We’re installing a lot more solar, and we’re looking at a variety of opportunities. There are some projects where we will be feeding the energy into the grid. Others will help us offset our carbon footprint.
The Cox Sustainability Program
Keith Mask | Cox Enterprises
What has changed in your energy strategy since your sustainability program launched?
Solar was pretty expensive when we started 10 years ago, so we initially looked at a lot of low-hanging fruits like lighting and HVAC systems. All our projects took place at our operations. Today, we’re looking at more partnerships and projects that don’t have to be linked to one of our physical operations. We’re also testing a lot of different technologies, tweaking them and scaling them. While we are a diversified company, we’ve found that there are a lot of best practices that can be shared across our divisions.
Tell me about a couple of solar projects that you really liked.
I really liked one at Manheim New England that’s about to celebrate its 5th anniversary. It is a ground-mount solar installation where we had to be creative due to wetlands on the property. Rather than one massive array, we created groupings around the wetlands to help protect this important resource.
The goal of Cox Conserves is also to inspire eco-friendly behavior in our employees and community. We created an educational trail through the solar installation that included signage and a wetlands observation area. Local school groups take field trips to learn about solar energy and conserving the environment.
I also like one we did at Cox Communications in Phoenix. It’s a canopy solar installation, and we placed it in the parking lot. In addition to creating clean energy, it provides shaded parking for our employees. We always look at a project and find ways to create multiple solutions.
Cox also has an employee solar program. Cox Chairman Jim Kennedy wanted employees to practice sustainability in the office and at home, so he created a program where we provide incentives for employees who opt to use solar at home.
Are the company’s project decisions mostly based on economics or does public opinion play a large role?
At Cox, we’ve always sought projects that are good for the environment and the bottom line. It’s how we’ve kept our sustainability program sustainable. Over the last ten years, incentives have played a role in our decisions and will continue to do so. We also look at areas where our operations make an impact and find ways to make a positive difference.
With solar prices coming down, what’s next?
We’re installing a lot more solar, and we’re looking at a variety of opportunities. There are some projects where we will be feeding the energy into the grid. Others will help us offset our carbon footprint. In the past, we installed smaller solar projects at our physical operations. Today, we’re looking at larger installations that don’t have to be adjacent to our buildings.
Tell me about some of the alternative energy methods you’re using outside of solar.
We have always believed in piloting a variety of methods and technologies. We have used several fuel cells at our California operations. We also think there is growth in the energy storage area. It’s exciting to see how technology is impacting sustainability. We have aggressive goals, one of them to be carbon neutral by 2044, and we know that technology is pivotal to our success.
How do alternative energy and energy conservation work together?
We look at these with the same ultimate goal, reduce the amount of energy we are using from the grid and decrease our carbon footprint. In the past, everyone wanted the solar panels because they were new and exciting. We have done a lot of education to show that energy conservation projects can also have a powerful ROI. In an ideal world, you have both taking place hand in hand.
It’s important to look at your projects holistically, so they are helping you meet your overall goals. For example, we just installed a new tire recycling facility that is helping meet our waste goals. It also has the ability to send power back to the grid in a future state. That helps our carbon goal. We also completed a project that is converting landfill gas to clean energy. Our goals focus on waste, water and energy, so we are always looking for ways to integrate projects.
Does the company plan to sustain the program at current levels in the future or do they plan to expand or contract the efforts?
While there have been drastic changes over the last decade, our commitment to sustainability has been unwavering. In fact, it's grown and will continue to do so. We think sustainability is the right thing to do and that it offers incredible business opportunities.
Can you talk about some of the details planned for the next few years?
Along with sustainability, we are a big supporter of startups and entrepreneurship. More than ever, we are seeing these two areas align, and we are excited about creating partnerships and potential investments. Urjanet, a startup out of Georgia Tech is a great example. It is a clean-tech company that consolidates individual bills from our 300+ utility accounts into a single data stream. This creates one dashboard with actionable data.
Keith Mask is vice president of environmental sustainability for Cox Enterprises. With $20 billion in revenue and 60,000 employees, Cox Enterprises is a leading communications, media and automotive services company.
Mask oversees the national Cox Conserves sustainability program that has goals to send zero waste to landfill by 2024 and become carbon and water neutral by 2044. The holistic program focuses on employees, operations, community partners and suppliers. Since 2007, Cox Enterprises has invested $100 million in sustainability. Through these investments, the company has offset 82,000 tons of carbon, diverted 97,000 tons of waste from landfill and conserved 57 million gallons of water.
Since 2007, Mask’s team has completed nearly 400 sustainability projects across 29 states that focus on alternative energy, energy efficiency, energy procurement, waste management and water conservation. Mask works closely with Cox’s divisions (Cox Communications, Cox Automotive, Cox Media Group) and corporate departments to ensure sustainability is part of the company’s ongoing operations. He also helps lead initiatives for Seven Islands Environmental Solutions, a Cox subsidiary.
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