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CSR Leaders

In The Lead: CSR Success Stories Featuring Dassault Systèmes’ Asheen Phansey

This week we made our way to Boston to talk to Asheen Phansey, Dassault Systèmes’ Sustainability Leader for North America and Sustainability Product Manager of Dassault Systèmes’s SolidWorks Brand. We found out about Dassault Systèmes’ Sustainability practices and how the company enables its clients to integrate Sustainability from the “inside out” through cutting-edge CAD and product lifecycle assessment tools. We also asked Asheen, who also is an Adjunct Professor at Babson, to explain why he believes “there is no such thing as a green product” and what it takes to create a truly sustainable product.

“In The Lead: CSR Success Stories” shares breakthrough CSR success stories, tips and solutions with the global CSR community. Our objective is to bring together the best-of-the-best and inspire real CSR solutions. We interview the most dynamic CSR experts and showcase their stories and insights.

Asheen Phansey joined Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation in 2010 as product manager for SolidWorks Sustainability efforts based on his expertise in nature-inspired design, product lifecycle stewardship, industrial ecology and green marketing. He has also been appointed the North American sustainability leader for parent company Dassault Systèmes (DS), responsible for corporate sustainability activities across all DS sites in the region.

Asheen travels widely speaking on sustainable innovation around the world. Prior to DS SolidWorks Corp., Asheen founded the consultancy Quaking Aspen to help companies develop their sustainable innovation toolkits, where his clients included companies such as enterprise carbon management provider eQuilibrium Solutions (acquired by EnerNOC) and Avery Dennison Corporation, and nonprofits such as the Conservation Law Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund.

Asheen’s expertise in sustainable innovation builds on his years of innovation experience in the biotech, software, and aerospace industries. These experiences included helping start a contract pharmaceutical manufacturing company that achieved $1M in revenues in the first twelve months and managing technology projects ranging from synthetic nanobiomaterials to unmanned aerial vehicles.

Asheen holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Babson College, and has received a certificate in bio-inspired design from the Biomimicry Institute.  

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into CSR?

After earning my Chemical Engineering Degree, I started my career in the Biotechnology and Aerospace industries. After working on drugs, planes and weapons, I wanted to do something closer to my environmental values. I earned my MBA and launched Quaking Aspen, a Sustainability consulting firm. We helped a number of corporations and nonprofits to develop sustainable innovation toolkits, and this led to my next career move. Ultimately, I decided to join Dassault Systèmes because I saw an opportunity to combine my interest in Product Innovation and Sustainability and help change the world. At Dassault Systèmes, we enable our clients to see the potential impact of each product development through our Product Life Cycle Assessment process.

Dassault Systèmes (“3DS”) enables clients to benefit from Sustainable Design. But why is CSR important to 3DS? What makes your company a Sustainability leader and what tools/systems do you utilize?

 We basically try to integrate Sustainability in our daily work. We track six environmental indicators: carbon footprint, energy consumption, water consumption, paper consumption, waste generation and electronic waste (e-waste) generation. In terms of our carbon footprint, our impacts as a software company really span three major areas: travel, commuting and electricity usage, so we especially focus on reducing these.

We leverage an employee engagement and communications platform that works on 3 levels: with our corporate sustainability office in Paris, France; with Green Team Leaders in each of our major sites in North America; and with individual employees who are passionate about sustainability efforts as part of each site’s Green Team. I lead our sustainability efforts across North America on all three of these levels. We use an employee engagement tool that we developed called “SWYM,” which stands for “See What You Mean.”

So, what does the Green Team do?

Basically, we identify Sustainability behaviors and practices that can help the company. For example, we just moved into a new corporate campus here in Boston and we made sure that the Green Team was closely involved with the architects and facility planners.

So, you’re really eating your own dog food?

Yes, it’s all about walking the walk. For example, we were able to replace our disposable cups with reusable mugs and tumblers, and our soda cans and bottles with soda fountains. We’ve also instituted “badge-in” printing, which means that the printer won’t start unless you show your badge at the printer to indicate that you really want to print the document, eliminating those “print and forget” scenarios. This allows us to reduce energy and resource consumption in daily work. We also continuously share best practices globally. In fact, I just returned from a Sustainability Leaders’ Summit at our headquarters in Paris, where we shared the best sustainability practices from our offices around the world.

Why is CSR important to Dassault Systèmes and what Sustainability practices does the company implement to maintain a strong sustainability profile?

We’re in a unique position as a technology company because we can build Sustainability into our products and our customers’ products. We have offerings such as SolidWorks Sustainability, a tool that designers and engineers can use to model the environmental impact of any product as it’s being designed. This includes the potential carbon footprint, life cycle energy, and air and water impacts. We also have products like DELMIA for reducing energy and material in manufacturing, GEOVIA for modeling natural resources management, CATIA for cutting down on physical prototyping to reduce material impacts, and ENOVIA, a PLM (product life cycle management) platform that allows companies to track, analyze, and report a product’s environmental compliance for regulations such as RoHS, REACH, and EuP.

Can you provide an example (case study/ success story) of how you’ve helped a client to translate sustainable design into sustainable business?

One example is a lighting company called Cree. We worked with their BetaLED lighting fixtures on implementing and marketing their sustainability story by performing screening-level Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs). Through the use of our LCAs, they determined that the material impact of their lighting solutions were negligible compared to the use-phase energy savings, especially when compared to traditional lighting; a fact they can communicate to customers. When you shift to life-cycle thinking, you can clearly understand how to create Sustainability right from the initial design process.

You have a unique vantage point as a Professor at Babson College’s Entrepreneurship Division.  What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and students who want to launch a socially responsible business?

I could talk about Green Marketing all day. But first, people have to stop this talk about “Green Products” because there is no such thing as a green product. The greenest product is the one that you don’t manufacture, don’t buy, and don’t throw away. So I talk about making comparatively “greener” products – doing better than we did before. Second, even if you make a “greener” product, it still has be a good product that is both of higher quality and functionality, and lower environmental impact. In order to create a sustainable product, you have to make a good financial case for it. You must have a strong value proposition and identify the “pain point” that the product is solving before developing the product, so that you can really determine the product benefits. Ultimately, it has to be a good product that people will buy. For example, a friend of mine and fellow sustainability professional at Seventh Generation always points out that his customers buy their products for a variety of reasons. Some buy Seventh Generation for the hypoallergenic benefits, some for the superior performance, and others because they want to do the right thing for the environment.

We’ve seen this shift from CSR Compliant mode to Strategic CSR but, of course, each company is different and they all have their definition of CSR and Sustainability. Some companies still have their main product lines and then they have their “green lines.” So, is “greenwashing” still a problem? 

 CSR has generally been more cookie-cutter in the past. But now it’s evolving and companies are focusing on their core competencies and how they can integrate Sustainability. As a company, we touch more than 1% of the global carbon footprint because our customers make products in many industries, such as aerospace, automotive, machine design, consumer goods, etc. So, we are focused on making a positive difference in the world by leveraging our design and PLM software.

One of the other issues we focus on is encouraging students to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.  For example, we’re encouraging 6th grade students towards STEM careers through our sponsorship of the DIGITS program in the Boston area. We also maintain a lot of contact with engineers so they can get a feel for what our software looks like and what it can do.

Who are the real “greenwashing” culprits – CSR Managers, Brand Managers or PR firms?  What can be done to reduce “greenwashing?”

 In the past, greenwashing was more about companies making fake claims and more about exaggerations. But we have seen a shift over the last 5 to 7 years as companies are starting earlier in the process. They realize that you can’t tell a good story unless you have something real. Ironically, the pendulum has swung to the opposite side, and companies are now often doing a lot more than they’re willing to talk about. It’s what Bob Langert, McDonald’s VP of Sustainability, calls “greenmuting” (Langert’s term for “willfully downplaying one’s sustainability commitments and achievements so as not to attract criticism.”) But I think we’ll see the pendulum start to swing back, and we’ll come to some sort of happy medium where companies are investing in sustainability at an earlier stage, and being transparent about their efforts. That’s what I try to convey to the next generation of marketers in my classes.

a venue for CSR leaders to network and share best practices