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Few companies over the past decade have nabbed first place on Corpo­rate Knights‘ annual Global 100 ranking. Biogen Idec almost got there in 2014 when it ranked second, but this year its continued efforts to become a more sustainable com­pany pushed it to the top.

Even so, Biogen chief executive George Scangos isn’t resting on those laurels in 2015. “What we need to do is take a look at where we are and see how can we do sus­tainability better than that five years from now, and five years after that,” Scangos said in an interview. “We’re on track to do that.”

Founded in 1978 in Geneva, Switzerland, Biogen is a global biotechnology player now headquartered in Cambridge, Massachu­setts. The company develops medicines for people with neurodegenerative diseases, hematological conditions and autoimmune disorders. While its business has grown sig­nificantly over the years – it generated $6.9 billion in revenues in 2013, up 26 per cent from just a year earlier – so has its attempt to make its operations more energy efficient and its workforce more diverse.

It started in 2008 when the company be­gan taking a more holistic approach to sus­tainability performance. “That’s when we recognized we needed to become more for­mal around the sustainability management issues,” said Hector Rodriguez, Biogen’s senior director of environmental health, safety and sustainability.

Among its environmental strengths to­day: the company relies on less energy than most of its 171 industry peers for each dol­lar of revenue it generates, and has steadily improved in this area each year since 2011. It helps that all four of the company’s newest buildings constructed over the past several years have each been gold- or platinum-level LEED certified. Other “non-sexy” improve­ments that have cut energy use, Rodriguez explains, include a $1.5 million chiller unit and a $13 million cogeneration system that creates electricity without tapping into the local grid. The latter had a payback through energy savings of just three years.

At the same time, Biogen has reduced water intensity by 66 per cent from its 2006 baseline – a record for the company despite its expanding operations. Certain invest­ments have helped on this front, such as a condensate water reclamation system in Cambridge that recovered around 2.4 mil­lion gallons of water in 2013 and saved an estimated $47,000 worth of municipal water.

Some water is also being reused for cleaning purposes or even irrigation, all of which boosted Biogen’s water productivity score this year. And expect more improve­ments later in 2015, which is when the com­pany says it plans to release a new water in­tensity goal.

But like all of its competitors in this year’s Global 100, Biogen didn’t excel in each of the dozen indicators used to assess sustainability performance. While three of the company’s 11-person board, or 27 per cent, are women and puts Biogen among the higher-ranked businesses in this sector, only two out of 12 (or 17 per cent) of its se­nior executive team is made up of women. “We’re not where we should be,” Scangos said. “We’re working on it.”

Meanwhile, his compensation compared to the average worker’s pay was among the worst ratios in this industry, a matter he de­clined to comment on. “It’s very unlikely to have a company that’ll score the best pos­sible score on every metric,” said Michael Yow, lead analyst at Corporate Knights Capital, a division of Corporate Knights. “It’s a question of balance.”

On the issue of diversity, Biogen con­tinues to push. The number of company employees made up of women, veterans, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans­gender individuals has increased since the company launched its Diversity + Inclusion Strategic Council about three years ago. To help elevate some female workers to the next level, the company is launching two separate leadership-training programs in 2015 – one with Babson College in Welles­ley, Massachusetts, and the other with D.C.-based George Washington University.

This year also marks the first year Biogen plans to participate in Edge, a global busi­ness certification standards program that en­gages corporations in fostering equal career opportunities for both men and women. “We may score well, or poorly, but we’ll find out where we stand,” said Ken DiPietro, Biogen’s executive vice-president of human resources. “That’s the basis of getting better.”

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