustainability movement? Is it to take care of your own business or go outside of the Microsoft campus and into the rest of the world?
We have a billion customers around the world, so we have an opportunity and an obligation to ensure that our customers are able to leverage our tools, services and technologies to drive sufficient energy and efficiency gains. For example, think about the role of sensors and sensor-based networks in building-based management. We also made an announcement last week with Ford where people who are looking to buy electric vehicles, and need infrastructure for charging, can use some of our software to enhance that experience. And then there’s the home products we’re developing that help people manage their home energy use.

We’re looking to build partnerships with other organizations for things like resource accounting and utilities efficiency. The goal is to make the impact that we make at Microsoft, but also in the IT industry, very positive so that more and more companies can provide more services to both enterprises, consumers and scientists to scale the solution up quickly. Because there’s one thing we all agree on and that’s that we don’t have much time.

GG: What are some of the specific ways that Microsoft reduces its impact? How does that translate into your product line?
Some things translate into what our clients buy. Some things are just physical behavior or thinking about our supply chain and how we run our business. For example, we can look at our food service. We’ve redesigned our entire food service and also our waste stream on our corporate campus—which is where approximately 50 percent of our workforce is located. By doing that we’ve reduced our waste stream by half in the first year of attacking this issue. That’s an example of how our focus on becoming more efficient and less wasteful, both in terms of what we purchase and what we dispose of, is making a huge impact.

An example of where our efforts touch our product lines is in using our own software tools and data to ensure that we’re having an impact on energy consumption for the clients. Specifically we’re ensuring that Windows and our other software are energy efficient in how they run and also we’re promoting more unified communications so that we’re reducing our air travel. In that area, we’ve been able to reduce the travel of the average Microsoft employee by 20 percent over the course of a year. That is a direct result of leveraging our technologies more effectively and others can do the same.

GG: When did this conversation start and when did Microsoft get serious about enacting broad scale sustainable policies?
It’s one of those things, like a lot of things, that has multiple source points. I’ve been in my role at Microsoft for two and half years, but we’ve been thinking about these things for well over a decade.

If you look at our road map for something like Windows, we’re transitioning from a world where energy efficiency and enhancements were options in the product line to a world where they’re default on both the client and the server end. Those things take up to a decade to really embed themselves into the technology and we’ve been working on sustainability in a lot of different places that are just now showing up with big impact.

The next question is: How do you take well-intentioned individual behaviors and put them together in a way that is strategic and adheres to a larger vision and strategy? That process and transition started about three years ago—but we want to accelerate and amplify the speed at which we’re doing things and the impact they have.

GG: What have been the biggest roadblocks you’ve come up against and how did you bust through them?
Internally, our biggest challenge is often keeping up with the pace at which things are changing. We’re in over one hundred countries and have dozens of product lines and services. Keeping track of and harnessing the incredible amount of work that’s done everyday has been an early-on challenge. I think as we get more involved in this and it becomes systemic, the next wave is using the right models to change our practices broadly and change how we talk about this with customers. Those aren’t really challenges necessarily, but something we have to work through.

The biggest challenge we face externally is actually changing behavior rather than pushing technology. There are incredible technologies that exist right now that will enable customers to significantly reduce the impact of their IT activity or allow IT to reduce the impact of their operations. These things exist because there are cutting edge companies doing incredible work and making radical changes in their energy consumption. The technology is there, so the issue is why it isn’t happening on a broader scale? It’s often because these are behavioral changes.

Let me mention a statistic that is interesting, illuminating and concerning all at the same time—fewer than 20 percent of IT professionals know how much energy their infrastructure consumes. Because historically those facilities figures showed up on the power bill, which they don’t see. As a result, many IT professionals can’t optimize their energy use because they don’t know what it is. That’s not a technology problem, it’s a business model, infrastructure and corporate governance issue.

Let’s say you came to me and said, “Hey Microsoft, I want to find out how I can reduce the amount of energy I use in my data center.” I would first ask you how much energy you’re using in your data center. A lot of people aren’t really sure, but they still want to reduce it. So then I’d ask, “Why aren’t you sure?” Usually the answer is that facilities has the answers because they pay the bills—but you have to go get those bills.

It’s great to have web tools and services in place that monitor and control real time energy use, but you won’t get to that level of operational sophistication unless you begin with the fundamental behavioral issue which includes proactively tackling the issue by going out and finding the data you need to get started.

GG: Are there any sustainable initiatives or policies that you haven’t been able to implement yet, but would like to?
The challenge right now is building things up to scale. We have incredible amounts of support across the whole company, but we’re still pushing hard to make this happen faster and make things more beneficial for our customers.

GG: How can smarter software help other companies be more sustainable?
It depends on what industry they operate in, but taking an example, let’s say you’re in the IT department and you monitor your energy use. You can probably save 25-30 percent right off the bat by following some of our efficiency best practices. If you think about air travel or train travel—a behavior that almost every business person has to engage in—and invest in telecommuting technologies like we did, you can reduce travel substantially. That has a massive financial impact on a company and also drastically reduces their carbon footprint.

If you can actually change the way in which people work and travel by substituting technology for physical transport—that’s huge. You can also look at the difference between sending data and sending physical paper. We look at this in terms of how we distribute our own materials and software. We’re encouraging our customers to move further away from using disks, printed materials and packaging that has to be shipped and closer to getting things digitally. The dematerialization concept is quite powerful and we’re just starting to see it take hold.

GG: What do we need to do to push change at a rate that will let us avoid some of the most unpleasant environmental consequences that are looming?
It’s really a combination of pushing and pulling. What we need to do as an industry, not just as Microsoft, is to provide more examples and case studies of breakthrough technology and behavioral changes. We need to showcase those achievements so that more people are aware and can emulate them. That’s more on the push side.

On the pull side, what we need to see happen is a more universal focus on making things more efficient and making things happen faster. I go back to this example I’ve been using in our discussion of the IT department and ask why more CIOs aren’t accountable for their company’s energy bill?

If we had a scenario where more CFOs, CEOs and people who do my job are driving CIOs to think about and become accountable for energy consumption, those professionals will start to develop and employ technologies to help them reduce their impact.

You could argue the same thing for line managers. If line managers become accountable for a manufacturing plant’s energy costs or carbon output—or both—they would go seek out the technology to drive efficiency.

GG: Are there any case studies on these groundbreaking behavior changes that particularly inspire you?
I’ll tell you about one that isn’t happening in the energy arena, because there is a lot of talk around that sector already. There are some pretty interesting things happening in places where people are using sensor networks to drive down the amount of water consumption in agricultural use.

Just to put this in context, about 70 percent of the water we use is for agricultural and manufacturing purposes, and estimates are that up to 50 percent of that water is wasted because we use the blanket approach rather than a targeted one. Now, imagine a world where you put in censors into the fields and can get incredibly specific about when and where you water.

Now you can do things like predicting water need. Since you know each seed, what its growing cycle should be and the optimal amount of moisture it needs, you can be really targeted with your behavior based on what the censor readings are. You’ll know if one row needs to be watered, but the other doesn’t. Or if there’s a 60 percent chance of rain in the next five days, so therefore you don’t need to water at this time at your current soil moisture levels. Getting down to that level of singularity will help save mass amounts of water—which is an increasingly scarce resource.

GG: When did this passion for sustainability begin for you?
It’s been a lifelong thing for me. I grew up doing a lot of hiking and I always spent my summers outside. I also spent a great deal of time in the mountain ranges over on the East Coast and overseas in areas that were being rapidly deforested and that stuck with me.

I did an MBA and took all the environmental science classes I could take—which at the time was one—and I also took a lot of interest in natural resources in biology classes. It’s just always been a big part of my lifestyle and who I am.
When I got the opportunity to help our company focus our efforts in this area, I was really thrilled that Microsoft decided that I could be the person to take charge of this area and lead the company in this arena.

GG: Are there any areas of sustainability that are particularly interesting to you?
I think a discussion that’s really interesting and growing in relevance is the intersection between human health and healthcare issues, and environmental issues. There’s been an incredible focus on the debate around climate change, energy use and security—but what about the fact that some of the byproducts from the way we produce energy today are also very likely key contributors to things like asthma or tumor and cancer rates? For many people I speak with, green chemistry is becoming more of a top-of-mind issue, with human health as a primary motivator for people who aren’t necessarily motivated by climate change arguments.

GG: Is there anything else going on with your work that you’d like to share with our readers?
Even though I spend most of my time trying to improve the advantages technology can bring to the discussion, sustainability relies first on attitudes and behavioral change. That’s what spurs the market to achieve at scale. Once behavior starts to change at scale, good advancements will start to happen much more rapidly.

I think one issue is that a great deal of society is hyper-focused on the energy aspect of the overall problem. But they haven’t quite yet internalized that this is much bigger than just energy. It’s also about human and environmental health and the ways in which we live. We need to look at our individual longevity as well as the planetary impact of what we’re doing.

Rob Bernard is the Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft and a keynote speaker at the GoGreen ‘10 Conference on April 21, 2010 in Seattle, WA. To register for the GoGreen Conference ‘10, please visit: GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Rob Bernard and the Microsoft’s sustainable strategy, visit:

Green Line Series: Nissan America’s Mark Perry

Mark Perry is a speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Seattle, WA. Join us April 21 for the conference to hear from Mark and a roster full of more amazing speakers.

If you think a convenient, cost effective electric vehicle (EV) that doesn’t look like a cartoon characterization of an automobile is a thing of the future—think again. Nissan America and eTec are teaming up to deploy 4,700 LEAFs (their new electric 5 passenger, 4 door EV) to the market along with 12,500 charging stations in markets across the U.S. Mark Perry, Nissan America’s Director of Product Planning and Strategy sits down with the GoGreen Team to talk about cost, range and how the availability of reliable mass market electric vehicles could change the transportation game in the U.S. forever.

GG: Can you give us a “state of the EV” report?
What we’ve seen over the last couple years from manufacturers is a recognition that electrification of the transportation sector is no longer a “what if.” It’s more a question of when and people have now started using the term inevitable.

We’ve been working on Lithium Ion batteries at Nissan for over 17 years now, so when we started this project we were the first. Over that 17 years we’ve continually worked on it, but the last 18 months is where we’ve been out talking about mass production and mass marketing of electric vehicles. And now, I don’t think there is a manufacturer that doesn’t have some kind of similar program. Most of them are test and demonstration, but everybody is jumping into a change in both the fuel and the power plant that will drive transportation into the future.

GG: We saw that both Porsche and Ferrari now have hybrid vehicles in test programs, is this the kind of trend you’re speaking of?
Exactly. You know when those guys are doing this that you’ve reached a tipping point.

GG: What do you consider some of the most exciting technologies coming out at the beginning of this decade for American vehicles?
It’s a combination of the amount of investment that’s going into Lithium Ion batteries—which is tremendous—there are a lot of really good batteries out there now. My crystal ball—going out 10 to 15 years—is a little cloudy, but there’s a lot of continuing research and development that will continue to go on.
The batteries we’re seeing come to market now are a leapfrog in technology from where we were, even eight years ago. And then, of course, when you’re working in Lithium Ion batteries and electric motors, you’re also setting yourself up for fuel cell vehicles of the future. Even if battery technology doesn’t make a leap, we’ll still have a very efficient plug-in hybrid.

We think the end game is electrification—either pure battery electric or fuel cell.

GG: Are Lithium Ion batteries a stepping stone to get us to that end game?
We think with the hybrid technology that’s out there for a while and plug-in hybrids are the bridge technologies to electrification. Once you get to battery powered electric vehicles, you’re trying to reduce cost and improve range. With fuel cell vehicles it the combination of shrinking the size of the overall hydrogen that you have to carry, how to refine it and how to shrink the size of the entire fuel cell pack. Reducing cost, reducing size, reducing weight.

The battery pack that we have now in the Nissan LEAF, just from where we were in 2002 is half the size, half the weight, twice the energy density and one sixteenth of the cost.

GG: What is the biggest shift that still needs to happen? Cost? Distribution channels? Technology barriers? Public perception? Where is the disconnect between where we are now and everyone driving a car like the LEAF?
We think our program is a little bit different than most in that we are going into mass production and mass marketing the LEAF. It will be the first time in history that these vehicles are widely available. Second, this vehicle is going to be affordable. It’s not just for elite, but affordable for the masses.
Third, you have the issue of range. The range is the range. That’s more of a marketing and behavioral issue that we’re going to have to do some education on. The technology is not for everyone—but it does cover 95 percent of your daily driving habits. But the technology just isn’t there yet to pull a boat behind it or a horse trailer or to go four wheeling.

GG: Is technology the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
It’s one of them and obviously cost as well. When you get to mass production scale, you need to drive your costs down. We’re very appreciative of both the federal and state incentives that are available. But we also know that to truly achieve mass market success and scale, you can’t always rely on those to be there.

Our task is to appreciate the level of support that’s there to help get the market started, but long term, manufacturers have to get their costs in line to the point where you’re not paying a premium for the technology.

GG: If you’re willing to look into your crystal ball again—how long do you think we are off until we’ve got fuel cell semi-trucks crossing coast to coast in America?
Right now we’re seeing a combination of hybrid-electric—so a combination of diesel and hybrid-electric bucket trucks—come to market already. People have joked—and I can’t claim this as my original thought—that there is no silver bullet to solve our transportation issues, but there are silver buckshots. By that I mean that for some vehicle segments—medium and large duty trucks—natural gas and diesel may make some sense. For passenger cars it’s battery electric or fuel cells at the end.
For other vehicle segments it may be a combination of technology. It just doesn’t appear that there is one technology right now that solves all issues. However, we’re seeing manufacturers working on all five—improving gasoline engines, looking at clean diesel, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and then finally, electrification.

GG: Has the consumer mind set changed in the past five to 10 years? Or are proponents of these technologies still preaching to the choir?
No, it’s changed. I think that the number one issue always has been and will continue to be price. It doesn’t matter the vehicle segment or the power train or the technology, the first question is always about price. People always ask, “what does it cost,” “am I expected to pay a premium,” and “is there a payback period?”
What Nissan is setting out to do is to take away the cost premium issue and the payback period, so you’re better off from day one. We really hope to change the game completely with the launch of the LEAF.

The second biggest issue has always been range. And the third thing that comes up are the positives—the economic benefits, the environmental benefits, reduction benefits and the philosophical benefits from feeling like you’re doing the right thing. But those things always come third behind the rational issues.

GG: How will marketing messaging and branding strategy factor into educating the public on the need for electrification of our vehicles?
It’s a big task. We’ve spent the last 18 months talking to people trying to get them to understand that this isn’t technology that’s 10 years away. It’s here. We’re nine months out from launch and we have a vehicle that goes 100 miles on a single charge, is affordable and you can use it everyday as your primary vehicle that you go back and forth to work in, do your chores, grab the kids and what have you.

So the first piece of the launch is the education piece. The second piece is the concern about charging. What people aren’t considering is that you charge overnight in the convenience of your garage at very low electricity rates, and wake up every morning with 100 miles in your tank. The early adopters get it, but the majority of Americans are still learning that you’ll never have to go to a gas station again. This is as convenient as plugging in your cell phone and it take a little time to get used to that concept.

The last piece of the puzzle is asking how far people really go on a daily basis. You can sit there and show the statistics—95 percent of the population goes less than 100 miles a day and 72 percent go less than 40 miles—but until people actually do that for themselves it’s a challenge. We’re actually challenging people to keep a driving log for a week to track their mileage day by day to see how far they actually go. Most people find they don’t go very far at all.

GG: When did Nissan lock on to the importance of heading down the electric vehicle path? What prompted the support in your corporate culture for that?
It was back in 1999 when the Nissan Renault happened. We’d been working on the Lithium Ion batteries for almost a decade before that and were the first car company to do a Lithium Ion battery pack vehicle in 1998. That was our test and demonstration time. When Mr. Ghosn and the Renault team came and saw an advanced engineering, almost skunk works in the top part of the company, he found this electric vehicle program and a battery team working diligently without a lot of visibility in other parts of the company. He saw that as a gem or a nugget that he had uncovered.

We continued to work and in 2002 we had a breakthrough on the battery itself. Once that happened, it became a question of how we could get this to market, because Mr. Ghosn saw the combination of consumer interest, the pressure from a regulatory standpoint on things like CO2 reduction—and we see that increasing with cities like London and Paris restricting access to their downtowns to vehicles that meet a certain low or no emissions standard—and then also the sheer multiplier of more vehicles hitting the road every year in China and India with an increasing pressure on the oil supply and fuel prices. It was pretty clear what direction we needed to take.

GG: Where there challenges you faced when bringing this technology to market?
Of course. You have to have high confidence in the battery technology and its durability and reliability. Two, you have to find and optimize a vehicle platform. You’re always dealing with weight, size and cost—and you’re always trying to maneuver around those three sometimes competing variables to find the right combination.

Until we were able to get the pack down as small as we have and move beyond the flashlight and laptop batteries cell structures of the past into a format that is flat—think of an 8.5×11 sheet of paper—you’ve heard them termed as laminate, pouch, prismatic, polymer and they’re all flat structures that are easily stacked. And all of a sudden, you don’t have to give up rear seat room or trunk room. You can have a normal passenger interior and package the battery down below the seats and you have a viable vehicle concept.

Now from a manufacturing standpoint, there isn’t an automotive company out there that has a long history of manufacturing batteries—some have played around in that arena—we probably have the longest history of research and development in battery technology internally at an auto company, but what you then have to go do is find manufacturing expertise. You can’t build a battery pack in a normal automotive factory.

GG: Do you think people will start to outsource? And it might be like having a Intel processor in your computer regardless of whether you have a Mac or a Dell?
We see a little of that happening already. Most of the major players have entered into partnerships or hooked up with different battery suppliers. Our joint venture is with NEC. They were brought to the party, because they have mass production manufacturing expertise in battery packs. So it’s our cell, but they are a big part of the equation of bringing that to mass market.

In the United States, you have A123 hooking up with a couple of auto companies. LG Chem out of Korea is working with Volt. Panasonic is working with Toyota. So the partnerships are forming right now. Will there be one battery that emerges so far superior to everybody else’s? I don’t know yet. I think the first person who gets their costs in line and has a very reliable and consistent battery pack may win the advantage.

GG: Can you tell us about the program that Nissan is running with eTec that is building charging stations and distributing vehicles in the Seattle area and across Oregon?
We were fortunate to partner with eTec, who has been a longtime partner/supplier with the US Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE put out a series of grants back in May of 2009 looking for projects that were focused on mass scale. It was all about the charging infrastructure and how people would actually use them. We were fortunate to win $100 million out of a $400 million pool of money to build the single largest public and private charging infrastructure and electric vehicle rollout ever.

So in five regions and cities around the country they’ll be fast started. Those aren’t the only markets where we’re launching, but those markets will see the system quicker. There will be a total of 12,500 chargers put in and 4,700 Nissan LEAFs made available. The project is all about how they people who own the vehicles actually interact with and use both the car and the charging network that’s deployed.

Especially in those markets—Seattle, the state of Oregon, San Diego, Phoenix/Tucson and the state of Tennessee—the issue of the ability to charge and concerns over not being able to find charging stations hopefully won’t be there, because there will be a fully deployed, rich and diverse charging network on the ground.

GG: Are these stations for the exclusive use of the people in the program? Or if you have another brand of electric vehicle, are those stations still available for your use?
The good news from a consumer standpoint or a retailer standpoint is that for once, we’ve actually gotten ahead of industries like the cell phone makers. The charging is universal. There’s an industry standard for the charging port and plug that anyone’s vehicle—whether it’s pure electric or hybrid electric—can use. It’s the same plug.

The charging network we’re building is not proprietary for Nissan vehicles, it’s just that we believe we’ll be the biggest users, because we’ll be out there in volume and scale. Though, as part of the project, there is a local 50 percent match, which can be financial in kind dollars or it can be things like land or access. Obviously if you purchase a Nissan LEAF, that goes beyond that match that’s required. So folks that participate in the program and purchase a LEAD will be supplied a home charger as long as they agree to participate in the research.

GG: Why is this initiative so important and why are Oregon and Seattle among two of your five test markets?
Start with consumers. Where are the early adopters? Where are the folks who have been living green, breathing green and talking about living sustainably for a long time? In the quick surrogate you look at in the early adopter market for hybrids and what markets they took off in first. Oregon and Seattle, from a per capita standpoint, if they’re not number one and two, then they’re really high up there.

The second part of the process was supporting utility companies. So Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, PGE and Pacific Power, Salem Electric, etc. are very supportive and advanced with a high percentage of renewables in their portfolio. In Seattle even, the EVs will be running around a net carbon zero power source, because even if you look back at the utility company and the amount of hydroelectric power they have, you’re net carbon zero from a source standpoint—which is fantastic.

The third component to our choice of markets was policy. So in the state of Oregon, the Governor’s Office led a task team that drove the entire state to decide that they wanted to be a the forefront of both electric vehicles and renewable energy. Oregon and Seattle are two areas of the country that are leaders—longtime leaders—in these sectors and it made a lot of sense to work there.

The Department of Energy is looking for a deliverable of information on around 100 million miles of real world activity with EVs after two years. They can use this to study how EVs are used, where people charged, how often did they charge? Did they use 50 percent of their battery on average or 80 percents? When did they look for charging? We’re also going to demonstrate fast charging in those areas where the station allows you to get an 80 percent charge in 26 minutes—and we want to know if that will change charging and driving behavior.

The program is designed to help leaders in other parts of the country who may not be quite as advanced, or who are looking at a blank sheet of paper and trying to figure out what they need to do to get started. The report will be able to help them understand what they need to plan for and how to do a deployment of public chargers. It will answer how many of them they’ll need, where to put them, how dense. And for the utilities, it will let them know what their load profile will be like and what the need to do to prepare for it.

GG: Any other topics of interest you’d like to hit on before we wrap this up?
People always ask us, “why now?” We talked a little about that earlier—consumers are demanding this, regulatory pressures are rising and the number of vehicles is sky rocketing as India and China take to the road. With a normal adoption curve on the number of vehicles we have on the road today, we could easily have two billion cars on the road in 2020. And as it stands, there just aren’t enough resources to put two billion cars and trucks on this planet. We have to change.

The questions are how fast and when? Electrification is a very efficient mode of transportation—far more efficient than an internal combustion car.

So—why now? That’s usually the first question and then we get “how many?” It’s funny because the most aggressive study—done out of UC Berkeley—said that the top number would be 64 percent market penetration by 2030. But we also had the CEO of the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company predict 45 percent of the transportation sector will be electrified by 2050. So the forecasts are there from various sides of the table and we think its going to move faster than many expect it to. It’s coming and the good news for GoGreen readers and participants that live in the Northwest is that they’ll be right at the center of it all.

And it’s not just Nissan. At last count, there were probably 30-40 different EV projects out there. Most of those are still in test and demonstration programs, but people are moving in the right direction.

Mark Perry is the Director of Product Planning and Strategy at Nissan America and a featured speaker at the GoGreen ‘10 Conference on April 21, 2010 in Seattle, WA. To register for the GoGreen Conference ‘10, please visit: GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon! Mark and our other 40+ eco-visionary speakers are going to rock your green world.

To learn more about Mark Perry and the Nissan LEAF, visit: