Innovator Spotlight



John Friedman

Sustainability Manager

2018 Environmental Leader 75 Honoree

In 2016, four years ahead of schedule, Washington Gas exceeded its sustainability goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its fleet and facilities 74% and reducing its emissions intensity per unit of natural gas 20%. What’s in their secret sauce? Every single Washington Gas employee, who draw inspiration from a greater “why” behind their sustainability efforts. The man leading those efforts is sustainability manager John Friedman.

Sparkfund: Describe your role at Washington Gas.
John Friedman: I’m the internal sustainability champion. A lot of what I do is developing our programs based on our overall corporate strategy, sustainability strategy and individual teams’ priorities and efforts. Sustainability is one of our five articulated core values, so it has been part of who we are as a company for many years.

What’s one accomplishment at your job you’re most proud of?
One of my proudest moments here was being able to share with our employees that they had met and exceeded the company’s aggressive 2020 sustainability targets so far ahead of our timeline. Employees are essential if you’re going to make sustainability a universal program rather than a corporate program pushed down from the top.

We focused on this as an accomplishment of our teams and individuals, from the C-suite right down to field operations. Sustainability is more than a poster on the wall. It’s a business strategy that enables us to meet the energy needs of today and the energy needs of the future.

How do you foster employee buy-in?
We engage our employees and give them ownership of the things that have made our long, proud history possible. Too often sustainability programs try to tell employees what they need to do and don’t give them the context of “why.” If you ask any Washington Gas employee, they know why they make an extra effort to be sustainable because we let them define their own personal “why.”

What's a best practice that a small organization without a sustainability team can implement tomorrow?
Don't focus on what you make, focus on what you do. You need to establish how your product or service benefits your customers and the community overall. If you start with these benefits, you will find your purpose and that’s where people find the inspiration to get on board. For example, we are an energy provider. We provide the warmth in your home on a cold winter’s day, and we power schools where people learn.

Once you have your sense of purpose and it’s larger than molecules of gas through a pipe, then find a way to do it better. In our case, that’s “How do we provide affordable, reliable, and safe energy in the most efficient and effective ways?”

How do you decide which industry conferences to attend?
Whenever I go to a conference I have three goals: to learn something I didn’t know before, find something that’s new or different that I can try to implement once I get back, and meet at least one person that I want to continue to engage with after the conference.

What gets you motivated to go to work every day?
Energy is essential for a high quality of life. It’s a keystone for so many other elements of our society, our lives. That purpose is why I’m excited to come to work. I’m part of making sure the advancements in health, well-being, quality of life and economic opportunities that rely on energy happen.

What’s one small thing you do every day to be environmentally friendly?
Actively, I recycle. But there are also a lot of passive ways that I am eco-friendly, things that can be set up and forgotten about. Things like the rain barrels on my house, our programmable thermostat — those create efficiencies that save money and reduce our footprint every year.