February 2, 2022

Practical Sustainability: Jeff Kavanaugh, Corey Glickman

The race to carbon neutrality is top of mind for C-Suite and frontline employees alike. We struggle to convert lofty goals into tangible results. Buildings and commerce are vital to this green future but environmental challenges and market pressures block the path to sustainability. Finally, a practical approach to sustainability has emerged, blending the physical and the digital, the human and the machine.

From tech titans to niche unicorns, Practical Sustainability showcases the best of the digital stars and the roles required to mind this 21st century gold rush. With over eight trillion of existing commercial real estate that must become more intelligent and sustainable as quickly as possible.

Practical Sustainability is required reading for anyone involved with sustainability, intelligent buildings, and supply chains. Illustrating how technology combined with physical environments is elevating human potential while ushering in a greener, more prosperous future. This is The Author Hour Podcast and I’m your host, Frank Garza. Today I’m joined by Corey Glickman and Jeff Kavanaugh. 

Corey Glickman is Vice President at Infosys and leads their sustainability and design business, delivering smart space initiatives for clients globally. Corey is a member of both The World Economic Forum Pioneer Cities Group and MIT technology review board and is a faculty expert at Singular University. The American Institute of Graphic Arts named Corey one of the 100 most influential designers of the decade. 

Jeff Kavanaugh is Vice President and head of Infosys Knowledge Institute, the research and thought leadership arm of Infosys, a leading tech and consulting company. Jeff is an adjunct professor at the Gentle School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of the books, The Live Enterprise, and Consulting Essentials.

Jeff has been published in Harvard Business Review and other leading business publications. Corey and Jeff are the Authors of a brand-new book, Practical Sustainability: Circular Commerce, Smarter Spaces, and Happier Humans.

Jeff and Corey, welcome to the show. I’d like to start with the title of your book, Practical Sustainability. What is practical sustainability?

Corey Glickman: I’ll take this one, Jeff. Practical sustainability is literally a practical approach to how we work in sustainability. We know that because of the complexity, it’s a very wicked problem overall. We know that we can solve at least for half of what is needed now through aggressive actions using the science and technology that we have. 

We know that the time is now because the technology is available, the cultural movement is there and we know that the problem statement is large enough that from an economic and business perspective organizations need to go there so, therefore, we know that it’s a mandate that has to take place that will be supported in the long run.

Frank Garza: I’ve read that you guys believe Practical Sustainability should be on the required reading list at academic institutions. Can you talk about why you believe that? 

Corey Glickman: Certainly. The reason that it should be really part of the whole academic agenda is that we know that there’s been a huge uptick within the student populations right now of being highly involved and interested in being part of the solution and seeing huge careers here.

There was actually a study in 2020 by USC that found that 64% of undergraduate students, they’re very interested in on-campus sustainability while 27% are somewhat interested in how this is going to impact their current career paths as they were looking, whether they were going to be biologists, scientists, MBAs across there and they’re looking to see how this cross[es] over through here.

We also know that in their own personal lives, 27% of them are practicing what they feel are sustainable actions in everything that you’re doing right now. In short, practical sustainability for colleges, we believe is the next killer app because it represents this triple crown of career, compensation, and conscience that they need to really go through.

We know that can lead to many types of career paths such as a sustainability specialist, environmental engineers, sustainability managers, and sustainability directors. There are other job opportunities that are going to provide workers the chance to positively impact the environment, the way these people’s quality of life will go forward, and also what, how it’s going to impact future generations. 

I think it’s really important to understand that as we think about, really, what is sustainability and why it’s important. It really means that, how do we meet the needs that we have today without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their own needs.

Bringing Sustainability To The Real World

Frank Garza: Great. So, you talked a little bit there about what the benefit will be to students and how it can accelerate their careers while fulfilling their values. Why would professors and researchers introduce the book into their classes?

Jeff Kavanaugh: I’ll take that, Corey. It’s a compliment to the duality with the students. One of the banes or the complaints from employers and I think the administrators, the professors here is, students aren’t career-ready coming out of college to the extent that they could be and this book is a synthesis. It’s pulling both the purpose — it gives them a north star as well as a way to connect a lot of the basic skills that they’re learning and integrating them in a way and showing them that systems design and systems thinking has a very practical application. 

You might understand data, you might understand the aspects of AI or machine learning. You might understand different aspects of analysis but if you don’t understand that process of developing insight and apply it to something worthwhile, then you leave college really with a kit of individual tools but not able to solve business or societal problems and professors and administrators are seeing that aspect as a way to pull all these together.

Again, when you feel something that tugs at your purpose, not just checking a box for a diploma and getting a job, it motivates people more effectively as well.

Frank Garza: When you look at what is typically covered in academia and the press already, what makes Practical Sustainability distinct from that?

Jeff Kavanaugh: I’ll take that one. It’s going from feeling good to doing good to being effective, it’s science and fact-based. It’s a science and fact-based approach to actually doing things like lowering carbon, promoting equality, improving governance and it’s not that the other things you hear or are covered in media are bad. It’s just, they’re a little more aspirational or they’re showing somebody cares about it but they’re not connecting it to what we traditionally think as practical. 

You save money, you get something done, you change one metric to a more desirable position and that’s where Corey and I as engineers and designers — and even our relationship with Infosys as a tech company, those engineering roots — we think it rings more true because it intersects the practicality with the purpose.

Frank Garza: Once somebody reads through the book, they understand the concepts of practical sustainability. How can they use that to actually go out and make a difference in the world?

Corey Glickman: I’ll take this one, Jeff. The book itself is structured as both a way of understanding the key themes and narratives to give the grounding and also with many case studies of where this has actually been applied. We come from the perspective that once again, being part of a company that has achieved carbon neutrality in a 10-year period, we have very realistic, very practical ideas and proof points that says, “This can happen, this can take place.”

With the book’s grounding of what are the basic concepts, what are the case studies that showed that things are viable with also very actionable, practical activities, this shows that it can be done and it shows how it has been done. It furthermore has frameworks that can be applied very quickly at a level of both communication and how to structure their thinking once it’s based in science, based in both the systems design but also a very humanistic approach.

We intentionally focused on areas such as the impact of the built environment, the impact of circular economies, and also the human element. Equipping students with this knowledge, they can go into almost any work area or work field and employer and have an immediate impact on how companies think about this because if companies are looking to say, “How do we deal with the environment, how are we looking at digital technologies, how do we look at energy transition, how is the social aspects come across and what do we do from a financial sustainability perspective?”

With students coming in with a grounding of this and the ability to be instantly productive and be impactful, this puts an extremely positive, advanced, advantageous position when they go into the workforce.

Frank Garza: You talked about case studies there. Are there any case studies you could share with us that gives an example of how one of these concepts have been applied?

Corey Glickman: Sure! Jeff, do you want to take that one or would you like me to?

Jeff Kavanaugh: Sure, I’ll be happy to. I’ll use Infosys, our company, as an example. We have 50 million square feet under climate control, buildings and fortunately, they’ve been instrumented and measured so a lot of data has been coming from these buildings over the course of 15 plus years. 

In one situation, we decided we’re building our campus, we would build two new buildings, exactly the same, except one is in traditional approaches and the other with the most advanced technology and thinking — basically green approach. We measured the results, they were significant, and quite often, there are these asterisks and caveats.

One building we measure is 40 years old and they’re not quite the apples on apples. In this case, it was truly a controlled experiment because we were building structures at scale as we grew the company and so that really made an impact on me. The other thing I would like to say is, there’s a concept in the book we cover called a digital twin. 

It’s a computer simulation, if you call it that, of a physical object. It could be like a chiller, an air conditioner, a heater, or the building itself and the ability to completely simulate what goes on in a building because you have the data, you have the analytics. You get the responses back quickly and you could measure it, that shows 30, 40, 50% reductions and the interesting thing is, you do that while holding the human experience constant.

In other words, you might sarcastically say, “Sure, we can reduce cost, turn off the air conditioning in Texas in the summer, right?” but the reality is, you want to hold that constant because, in the end, humans are at the center, they should be. Because if you don’t, you’re also ignoring human behavior, the behavioral aspects. By seeing the actual results through the data, I think that’s what made this so powerful for Corey, for me and to be honest, we felt like we just had to share this information as we shared it with others. 

As we collected case studies from around the world, it was reassuring to see how it continued to reinforce and extended from buildings to supply chains and other areas as well but, I think that really was the trigger for us when we saw it come to life with our own buildings at our own campuses.

Corey Glickman: That reminds me just to add on a little bit about the air conditioning comment. It was interesting. We think we know how to solve these things and we do these mappings of systems design of, “Yes, let’s make the air conditioning very efficient.” We had set up the systems that could say, “Okay, at 5:00 in the evening, air conditioning should now ramp down, save energy across there.”

It didn’t account for the fact people might be working in the building later, especially that were in hot environments. Having feedback loops in the building, we were able to say, “Oh, well, when people are staying later, guess what? Let’s not cut down the air conditioning in certain parts of the building through here” and we were able to optimize the building systems to recognize that when that was taking place.

Being able to map that human element and experience across there has got to be part of the solution when we’re looking at creating these optimized systems.

Jeff Kavanaugh: That’s where tech comes in as well. Where briefly, you put a motion sensor in each area so the tech’s set, it runs through a rule. The rule doesn’t violate anything like you for example, why is somebody there at two in the morning, then it automatically overcompensates or in the environmental control.

It’s not just rules, there’s tech involved and the good news today is, advancements in tech, that same tech that you hold in your hand as the smartphone, can help us address at least part of these wicked challenges.

The Environmental and Economical Impact of Sustainability

Frank Garza: I’d like to ask you more about buildings because that’s something that really surprised me as I was reading through the book was just how much of an impact buildings have on greenhouse gas emissions. Can you talk about why you put so much focus on the built world and how have buildings failed to meet current needs?

Corey Glickman: Certainly. I’ll take this one, Jeff. I think buildings are one of the, let’s say, unacknowledged hidden secrets of how big of an impact this has when we talk about sustainability not just from an environmental aspect but also from certainly a social and governance aspect.

Buildings account for 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions. When we compare that to say, energy, which is at 27%, and transportation, which I believe is closer to 17%, we never really talk about buildings as having this huge impact.

We also spend 90% of our time in buildings. Everybody uses buildings. Measurements are, say, from the planning of a building to construction and the operation of a building. The ability to think of how we can create our buildings, how we utilize our buildings, how we provide energy into those buildings, how they are also for our environmental and safety and how we’re productive, and how we live in our buildings, they’re not going away. That’s how our cities are formed and this has historically been true. 

1,500 years ago, we’d be talking about Rome and putting in fountains in centers of cities so that there was freshwater. With this idea of buildings, the idea of being able to not just only optimize buildings so that we’ll have this impact, they’re a lacquered in technology. So much more technology has been done in our industries; there’s more technology that’s still on your smartphone or on your iPad than what’s taking place in a building in most cases.

There’s an advantage because now we can apply those technologies to building them themselves and buildings are going to be the largest connected system of things. This is the 50 billion objects that are connected through IoT and through artificial intelligence coming across there. Imagine yourself being placed inside of a smart device, that’s really what a building becomes for us.

Particularly in today’s world where we’re looking at, where people can work from, why they should work in certain environments, buildings will continue to be the place where society moves forward, where we have longevity of life, where we’re more productive in work. So, the advantage of being able to now apply technologies that exist today will not only increase the longevity and the productivity of buildings but will also increase the ability for us to work in new ways, have a better society, addressing how we are treated through equal opportunities and advantages — and what does that next generation of economy is, is really all centered around buildings. 

It is a huge opportunity that every single one of us — business-wise or personally we’re in buildings all the time, so it is truly the next big land gold rush opportunity. I think the statistics, Jeff, we’re talking about $2.6 trillion is what’s predicted for buildings. 

Jeff Kavanaugh: I’ve heard everything from the dew point of $6 trillion to some crazy investment services people talking about $30 trillion if you include all kinds of sustainability. One number that I think is non-negotiable that’s out there, it’s real, is there’s $8 trillion worth of real estate that needs to get better worldwide. I mean, think about it, all these old buildings just even basic sensors and ways of making them better. 

A lot of zeros behind it and a lot of people are interested in it. And of course, a lot of people are interested not just because they’re going to make money, it’s because they think, and we agree as well, that it’s a very worthwhile and in fact urgent thing for us to do. 

Corey Glickman: I’ll add just one more piece to this and what’s interesting about the buildings — also, when we think about other parts of sustainability — there is always this question of quantitative measurements, regulatory issues that come up when we look at whether it’s environments or whether we look at social or for governance and that is one of the big questions that public and private policies [have] but buildings themselves are already a regulated industry, right? 

You can’t build something that doesn’t have standards around civic engineering. So, some of the barriers that you would normally see if picking up a sustainability agenda have already been bypassed by having to deal with buildings because those environments and the technology records and what has to take place, that already has to be acknowledged. Therefore, that helps us actually accelerate the idea of applying sustainability technologies in a very impactful manner. 

If you could solve buildings, you’re solving 40% of these needs around sustainability and that’s a huge, huge impact. 

Frank Garza: What are some other barriers that organizations face to become sustainable and what are some ways they can overcome those challenges? 

Corey Glickman: That’s a really great question. To put a mental model in your mind, I was recently talking with some analysts just a few days ago and they had just come back from Cope 26 and every organization out there in most governments and cities are saying, “Yes, this has to happen.” Maybe there are different levels of maturity. Maybe there’s, as you said, barriers that we can talk about through here but they all acknowledge that it has to take place. 

At the highest level what we’re finding in organizations is that they get it and they’ve put very powerful important mechanisms and leadership to be able to start addressing this because it is usually also tied into the economic fact, features, and functions but this also, there are people within these organizations that are from a bottom-up point of view that say they can be impactful and they want to do this. 

The biggest barrier is this — they are talking about this — picture an hourglass shape. You’ve got that large bottom and large top and in the middle, you kind of get that squeezed middle point of that, that lost voice I guess you would call it, an hourglass. That’s the culture issue, right? Saying, “How do I unleash the culture in order to allow for the sands to start really moving back and forth much more effectively?” 

Even with the best intentions and knowing that technologies might exist and that policies might exist or have to exist, there is still this cultural bottleneck that is taking place and trying to unlock that in an organization that could be economically restrictive, it could be regulatory. It could be not enough cultural programs in place the way that connectivity goes but I think that is the single largest barrier to unlock the keys here. 

Because right now, we know there is enough technology out there to be impacting today and that’s the very nature of why we call it practical sustainability. The mandate for sustainability exists right now, the technologies are there in most places to already make this happen, the cultural wheel is there but unleashing that culture is the big barrier.

Jeff Kavanaugh: I’ll add one more thing to that. It’s a good friend who looks at massive systems thinking, Jimmy Metzl, and talked about a problem of collective responsibility, how some of the scope of the problem exceeds individual authority. Let’s say worldwide something might be effective but you have either national or state or local or corporate levels of responsibility. You can’t dictate beyond your scope of responsibility. 

That relates to what Corey just said about culture, how these things relate because of your different motivations. The good news is we can solve a high percentage of the problems and challenges without completely addressing that. I think once that momentum gets strong enough, then the culture has changed, and then the broader picture could come into focus as well. 

Integrating The Bottom Line of Sustainability

Frank Garza: We’ve talked about the technology a lot already and how technology can help address the sustainability challenge and what some of the promises are around that but, what are some of the limitations of technology in addressing this sustainability challenge? 

Corey Glickman: I think if we break that question into two areas; there is the technology itself, right? Whether it’s IoT devices or whether it’s EDGE computing or 5G, we have certain technologies today that exponentially continue to advance and we know there will be new technologies in the future, right? Because that is the arc of things. I think the bigger challenge with technology is actually the funding and the implementation of making those technologies active. 

Many companies have huge technology agendas. There are digital transformation components and to be able to either shift or augment those agendas or budgets to also address sustainability, that’s hard, right? Because you know, the way that we think about putting programs in place and running those effectively across there. I think the other thing that we are seeing closely connected to this is certainly the idea of data.

As we have all these devices in it so we have more technology, we’re just getting influx with more and more data consistently, so how do you choose the right metrics? How do you actually make that data active and actionable across there and of course, measurable because when it comes to sustainability, we both need this scientific basis that says, “This is real science. If I am going to do carbon capture or I’m going to do true climate modeling come across here, I just can’t wing that.” 

I actually have to have scientific proof yet, most organizations don’t have direct access to that level of science so they have to be able to have the formulas or have the models for indexes in place in order for them to address. How do you choose which ones? How do you take that data and how do you hopefully implement or supplement through things such as machine learning and artificial intelligence and other ways to make that data accessible and actionable? 

Then the other element across there — and I’m going to ask Jeff to expand on this — there is this whole financial side when it comes to value realization of businesses and how they make determinations of the value received back for the investment that takes place as we see value changes. 

Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah, happy to jump in there. Value realization sounds like a nice turn of the phrase. It’s what compels you to do something, it was what makes sense. Can you link or show the relationship between two or three or more different areas like for example, the action you take on the ground? You purchase something, you sell it, you transport it, you hire your workers, you pay your bills and the good that someone gets from it. 

If you are willing to spend a lot of money on a vehicle, for example, a luxury vehicle, because you get something from it, you perceive value. Maybe it’s economic. In this case, it’s not like your typical consumer brand on you pay more, you pay less, or even the business-to-business environment. The models haven’t caught up yet or aren’t mature on what makes something valuable because remember, a lot of these challenges in sustainability involve tradeoffs. 

Maybe we consume differently as consumers, as citizens. Businesses operate differently and when you ask someone to change their behavior, there has to be a reason why. So this idea of value realization and financial models where their governments enforce them on companies, whether companies enforce them on employees, local governments enforce them on their citizens, there needs to be this social contract as well where all parties understand.

That’s why this idea of value. Now, in the financial world, you often have financial statements. People get that, they’re mature so rather than having sustainability off in a corner somewhere in a separate bottom line, which sounds neat, triple bottom line, people plan on prosperity. We believe it’s time to have a single integrated bottom line of sustainability so that in one place, you can see the financial impact, the impact on people and the impact on environment and anything else.

We’ll be honest here, this is new territory. It is not developed yet and that’s an important area because until we tackle this and accommodate this, it’s all just conversation. We’ll get bits and pieces but we won’t tackle the hard parts of it. The last thing I’ll add that’s also important is there’s the promise and peril of what tech provides. The promise of course is all these goodies: efficiency, optimization, artificial intelligence. 

The implication though is it requires lots of data — personal private data in some cases — and the privacy aspects and the ability for the state or for some central authority to have a lot more information than we’ve seen having a lot more authority, that makes you queasy and we’re not quite sure about all of this, So, I think that’s another aspect that we need to make sure we address. Yes, there’s security and there’s the privacy aspect as well. 

Frank Garza: Is there anything else about the book that you guys want to make sure our listeners know before we wrap up? 

Corey Glickman: Sure, I’ll go first. The reason we wrote the book was, we started with saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to share what we know and what others know and make this more accessible to a wider population?” I think in reality in the journey of writing the book, it really was also a bit of self-discovery at least for myself to say that I wasn’t really sure that I knew what I was really getting into until I started writing the book. 

Not from a task of writing the book but actually what does sustainability actually mean and how can I make this very real? I’m a very practical tactical person myself and these are complex subjects here. One of the harder decisions was to say, how wide to go with the book and what would be the best value and the purpose. I believe that the book, honestly, is really good in saying what is it that I need to go along my journey and what I think other people’s journeys will have to be. 

When I really boil down to it, it comes down to practical sustainability is really built on five essential elements: how do we do regenerative futures, how do we look at things such as circular commerce, how do we look at those smart spaces, how do we do human experience and how do we do systems in systems as a way of solving through these. Although we know that sustainability is a lot broader across there, this was a starting point of very practical things that happen now that have a huge impact. 

Because we know that it’s a wicked problem but we believe that if you focus on these, 50% of these benefits can be realized and starting to solve the problem and getting 50% right is I think a lot better than where most people’s minds are at this point. We also know that the data in the finance aspects that will power this economy for this change is also addressed in the book. So, this will help business leaders have confidence and strategies to come across here. 

Then it really is not just a call to action but it’s a reality of implementation [of] what individuals can do, what businesses can do, what larger government bodies can actually take place. I really believe in the individual or a group of individuals that take this book, they’re going to say, “I can do something right now. I have confidence to do things.” I also know that there’s enough scientific backing in this book that says if I really want to go much deeper, there’s that real science behind there. That’s my thoughts. Jeff, yours? 

Jeff Kavanaugh: Sure. We design and created the book to help readers in three ways. One, we hope it’s a good read. There’s some very interesting examples from nature, examples from industry. Second, it’s a guidebook. It’s a practical journey, series of steps, deconstructed areas where people can take action, and the third level, they’re these poignant stories, which I believe are inspirational and can make a difference. 

Much of these wicked problems we can solve now on going forward and the book is not meant to be the end-all. We have this body of research, it’s ongoing. It is the flagship asset now that summarizes and communicates it and we’re very proud of it. It is definitely a labor of love. At the same time, we have continued research. We strongly encourage anyone hearing this to follow us on LinkedIn at Infosys Knowledge Institute. 

On Twitter — @infosys_IKI just the handle — because we’re going to be releasing things on a quarterly basis even more frequently that has this longitudinal research. So, as we progress, as these things evolve — the nice part about much of what we do is we’re sharing knowledge. You know, my tagline for the work I do often is keep learning and keep sharing. That’s what we’re doing, we are learning and we’re sharing. 

Sure, we have a services aspect towards our company overall but all of this IP, all of this knowledge, we’re just sharing freely because we think it’s important enough to get out there and free of charge. So that’s something that we need to work on and hopefully, this is more than just an interesting read. Literally, we’re asking people to join the movement.

Frank Garza: Well, Jeff and Corey, writing a book is such a feat so congratulations on putting this out there into the world. It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you about it. The book is called Practical Sustainability. Besides checking out the book, I want to make sure everyone knows where to find you guys. Jeff, you already gave a couple of pieces there but is there anything else you want to add to make sure that people can find out more information about you guys or the book? 

Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, sure. On LinkedIn, you can follow me and my name, Jeff Kavanaugh, with a K and also on Twitter @jeffkav and that will point you to lots of places. Our company, I have a personal site rise, so I will also put a bunch of research-related material. I think that those are two good places to start. 

Corey Glickman: For me, on LinkedIn. It’s Corey Glickman at LinkedIn. On Twitter and the same thing, @coreyglickman at Twitter.com.

Frank Garza: Thank you, Jeff and Corey.

Corey Glickman: Thank you. 

Jeff Kavanaugh: Thank you.