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Sustainability Background and Overview

The current posting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s FY2012-2013 performance continues our transparency in reporting to you, our stakeholders, on the progress in implementation of our Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP). The SSP provides SFPUC 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 our business activities (often called the triple bottom line).

Framed by the triple bottom line, driven by data, we evaluate and score our performance annually to provide our stakeholders with an annual performance profile. You can access our most recent profile in our “Performance / Strategic Sustainability Annual Performance Report FY 2012-2013”. Please refer to this report on our webpage to review our current progress and trends in delivering on our longterm goals and strategic sustainability objectives.

SFPUC remains committed to a framework that makes sustainability the core of our strategic planning. Combined with our commitment to annual reporting, this approach has already begun to provide us with trend data necessary to ensure that our long term goals and objectives drive our business decisions. Why is this important?  Because it is a longterm investment in our capacity to continue providing high quality services to our current customers and to those of future generations.

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 our FY2005-2006 Baseline Assessment on performance, followed by the release in 2008 of our Sustainability Plan and Program, 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 as the organization-wide anchor for planning, evaluating and reporting our annual triple bottom line performance.

What 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 while taking into account economic, environmental and social impacts, capital and resources.

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 SFPUC 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: 2

  • as the first triple-enterprise utility in the country to develop a sustainability framework incorporating all three components of the triple bottom line
  • by prioritizing risk associated with those issues most material to SFPUC as identified by both internal and external stakeholders
  • then implementing 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
  • Encourages cross-silo cooperation and collaboration
  • Places sustainability at the core of strategic decision-making
  • Invites executive staff to align with SSP goals and objectives in their risk, fiscal year and long term management and planning, strategic decisionmaking and execution
  • Provides an annual snapshot of how SFPUC is meeting its triple bottom line objectives
  • 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, its implementation and the benefits it provides, 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: 5/14/2014 5:12:32 PM