As a global safety science leader, we embrace our responsibility to positively impact the planet by acting to preserve prosperity for future generations. We recognize that our actions have a ripple effect, and we trust that by concentrating our efforts on the mindful use of our planet’s resources, we will help realize a safe and secure future for all humanity.
The influence we have on our environment is measurable through our energy use, water consumption and waste generation. As we perform tests in our laboratories, conduct field evaluations and help our customers improve their offerings, our daily operations provide opportunities to investigate new ways to reduce harm and implement efficiencies.
Our global corporate headquarter campus in Northbrook, Illinois, supports our highest concentration of employees, with the largest footprint of any of our offices and sites around the world. Hosting more than 1,700 employees and 20 buildings, operations at Northbrook well-represent the diversity of UL’s enterprisewide service offerings. Testing performed at this site includes fire protection, cybersecurity, alarm systems, small and large appliances, hazardous locations, building envelope testing and more. From Northbrook, we are able to scrutinize a quality sample of our enterprise energy usage in order to discover and deploy improvements.
We are launching our reporting journey by disclosing our available data from this core location. This data will serve as the starting point to inform our strategy on three areas of global operational impact.
Energy — We are committed to reducing our worldwide energy usage and improving efficiency in our buildings and laboratories, with a task force especially created to devise solutions.
Water — We are exploring our global water usage, especially in parts of the world experiencing water scarcity, and finding new ways to recapture and reuse water.
Waste — We are examining ways to divert waste from our landfills through the incineration of products we must destroy as part of our testing protocols to generate energy and seeking responsible, collaborative and innovative methods to repurpose the materials that leave our owned and operated locations.
As we acquire quality data from our global, owned facilities in the coming years, we will also introduce processes that allow more visibility of our impacts and footprints in our leased facilities.
As our operations grow, we are committed to mindfully evaluating how we use energy in our daily operations and how we source that energy.
In 2019, we examined our global headquarter baseline data and calculated our carbon emissions. We are currently developing the processes needed to expand on this research in order to investigate solutions. We have empowered an employee task force of subject matter experts across business units to reveal areas of improvement around our energy consumption and recommend solutions at all of our locations.
Several of our offices and laboratories in Europe are operating on 100% renewable energy. In 2020, our 120-acre headquarter campus in Northbrook will also be operating on 100% Green-e® certified carbon offsets. Recognizing that credits are an interim step, we are working to increase energy efficiency throughout our offices and laboratories and exploring a retro-commissioning project to improve our building system performance overall.
As this is our first year of reporting, our carbon footprint is not verified. In future reports, we plan on having our emissions verified.
Our global headquarters in Northbrook sits in the heart of the Great Lakes region, one of the world's largest sources of fresh water. The majority, 84%, of North America's surface fresh water and nearly 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water comes from the freshwater ecosystem of the Great Lakes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Though fresh water is less of an issue in this region, neighboring these Great Lakes is a constant reminder of our responsibility to protect our natural resources and of the need for clean, safe and accessible water to nourish all forms of life. With offices and laboratories around the globe, we are keenly aware of how water scarcity affects many of the communities where we live and work on a daily basis. We are committed to uncovering and evolving ways to reuse and recycle this precious resource, particularly in our laboratories.
Community firefighters perform search and rescue drills in Lake Welborn.
Unique to our corporate headquarters, we have a 12.5 acre “working” lake where we drain and utilize water daily to support our laboratories and cool the buildings in our main campus, providing the majority of our air conditioning. Lake water is used in many of our temperature and humidity chambers, our air compressors and our irrigation system. The lake also serves as an emergency backup water source for our large-scale fire test building and as a free site for community emergency firefighters and divers to perform water search and rescue drills.
In the early 1980s, we expanded Lake Welborn from 4.5 acres to 12.5 acres. This provided the necessary mass to increase the lake's cooling capacity. The excavated earth was used to resurface approximately two acres for employee parking.
To ensure the lake's water quality, the majority of campus roads and parking lots are diverted away from the lake. Water levels are regulated by pumping excess water to the North Branch of the Chicago River. By law, we are required to test the water quality when we pump into the river. All past filed reports have exceeded the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) water quality standards.
Photos of the thermal storage system construction project, 1983-1985. UL made a pioneering decision in energy conservation by installing a thermal storage system at the basement level, which thaws frozen lake water to cool the floors above.
Today, we continue to make significant efforts to care for life in and around the lake, building fish habitats and clearing invasive species to promote native plant growth. Lake Welborn serves as the backdrop for many company gatherings and community events. Walking paths around the lake contribute to employee wellness by offering access to nature during the working hours.
Enacting our mission to work for a safer, more secure and sustainable world demands that we create the various, relevant conditions needed to test and certify products and systems. Testing for safety requires our engineers to synthesize all foreseeable hazards that could arise from environmental, abnormal, and life-cycle conditions. While testing whether products operate as intended, we must also help ensure that should those products fail to operate properly, they will fail safely in order to protect our employees.
Tests conducted by our engineers are, by necessity, stringent, robust and repetitive. They may involve the application of extreme heat, duress and other methods to prove that a product is safe for people to use. Oftentimes, those tested products then become a part of our waste stream, along with any temporary structures created to perform specific tests.
It is our unique challenge to balance the safety and well-being of consumers as they interact with products in the marketplace while introducing more circularity into our operations. We are eager to meet this challenge as we examine opportunities to better manage our waste.
When possible, we currently divert our waste from landfills through methods such as recycling. However, we are prioritizing collaboration with our business partners to find even more ways to responsibly dispose our waste. At both an enterprise and local level, we are also educating our employees about their individual responsibility to help reduce our overall waste. To date, our estimated diversion rate for our global headquarters is less than 50%. However, we are committed to gaining full transparency of all waste streams and increasing our waste diversion in the coming year. We will evaluate our sample and nonsample waste streams, identify opportunity for reuse and repurpose, and raise awareness and education to our colleagues regarding the importance of waste diversion.
We intend to maximize our positive impact in the future and are excited by the innovations and efficiencies our journey will inspire. We are collaborating with our business divisions, customers, stakeholders and service providers to reduce our carbon footprint, responsibly divert waste, and reuse and recycle water as we progress.
In order to achieve our environmental sustainability objectives, our next step is to acquire high-quality data on our owned global facilities. This will allow us to set specific intensity goals and reduction targets for the unique consumption of our various facility types.
We will launch pilot programs at our headquarters then implement best practices at our other sites around the world. And, we’ll continue to measure and report on our performance as we engage our employees with quality education around environmental issues and impact areas.
In the coming years, we plan on implementing energy conservation initiatives across our global campuses and identifying innovative and strategic projects to support a transition to a low-carbon economy.
In the shorter term, we commit to:
Implementing efficiency initiatives at global sites
Purchasing renewable energy when possible
Monitoring our energy use, particularly in areas where energy rates are higher
Water is a vital, irreplaceable resource to all life and industry. In the years to come, we hope to explore and uncover new ways to recapture and reuse our water as we prioritize water management.
In the shorter term, we commit to:
Evaluating water recyclability in our laboratories
Developing a policy for water use in offices and laboratories
Surveying the environmental impact of our water use in regions of scarcity
The challenge of waste management requires strategic planning at the start of a product or process, long before waste is produced. In the coming years, we plan to incorporate circularity principles — reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling — into our waste strategy wherever possible.
In the shorter term, we commit to:
Increase employee awareness of waste diversion
Implement a new global recycling program
Integrate circularity principles into our operations where possible