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A Path to Net Zero

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Agilent recently announced its commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. To achieve these targets, the company have said it will continue to invest in renewable energy and focus on the areas where its carbon footprint is greatest. But that is only part of the story. To learn how you go about making a global company with 16,300 employees a net-zero business, we spoke to Neil Rees, vice president of Workplace Services at Agilent, who is heading up Agilent’s Environmental, Social and Governance program.

Ash Board (AB): Barron’s Most Sustainable Companies list ranked Agilent number one in the life sciences industry category, can you tell us about some of the company’s sustainability initiatives and how they have contributed to this? 

Neil Rees (NR): Sustainability is closely tied to Agilent’s mission of advancing quality of life. For example, our customers use our instruments to ensure the quality of air, food and water meets regulatory standards. And our environmental GC analyzer is used by researchers to monitor and measure greenhouse gases.

And within our own operations, we’ve been advancing sustainability goals since our founding as an independent company more than 20 years ago, ranging from diversity and inclusion to the environment.

That has included investing in renewal energy (such as solar) at our larger sites and upgrading infrastructure such as boilers and chillers, along with installing LED lighting. Through our Design for the Environment program our businesses have been finding more sustainable ways to manufacture products and redesign packaging.

AB: Agilent’s commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 has been broken down into three distinct scopes, can you explain their goals and what has been accomplished so far?

NR: We’ve set a goal that by 2030 we will reduce absolute scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50% and scope 3 emissions by at least 30%.

For most companies, scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions from the value chain, account for the large majority of the total carbon footprint. This area will be a central focus for Agilent in the coming years.

Since 2014, we’ve reduced scope 1 and 2 emissions by 22 percent per square foot. We did this by installing large solar arrays in locations that are further behind in building clean energy infrastructure, such as China and Singapore; exploring ways to transport more shipments by sea, which results in much lower emissions compared to air transport; and taking many small actions that together are important—such as reengineering various processes to be more efficient.

AB: What are the next areas of focus?

NR: To make progress on our net-zero commitment, we’ll focus on five areas:

  • Converting our energy sources to renewable energy
  • Switching from natural gas to electricity for heating
  • Transitioning our car fleets to electric vehicles
  • Continuing to replace business travel with virtual meetings
  • Engaging with our supply chain to identify which suppliers have the largest carbon footprints, encourage and educate them to decarbonize, and use carbon footprint as a criterion in how we select suppliers.

What do you view as the biggest challenges to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions? Do you anticipate that compromises will have to be made along the way?

NR: Advances in green technology will be important along with governments delivering on their policy commitments to decarbonize the electricity grid. We also need to continue innovating our business processes. For example, if we ship by sea, which is slower, we still need to make sure we can get products to customers quickly. So, we’re looking at ways to reinvent our inventory management system.

AB: With travel, long haul flights in particular, being a significant contributor to carbon emissions how will this commitment impact Agilent’s ability to operate as a global company? Specifically reaching customers at sites, tradeshows etc.

NR: We’ve seen over the past 18 months that we don’t need to travel as much as we previously thought. Once we return to a post-Covid normal, we’ll continue investing in and using virtual collaboration tools and air travel will remain more the exception than the rule.

AB: How does the commitment to sustainability extend to Agilent’s products? Are new product lines ‘greener’ than their predecessors?   

NR: Through our Design for the Environment initiative, we’ve created award-winning products that use less energy, water and space. For example, our Intuvo 9000 gas chromatograph (GC) uses less than half the electrical power of a conventional GC. And our 4210 MP-AES atomic emission spectrometer runs on air instead of combustible gases.

Additionally, we’re among the first companies in our class to be independently audited for the environmental impact of our gas and liquid chromatographs. And we’re working with an independent non-profit called My Green Lab to have Agilent instruments independently audited for the organization’s Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency (ACT) label, which provides customers information about the environmental impact of lab products.

Finally, our focus on sustainability also extends to our services and solutions. An example is our CrossLab Virtual Assist technology, which enables our support engineers to provide remote assistance to customers, reducing their need to travel.

Neil Rees was speaking to Ash Board, Editorial Director at Technology Networks.