Curtis Ravenel

To real­ly under­stand how a com­pa­ny is posi­tioned for the future, you have to know how it’s man­ag­ing its own envi­ron­men­tal impact.

Please tell us what you do.

I run Bloomberg’s Glob­al Sus­tain­abil­ity Strat­egy Group. That involves mak­ing sure that we are oper­at­ing at max­i­mum effi­ciency, and min­i­mum envi­ron­men­tal impact. It also includes tak­ing what we do well, which is news data and analy­sis, and apply­ing that skill to bet­ter under­stand­ing the impact of sus­tain­abil­ity issues on finan­cial mar­kets and areas like sus­tain­able invest­ing, car­bon trad­ing, and clean ener­gy research.

What are you work­ing on right now?

Our pri­ma­ry focus right now is mak­ing this tow­er [the Bloomberg build­ing on 59th and Lex­ing­ton] much more effi­cient by intro­duc­ing some com­bi­na­tion of com­bined heat and pow­er, and fuel cell on the oper­a­tions side. We already have solar pow­er in New Jer­sey for some of our oper­a­tions, and we’re try­ing to intro­duce more.

On the pro­duct side, we are focus­ing on ‘ESG,’ or ‘envi­ron­men­tal, social and gov­er­nance’ com­pa­ny data. To real­ly under­stand how a com­pa­ny is posi­tioned for the future, you have to know how it’s man­ag­ing its envi­ron­men­tal impact, how it’s invest­ing in its employ­ees and the com­mu­ni­ties in which it works, and how the man­age­ment team is struc­tured so that it’s gov­erned well.

ESG is a very excit­ing new field, and we think it will help more effi­cient­ly allo­cate cap­i­tal rather than just think­ing about finan­cial per­for­mance. Thus dri­ving cap­i­tal towards the com­pa­nies that do well, and shift­ing cap­i­tal away from those that don’t do as well.

This real­ly forces changes in the indus­try. It’s the gold­en rule—‘He with the gold rules.’ And if you can move the finan­cial com­mu­ni­ty in this direc­tion I think it has the poten­tial to be a major accel­er­ant of change.

What’s the time frame on this sea change in think­ing?

I’m 44 years old, and I don’t expect this to change the world overnight. But it’s one of many, many arrows in a quiv­er, and it’s the asset that I have at my dis­pos­al. It’s a pow­er­ful one, and because of that, there has been a lot of change already.

This is decadal stuff—this isn’t year­ly stuff. It is part of what I would con­sid­er a much broad­er move­ment in this age of hyper-trans­paren­cy.

You real­ly have four pil­lars of change: social change, tech­nol­o­gy change, pol­i­cy change, and eco­nom­ic change, and you need all four to be direc­tion­al­ly con­sis­tent. We’ll try to do our part on the one that we think we can influ­ence, which is the finan­cial side. We’re pol­i­cy-chal­lenged as a coun­try, so I don’t expect a lot out of that. But there are a lot of great things hap­pen­ing on the social and tech­nol­o­gy front.

What ele­ments make New York City a liv­able place for you?

There are 6500 peo­ple in this build­ing alone, many of which, prob­a­bly over a thou­sand plus, are pro­gram­mers, R&D peo­ple; our data peo­ple are gen­er­al­ly not what com­pa­nies keep in expen­sive urban zones. But what makes Bloomberg work is the same thing that makes New York City work: prox­im­i­ty to dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and to every­thing that you need.

I live in New York and I work in New York, and I can’t imag­ine any oth­er way. It’s the vital­i­ty and diversity…practically every day on the sub­way I hear a lan­guage I’ve nev­er heard before. And I’m also feel­ing quite squeezed while I’m on the sub­way. So it’s that prox­im­i­ty and that diver­si­ty that requires you to fig­ure it out and cre­ate solu­tions. That is the absolute heart of why New York func­tions, despite what you might think, very well.

How has the con­ver­sa­tion changed about the city after Sandy? What kind of chal­lenges have emerged? 

I’m obsessed with sus­tain­abil­i­ty, and Sandy is a clear indi­ca­tor that while there has been a lot of great pro­gress made around mak­ing NYC a more sus­tain­able city, we’re vul­ner­a­ble.

As far as the con­ver­sa­tion goes, for me, it will allow us imme­di­ate and real con­sid­er­a­tion of how we rein­vest in the city. We have to rein­vest in ways that make us less con­nect­ed from a grid point of view: pow­er sources need to be diver­si­fied, and we need to under­stand our rela­tion­ship to the ocean and what that means. We have to look at how we recon­sti­tute all the shore­li­nes, and around the marsh­es and around the parks we need to con­sid­er invest­ing in man­made or nat­u­ral struc­tures There’s a lot of infra­struc­ture invest­ment that needs to hap­pen and that con­ver­sa­tion is going to be expen­sive but real.

What would your advice be to cities that are expand­ing, or sub­ur­ban sprawl, or emerg­ing markets/developing nations?


Sub­ur­ban sprawl is a neme­sis. This is the prob­lem when we plan—we don’t take into account the total cost of own­er­ship (TCO). When you build a mall or sub­urb out in the dis­tance, you need to build a road to get out there, there need to be pow­er lines, and peo­ple have to dri­ve in and cre­ate con­ges­tion, time, dis­tance from work to home, time added expens­es that need to be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion. Smart growth is the alter­na­tive. I’m no expert in it, but there are a lot of for­ward-think­ing research and design teams that try to fig­ure some of this out.

The devel­op­ing world has a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to not make the mis­takes that we did. They can leapfrog.

The devel­op­ing world has a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to not make the mis­takes that we did. They can leapfrog. Part of the rea­son we don’t have a bet­ter ener­gy sys­tem is because we’ve invest­ed bajil­lions of dol­lars in the cur­rent one, and just to get rid of it and start over is not eco­nom­i­cal­ly an option for many places. In the devel­op­ing world, they don’t have lega­cy infra­struc­ture. They can start the right way, which is decen­tral­ized, inde­pen­dent, clean sources, and com­bi­na­tions of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. So it’s a real oppor­tu­ni­ty to do it right the first time. And that’s the challenge—how do you do that? India’s doing it—some solar, some hydro, some wind, but they have their own chal­lenges as well.

What do you think City Atlas can do for you?

Get­ting the word out about sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Get­ting peo­ple inter­est­ed, involved, and active. Cyn­i­cism aside, it does take a bunch of peo­ple doing the small things to make some sort of dent in the greater con­scious­ness.

You’ve got to go work for a com­pa­ny that you think is not only mak­ing mon­ey but con­tribut­ing to solu­tions.

What would you say to some­one who is just get­ting their MBA now? What should they look for in a com­pa­ny?

I get a lot of stu­dents approach­ing me for a path for­ward, and ask­ing “how do I posi­tion myself to work in sus­tain­abil­i­ty?” What’s heart­en­ing is how many stu­dents care about that issue rather than just the mighty dol­lar, and that they’re inter­est­ed in work­ing for a com­pa­ny that’s doing good while doing well, or try­ing to.

So as far as advice—you’ve got to go work for a com­pa­ny that you think is not only mak­ing mon­ey but con­tribut­ing to solu­tions for soci­etal pro­grams and prob­lems. 

It’s broad­er than you think. Find the com­pa­ny that’s doing good while doing well, find one where you think the man­age­ment is for­ward think­ing, and you can cre­ate in envi­ron­ments like that roles that allow you to influ­ence that firm to do even more of it.

I think that a lot less peo­ple are going into careers just think­ing about them­selves and not the greater good.
 A lot of firms don’t have sus­tain­abil­i­ty jobs, but they have jobs where you can con­tribute to sus­tain­abil­i­ty efforts over­all. Here we have five staff archi­tects, and they’re all LEED-accred­it­ed, so now every­thing we build here is LEED-cer­ti­fied. Are they sus­tain­abil­i­ty pro­fes­sion­als? Well, they’re archi­tects, but they’re build­ing sus­tain­ably.

We have sup­ply chain peo­ple who man­age all of our com­put­er equip­ment right, and we have a full cradle-to-grave process where we ensure that at the man­u­fac­tur­er, whether it is in Asia, or Mex­i­co, or else­where, labor rights are prac­ticed, that rights are being audit­ed, and that waste is recy­cled to the great­est extent pos­si­ble. We have com­plete trans­paren­cy in all of that, and that’s tech­ni­cal­ly a sup­ply chain job, but it’s a sus­tain­abil­i­ty sup­ply chain job. 

So, there are many ways. You’ve got to think more broad­ly. I do think that a lot less peo­ple are going into careers just think­ing about them­selves and not the greater good.

Do you have kids? What’s the most unsus­tain­able thing that you do?

Dia­pers. We tried every­thing, we tried cloth, we tried the hybrid com­postable out­er thing; so dia­pers are far and away the most unsus­tain­able thing that we do. But every­thing else we do— we’re kind of lunatics about it actu­al­ly, I com­post every­thing, I keep it in my freez­er and take it to the Low­er East Side Ecol­o­gy Cen­ter on Sat­ur­days. I have LED and CFL lights and make every­one turn them off all the time and even with that, with elec­tric­i­ty I buy the extra wind farm cred­its so they can pump clean ener­gy into the grid. I have a Chevy Volt for a car. That’s pret­ty much every­thing. My wife thinks I’m insane. I’ve gone to all the sites where you can block junk mail, too.

There is a lot you can do on your own, and that’s impor­tant sim­ply to show that you can live on less, but in the end if every sin­gle per­son lived like I did it still wouldn’t move the needle. You have to change the ener­gy infra­struc­ture and you have to change the agri­cul­ture infra­struc­ture, and those two are the biggest.

I can’t get direct clean ener­gy in my apart­ment in NYC—it’s impos­si­ble. I can get indi­rect, which is why I get RECs [renew­able ener­gy cred­its] as part of ConEd’s pro­gram. There’s only so much that you can do on your own, real­ly, which is why it’s kind of fun if you can influ­ence an orga­ni­za­tion this large. We intro­duced com­post­ing here. For exam­ple, this is a com­postable cup. I lost my mug oth­er­wise I’d have that, and this [dish] is com­postable too. We com­post 35 tons a year here.

And that was you?

Yeah, that was me. I worked for an NGO a long time ago doing life cycle analy­sis and then I owned a brew pub. Then I went to busi­ness school because I had just run a busi­ness into the ground and thought I should learn how to do it.

I end­ed up get­ting an intern­ship here and doing nor­mal inter­nal finan­cial stuff. I became the finan­cial con­troller for Asia, but wrote a pro­pos­al to cre­ate this group and the chair­man called me up in Asia, and said, “I love this pro­pos­al, I want you to do it, I want you to work for me and make it hap­pen, and you have 6 weeks to move back to the States.”

And I’ve been doing this for five years.  We’ve done a lot. This room is all LEED gold or plat­inum [design]. When we leave, the lights will go out, that kind of thing. This was man­u­fac­tured in upstate new york, I know that, this rug is made from all recy­cled con­tent, all of this is 100% recy­cled poly­mers from bot­tles so you know, it’s stuff that doesn’t need to look or feel dif­fer­ent or cost more, it’s just hav­ing the desire and think­ing about it, and get­ting it done. it def­i­nite­ly doesn’t cost more.

It’s fun if you can influ­ence an orga­ni­za­tion this large.

We’ve grown as a firm about 40% since we start­ed, but our CO2 and ener­gy is down because we’re crazy on effi­cien­cy. Our trash is down 50% because we com­post and recy­cle every­thing, and not only that but we took away everyone’s trash cans, and by doing that we reduced the amount of trash gen­er­at­ed by about 25%.

The­se are small things but they make a dif­fer­ence. All of our mag­a­zi­nes are print­ed on FSC cer­ti­fied paper [Forest Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil], which just means that the paper is sourced from a sus­tain­able forest and cer­ti­fied as such by the Rain­forest Alliance. No oth­er mag­a­zine com­pa­ny does that.

We have 500 [sus­tain­abil­i­ty] ini­tia­tives around the com­pa­ny that we’re tasked with fig­ur­ing out. We got peo­ple in Lon­don to stop tak­ing black cars to the air­port and take the Padding­ton Shuttle—that saved the com­pa­ny a mil­lion bucks and also reduced our foot­print by a ton. If you have an envi­ron­men­tal impact you gen­er­al­ly have some form of waste, and if you have waste you have an inef­fi­cien­cy, and if you have an inef­fi­cien­cy there’s usu­al some finan­cial return as well as some kind of envi­ron­men­tal return. Not always—on the mag­a­zine, it costs us extra to have FSC cer­ti­fied paper. But we save a lot on oth­er things, and [the cer­ti­fied paper] has such a high envi­ron­men­tal impact that we’ve decid­ed to spend the mon­ey on it. But we try to find stuff that both saves mon­ey and reduces impact.

If you think about the scale of a com­pa­ny like ours—85 offices, and half our offices are now LEED-cer­ti­fied, you know that’s a big­ger impact than me alone com­post­ing my very lit­tle healthy foods. My com­post­ing is impor­tant, but now we com­post in Wash­ing­ton, San Fran­cis­co, and New York and New Jer­sey —over­all, a thou­sand tons a year. It’s a lot, and it goes to an organ­ic farmer in Con­necti­cut. And now we have com­mu­ni­ty-sup­port­ed agri­cul­ture pro­grams here, too. It’s great. It’s real­ly fun. So there’s hope, man.

(Pho­to: Mau­reen Dren­nan)

Bloomberg L.P. 2012 Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Report (pdf)