Celebrating Women in Sustainability this April

By Krista Van Tassel
April 22nd, 2014

As a member of Wells Fargo’s Women’s Team Member Network, I’m proud to work on and with a team of many women business leaders at Wells Fargo, as well as in the community. Recently the Women’s Team Member Network featured my manager and head of Environmental Affairs at Wells Fargo, Mary Wenzel, in a question and answer interview on sustainability at Wells Fargo. The Network provides a forum for women at Wells Fargo and offers mentor/mentee relationships and other ongoing professional development opportunities.

I’ve had the privilege learning from Mary’s leadership style as a member of her team for nearly five years. I hope you’ll enjoy her perspectives on sustainability and the unique role that women leaders can play.

Sustainability at Wells Fargo

When Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace,” the Nobel Prize Committee stated that “She thinks globally and acts locally.” This call to action – to think globally and act locally – is relevant for all of us. Women and girls face many economic and social challenges, and yet they are critical partners and leaders in promoting sustainable development. There is growing evidence that corporations with women in leadership positions – as corporate executives and board members – are actually more focused on sustainability.

At Wells Fargo, our environmental affairs work is about more than just good business and protecting the environment – it’s also about managing risks and anticipating issues related to energy demands and climate change. As one of the largest companies in America, we play a role in boosting America’s economic strength while helping our communities become more resilient. There are many different ways we do this. For example, the company is financing companies and making investments in technologies that reduce environmental impacts and promote greater efficiency. At the same time, we are collaborating with and supporting the work of local nonprofits and Non-Governmental Organizations that are working toward similar goals. And, our organizational partners and team members are finding innovative ways to work smarter – which reduces our footprint and expenses.

The work of Environmental Affairs is ultimately about helping the company, our communities, and customers thrive both today and tomorrow. We are fortunate to have the support of our leadership, many business partners, and engaged team members who are working to create change in our offices, communities, and the world. We spoke to Mary Wenzel, head of Environmental Affairs, about Wells Fargo’s commitment to the environment.

Q: What are the most exciting sustainability initiatives Wells Fargo has launched?

A: Eight years ago we realized one of the most significant ways we can support the environment is by supporting the development of renewable energy and other environmentally beneficial businesses. At the time, however, we did not generally finance renewable energy projects. We worked to reverse that by adding an Environmental Finance team of experts who could help us build our knowledge base and understand the risks and opportunities related to renewable energy.

Since then, Wells Fargo has emerged as one of the largest tax-equity investors in domestic commercial solar photovoltaic projects. We support, lend to, and invest in the entire solar energy value chain, providing banking services and credit facilities to many of the most accomplished solar companies in the U.S.

We believe there is tremendous potential for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other clean technologies to help address the range of sustainability challenges. We provide lending, insurance brokerage, and construction financing, among other products, as well as advisory services for our customers who are working to advance strategies to meet critical sustainability needs. We also focus on reducing waste through our products and services and engaging and educating our customers where appropriate.

In 2013, we provided more than $6 billion in financing to “greener” buildings, “greener” businesses, and renewable energy projects. This brings our total environmental finance investment since 2012 to more than $12 billion.

In our own operations, we’re committed to finding new ways to minimize energy consumption and use renewable sources of energy. We’re excited about our voluntary goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. We’ve already reduced emissions by 23 percent. Much of these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have been a result of focused attention on using more efficient technologies in our datacenters.

We’re also proud of our 70 Wells Fargo Green Teams that help drive behavioral change at a grassroots level. The teams serve as ambassadors for our environmental efforts in their communities and with their colleagues and affect thousands of team members worldwide. From volunteer events to internal operations improvements, Wells Fargo Green Teams are a vital component of our environmental success. Last year, Green Teams helped Wells Fargo achieve a 65 percent waste reduction goal by hosting recycling events and education campaigns to increase awareness and use of local options. This success resulted in an estimated 1 million pounds of personal and office waste diverted from landfills. Green Teams also helped achieve Leadership in Energy Efficiency & Design® (LEED) certification in nine of our administrative buildings in 2013. Active teams at each location helped develop and qualify Wells Fargo for LEED-Innovation credit, the first of its kind and now a blueprint for other companies.

Q: What is your personal/professional big picture goal/hope for the company?

A: Both personally and professionally, it has been very rewarding to see the change in thinking around environmental issues in my 20-something year career. When I first began my career at Wells Fargo, I was the only full-time employee hired to address these issues. For so long it seemed there was a perception that being environmentally responsible came at a cost – either monetarily or in doing with less. Today, there is growing awareness that it makes good business sense for companies to operate efficiently – less energy and resource use = lower expenses.

Our senior management also recognizes how important these issues are to our team members, communities, and customers. In 2013, there were 41 weather events globally (7 in the United States) that each caused $1billion or more in damages and devastating loss of life. There is a no longer a question that environmental issues are connected to the health and well-being of our communities. Or, that we have a responsibility to support our customers both as they deal with the impacts to their lives and businesses, and as they seek to find solutions to pressing environmental challenges. Environmental sustainability is no longer a “nice to do” but is a business imperative.

There is much work to do, but it is an exciting and rewarding journey to be leading for Wells Fargo!

EA Team BW image 640 wide

Wells Fargo’s Environmental Affairs team

Source: Wells Fargo Women’s’ Team Member Network April 2014 newsletter

Tags:   climate   employee   energy   financing   innovation   LEED   volunteer   
Krista Van Tassel

Krista Van Tassel

As Community and Team Member Engagement manager for Wells Fargo’s Environmental Affairs Team, Krista supports the company’s 70+ Green Teams, recognizing and promoting environmental innovator best practices, and engaging and educating team members about their role in helping the company’s sustainability efforts. She also manages Wells Fargo’s Environmental Solutions for Communities’ $3 million annual nonprofit grant program focused on helping make long-term sustainable economic investments in local communities where its customers and 264,000 team members work and live. Prior to joining Wells Fargo in 2009, Krista worked in a variety of sustainability and marketing positions in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. Krista earned her MBA in International Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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