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San Diego Biotech Firm A World Leader In Sustainability

Aired 3/26/13 on KPBS News.

An area global biotechnology firm has made the list of the world’s 100 most sustainable large companies because of its actively shrinking carbon footprint.

— An area global biotechnology firm has made the list of the world’s 100 most sustainable large companies. Carlsbad-based Life Technologies made the list because it is actively shrinking its carbon footprint.

And the focus on sustainability is coming with an eye on the bottom line.

Life Technology's San Diego County offices are landscaped to look lush. But the firm’s Shelly Murasko looked over the manicured garden one day recently and insisted the use of water here is judicious.

“All of the plants in this particular area are considered aesthetically appropriate," Murasko said. "But also they require less water than what you would find in other types of landscaping.”

And that’s not an accident. Landscaping is just one way the company, which has nearly $4 billion in annual sales, focuses on environmentally friendly practices.

Inside the company's building, Murasko said lighting, heating and cooling are all designed to minimize energy use. Even in the break room, she said the employee culture is set up to encourage sustainable practices like recycling.

“We’re challenging our locations to go to zero waste. Zero waste is defined as a 90-percent diversion from landfills.”

Three of the firms 25 campuses around the world have done that. In its labs, clothing, gloves and chips are all reused or recycled where possible. Packaging materials used in shipping are smaller. And the massive refrigerator that keeps the company’s products fresh, is fueled by a one megawatt power cell system, that sits just outside the building.

Natural gas feeds the chemical reaction that generates enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

“Eighty percent of this electricity is used to power our refrigerators and freezers that house hundreds of millions of dollars in inventories, so its very critical to our business continuity," Murasko said. "The other 20 percent is for air conditioning and ventilation and we are always fully using the one megawatt of power.”

Murakso noted that the plant's power is 30 percent cleaner than what the grid supplies. And the power cell keeps the juice on if the grid fails.

Perhaps just as important, the electricity is cheaper to make than buy, so it saves the company $1 million a year.

Energy isn’t the only focus for the company’s chief sustainability officer Christina Amorim. She’s working to change the old industrial model of find, process, use and throw away. Amorim said reducing and reusing materials changes the equation.

“We have shown that by closing the loop and tackling issues on every step of the way. It is helping us save millions of dollars in our entire supply chain,” Amorim said.

And saving money makes sustainability a much easier sell to top company officials. Amorim said the company works to improve environmental efficiencies by 5 percent each year. That helps the profit, the people and the planet.

“That’s really impacting the triple bottom line because now you have the environmental impact taken care of ... and you have your employees and your communities taken care of.”

Life Technologies is not alone. Many other companies are making sustainability a priority. San Diego State University marketing professor Heather Honea said that’s because it increasingly makes good business sense.

“I think a lot of businesses over the last five years have realized there’s opportunity for money savings, but at the same time, then it repositions them in the market as someone who’s doing good as opposed to just making profit,” Honea said.

She said customers pay attention when a firm decides to take a green path. And while some sustainability improvements clearly save money, the financial returns diminish as efficiencies are made. Honea said that’s when companies can consider other impacts.

“They’ve maximized how much their electricity bill is going to go down," she said. "But now they’re getting another set of returns where people are just more invested in what this organization is doing, because they feel like it's not just for profit.”

Honea said there’s also recognition among business officials that sustainable practices may not be a choice down the road. She said some firms are making changes now, on their own timetable, before those changes are required.

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