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Sustainability Background and Overview

SFPUC published its Strategic Sustainability Plan and Program (SSP) in December 2008. The SSP provided us with a system and tools for planning, managing and evaluating SFPUC-wide performance that takes into account the long term economic, environmental and social impacts of SFPUC’s business activities (often called the triple bottom line).

The SSP established our sustainability baseline performance and strategies for improvement, and set the stage to integrate SFPUC-wide and longterm strategic planning, decisionmaking and action. Moving forward, SFPUC continues to rely on our innovative SSP framework. Shaped by three years of stakeholder engagement that laid the foundation of SFPUC’s most material issues, the Framework has proved to be an emergent and flexible tool to manage SFPUC’s unique and evolving utility issues.

Now custom-framed by the triple bottom line, driven by targets and data, SFPUC continues to evaluate and score our undertaking in order to provide us and you, our customers and stakeholders, with an annual performance profile. You can access our most recent profile in our report: SFPUC Performance /Strategic Sustainability Annual Report FY2013-2014. This report updates SFPUC’s progress and trends on how we’re doing in meeting our annual targets for continuous improvement toward our sustainability goals and objectives.

A critical longterm investment in our charge to provide highest quality services to our current customers and those of future generations, the record of our annual reports shows that SFPUC’s approach to sustainability has quickly grown our capacity to trend data results and act as needed to more strategically drive our business decisions to the triple bottom line.

The graphic below shows SSP program progress and where we’re headed.

Strategic Sustainability Planning for the Longer Term

planning graphic 

What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning provides tools “for making resource allocation decisions among core business functions, and investments in expanding and/or diversifying business functions in a way that positions the utility to increase value to customers/shareholders.” [AwwaRF 2003] From FY2005 through FY2008, and in accordance with the City and County of San Francisco Charter, Article VIIIB: Sec 8b.123. (A) (3), SFPUC engaged in extensive stakeholder involvement to develop our sustainability plan as the core of our strategic planning. In 2007, we released the FY2005-2006 Baseline Assessment of our performance, followed by the release of our Sustainability Plan and Program in 2008, with its focus on strategies toward long term sustainability organization-wide. In 2011, SFPUC integrated and consolidated a separate strategic effort into our sustainability framework, thus consolidating our SSP system for SFPUC-wide planning, evaluation and reporting on our annual triple bottom line performance.

triple bottom line graphicWhat is sustainability?

The common meaning of sustainability is the capability to maintain. In the more specific context of sustainable development, however, sustainability is defined as “the goal of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." 1 Known as the Brundtland definition, it has been adopted internationally to address inequities in development. It posits a shared international goal that challenges nations and private and public sector organizations to plan for the longer term by accounting for economic, environmental and social capital, impacts and resources, risks and opportunities.

The initial challenge for the SFPUC was to translate this international goal into an effective SFPUC-wide and strategic management system. We looked to others who were developing sustainability plans and programs using international and industry sector reporting and performance standards and guidelines. As we did, most aligned their reporting in accord with the guidance and standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which has become the international standard for sustainability valuation and reporting. For utilities, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) has followed GRI’s lead. In 2007, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF) issued a report on triple bottom line management and reporting for utilities, defining the triple bottom line as “…the systematic management, performance improvement and public disclosure in environmental, social and economic dimensions at local, regional and global scales”.

SFPUC’s approach in undertaking this challenge remains anchored in the GRI guidelines, draws on the work of others, then innovates and customizes as follows: 2

  • SFPUC is the first triple-enterprise utility in the country to develop a sustainability framework incorporating all three components of the triple bottom line
  • We prioritize risk associated with those issues most material to SFPUC as identified by internal and external stakeholders
  • We implement that framework as core to our strategic planning, management and performance evaluation and reporting

How does SFPUC’s strategic sustainability planning and reporting benefit the SFPUC, our services and stakeholders?

  • Frames SFPUC-wide issues and decisions around the needs of our utility systems and services, our current and future customers, and the integration of the effects of those needs on our long term environment, economy and communities
  • Augments cross-silo cooperation and collaboration
  • Embeds sustainability as the core of strategic decision-making
  • Invites executive staff to align SSP goals and objectives with their risk, fiscal year and long term management and planning, strategic decision-making and execution
  • Provides an annual snapshot of how SFPUC is meeting its triple bottom line objective
  • Streamlines internal performance reporting SFPUC-wide and external performance reporting to City agencies (e.g. City Controller)

Finally, in order to continuously update and improve our SSP we will, among other critical components, continue to:

  • Monitor our framework for its materiality, utility, and consistency with evolving industry standards and best practices, and national and local rules and regulations
  • Index our annual results to the GRI Guidelines

1 Our common Future, U.N. General Assembly Brundtland Commission Report 1987
2 SFPUC’s Sustainability Plan is recognized in the 2010 AWWA publication “The Green Utility – A Practical Guide to Sustainability”, for its “…excellent planning process…” Authored by Cheryl Welch, the book also includes the earliest iteration of our Strategic Sustainability Framework

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Last updated: 12/15/2014 2:50:12 PM