Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview with Rod Stevens of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Business

Rod Stevens is a favorite person of mine – he’s a good natured guy, always ready to share his thoughts on sustainability. I was so excited when I first met Rod and visited the Pioneer campus for a couple of reasons. First, because one of my favorite colleagues, Pete Winters, is a big fan of Rod’s. Second, I associate Pioneer very much with my dad and his parents. My grandparents were farmers and my dad spent one summer as “corn detasseler” on a Pioneer test farm. Rod was so gracious and gifted me with my very own Pioneer baseball cap, as well as one for my dad. We’ve been buds since. I hope you enjoy Rod as much as I do!

What is your current role at your organization?
I am the Architect /Facility Information Manager at Pioneer Hi-Bred. Additionally, I am on the Board of Directors of IFMA, the International Facility Management Association. (Bet you didn’t know you were talking to such a big cheese!) and a LEED AP.

What is going on with sustainability at Pioneer?
We have recently hired a new sustainability coordinator – Derek Nelson. He’s a very enthusiastic young guy who first got interested in sustainability through a course he took as part of his MBA program at the University of Iowa. Part of what he and I are talking about is not doing everything at once, but taking measured steps.

At Pioneer, we’re exploring a lot of different things: solar energy, wind energy, and even single-stream recycling. Finding the infrastructure for single-stream recycling in commercial applications just hasn’t quite made it to Des Moines. Our labs generate a lot of recyclable waste – some of the advocates have been taking it upon themselves to take it away and get it recycled. For example, last winter, we had a localized, very severe hailstorm that took roofs out of many of our greenhouses. These are made of extruded plastic that is as close to double-glazing as you can get without being glass. It’s recyclable, but there were no places nearby that would take it – the local haulers were charging us very expensive fees to haul it away. One of the technicians called around and found a company in Canada that not only hauled it away for free, but also paid us for the material!

It’s like The Little Green Book says, “as an individual you don’t think you’re doing much, but if we all do a little bit the aggregate is very powerful.”

What has inhibited you or your organization from making more progress on the sustainability front?
As you might have gathered from the story about recycling, local resources certainly play a role in what we have and have not been able to accomplish to date.

Another issue related to our location is that electricity is pretty inexpensive in the Midwest. In Iowa, about 78% comes from coal plants. Looking to alternative sources of energy is difficult since the paybacks are so long. On the upside, Pioneer recently installed a 40,000 SF photovoltaic array in Hawaii – The cost of electricity in Hawaii is expensive, and the payback on PVs is much lower and therefore a much more attractive option.

We struggle a bit with the concept of water scarcity here in the Midwest. In recent history we have had a lot of rain, we have floods, and we have not experienced drought or water shortages in recent memory. I believe that water is going to become an issue in the future.

What advice would you give others in your position trying to make a difference for the environment?
Be patient! Chip away at sustainability. Small victories – a series of them – are better than shooting for the moon (and missing).

Also, try to understand that what may be obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to everyone else. For example: you see people drinking bottled water and wonder why anyone would do that. It’s gotten to be your only choice at a number of venues (in many you can’t even bring in your own water or reusable container).

Another major consideration is communication. I truly believe that sustainability is about 90% communication.

Tell us about something that has inspired you recently?
My wife and I recently took a vacation to San Francisco and Sonoma valley. I was very impressed to see how ingrained sustainability is in the general populace – much more so than in Johnston, Iowa! There were recycling and composting bins just about everywhere – nothing special, everyone just knows to recycle and does it.

When I was in Sonoma, I went into an import/export store and in the back was this book, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner by Fred Pierce. The author is a British guy who decided he was going to track down where his “stuff” came from. The book documents, chapter by chapter, him tracking down his “stuff”: there’s a chapter on coffee, a chapter on seafood, etc. He traveled hundreds of thousands of miles to track the stuff down (mines in South Africa to see where gold came from, coffee plantations in South America – he shares a really interesting description of fair trade and how it’s better, but not really fair). His research was exhaustive and the story is really compelling – it really kind of makes you want to stay home and not buy anything due to the far-reaching ramifications of your actions.

My wife and I grew up on farms in Iowa so have a reasonable understanding at least of how food gets to our homes, but even some of the city kids in Des Moines have no idea where their food comes from. Americans in general really have no concept of how stuff is connected. We all just need to pay attention and work to understand how everything relates to everything else.

Rod Stevens is Architect/Facility Information Manager at Pioneer Hi-Bred. This posting expresses Rod’s own opinion and does not represent DuPont company, positions, strategies, or opinion.


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