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Sustainability Background and Overview

In its seventh year, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) continues to improve the implementation and utility of its 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).

We evaluate our performance annually and provide an annual scoring profile. Our most recent performance assessment is our Strategic Sustainability Performance FY 2011-2012. In this report, we have again used our key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the progress we’ve made in the last fiscal year toward our strategic sustainability goals and objectives.

SFPUC remains committed to our approach to making sustainability the core of our strategic planning. This approach has already begun to provide us with the trending data necessary to ensure that our long term goals and objectives continue to drive our business decisions. This is important because this investment in a robust planning and management system is fundamental to our capacity to continue providing high quality services to our current customers and to those of future generations.

What is strategic planning?

For a utility, 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.” [Taken from: AwwaRF 2003]

In 2005, and In accordance with the City and County of San Francisco Charter, Article VIIIB: Sec 8b.123. (A) (3), SFPUC began extensive stakeholder engagement to develop its sustainability plan as the core of its strategic planning. In 2007, we released our FY2005-2006 Baseline Assessment; in 2008, we released our Sustainability Plan and Program focused on continuous improvement toward long term sustainability goals for the organization. Later that year, SFPUC began a separate strategic planning effort with a 12-18 month performance tracking to manage SFPUC’s priority fiscal year activities. We have since integrated and consolidated these into our strategic sustainability framework, the anchor of our SSP system and annual report on performance.

What is sustainability?

Most of us know that 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. [Taken from: Our common Future, U.N. General Assembly Brundtland Commission Report 1987] The Brundtland definition has been adopted internationally as it intends to address inequities in development. It posits a shared international goal that challenges governments and private and public sector organizations, such as the SFPUC, to plan for the longer term while taking into account their natural, social and economic resources.

For a utility like the SFPUC that provides essential water, wastewater and power services, the initial challenge was to translate this development goal into an effective SFPUC-wide and strategic management system. And, of course we looked to others In this emerging field; state and local governments, public and private organizations have begun developing sustainability plans and programs using international and industry sector standards and guidelines. Most of these, as did SFPUC, set their reporting foundations in accord with the reporting guidance and standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which has become the international standard for sustainability valuation and reporting. For utilities, the American Waterworks Association (AWWA) has followed GRI’s lead; in 2007, the American Waterworks 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”.

Public and private sector utilities now use these and a multiplicity of other sources to establish baselines and to evaluate and benchmark sustainability performance with others in and across their industries. SFPUC’s approach in undertaking this challenge draws on the work of others and then takes a step ahead as the first triple-enterprise utility in the country to develop a sustainability framework against all three components of the triple bottom line, and has taken the additional step of embedding that framework as core to our strategic planning, management and performance evaluation and reporting. (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.)

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

A few of the benefits of our strategic sustainability program are the following:

Provides both a long term and fiscal year perspective:

  • A holistic high-level view of material activities and triple bottom line performance across SFPUC
  • An annual snapshot of how SFPUC is meeting its strategic goals and objectives

Places sustainability at the core of strategic decision-making

  • 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
  • Allows linking strategic decision-making to budget
  • Allows Executive Staff to align with SSP goals and objectives in their risk, fiscal year and long term management and planning
  • Encourages cross-boundary and cross-silo cooperation and collaboration
  • Streamlines performance reporting at the SFPUC-wide level

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 use AWWA guidelines for triple bottom line reporting, to index our annual results against the GRI Guidelines, and to monitor our performance indicators to remain consistent with evolving industry standards and best practices, and national and local rules and regulations.

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Last updated: 3/27/2013 11:33:35 AM