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Big Interview: Director of environmental sustainability for the Americas at Ernst & Young, Leisha John.

By Rob Starr, Content Manager,

Ernst and Young has long been known as one of the leaders in sustainability and able to balance their “triple bottom line” of obligations and opportunities, financial as well as social and environmental risk efficiently under the guidance of people like Leisha John, Americas Director of environmental sustainability for the firm.

Shortly after her firm released their latest corporate sustainability report for the Americas Area, Patterns of progress: How our people are shaping our sustainability journey, Leisha was able to talk with about the firm’s progress on key initiatives. She started by speaking to the term sustainability and the diverse areas it covered.

“I know a lot of people hear the term sustainability and automatically they think about environmental sustainability and one of the purposes to putting out this report was to show that sustainability was really a much broader umbrella,” she said.

She went on to say the term encompasses initiatives aimed at people in the Ernst & Young organization as well as investing in entrepreneurship and communities.

“Basically,” John said, “it’s about providing a better working world through our mission of promoting transparency and good governance.”

Well Rounded Sustainability

John went on to say that while the more traditional community engagement aspect is the one that most people associate with sustainability, the environmental stewardship, entrepreneurship and diversity aspects all work together for the well rounded sustainability package Ernst & Young strives for. Ernst & Young has numerous offices across the Americas and while there is a diversity to their sustainability efforts, much of what the company does in this area would be familiar to environmentally minded people.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

For example, Ernst & Young’s carbon footprint has been reduced by 11% since 2008 by focusing on travel alternatives like videoconferencing.  Purchasing 100% green power for Ernst & Young’s data center facility and the headquarters in New York has helped to spur investment in renewable energy.

“Our data center, obviously, is a huge consumer of energy,” John said also referencing the fact that Ernst & Young has replaced 12,000 older fixtures with LED lighting in the Times Square US headquarters office. “One thing that we did at the data center was get the EnergyStar certification so that we know that it’s operating in a very energy efficient way.”

She went on to say that because Ernst & Young procures the energy for that data center building, they spent additional money on renewable energy certificates. The company’s efforts are many and international as well as national in scope. Recently, the Chicago Ernst & Young EcoCare team looked at all the public transportation modes in the area and came up with a directory pointing to the green choices.

“We have EcoCare teams that are basically our grass roots and volunteer efforts,” John said adding there were leaders in regions around the country that had small budgets and met quarterly. The team leaders are then asked to help support the national campaigns.

Flagship Program

John was also glad to speak about the Earthwatch Global Ambassadors program which is considered the flagship environmental sustainability program.

“We have collaborated with Earthwatch and this particular program is geared toward our best and brightest people below the manager level,” she said adding the program focused on staff and young seniors so they could get out and really experience climate change first hand. John furthered the program was highly selective and that only about 10% of those who apply are selected. The successful applicants go to either Costa Rica to a large co-op or Brazil where half of each day is spent on scientific research to benefit the coffee fields or honey farms there.

John concluded by talking briefly about the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program and how it relates to Ernst and Young’s overall sustainability philosophy.

“Whenever we sign a lease for a new office building, we definitely look for a space that’s LEED certified,” she said. “For example, our need building that’s coming up will be in Cleveland and that will be a LEED certified building in a LEED certified neighborhood.”






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