With a rich background in business and electronics, Lisa Meier was well equipped for a professional transition into the world of sustainability when she accepted her current job as UL Environment general manager and vice president back in 2012. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she was pining for a position in the big wide world of all things green. “I didn’t seek out the sustainability space,” she says. “But now that I have been here long enough to get pretty confident in the bigger conversations, I’m amazed at what opportunity there is and the value of driving this global mission.”
At UL, Meier brought together key acquisitions that supported the formation of her Environment business unit (one of five under the broader UL umbrella), which has a mission of promoting global sustainability, environmental health, and safety by supporting the growth and development of environmentally preferable products, services, and organizations by way of technical expertise, lab services, market intelligence, and software solutions.
Before she became responsible for driving the continued growth and globalization of the UL Environment sector, she worked as the president of the North America division and global group managing director of Binatone Electronics—a privately held consumer electronics manufacturer. Prior to that, she served as president of the consumer network solutions business unit for Thompson (now known as Technicolor), an $8.5B technology leader in the media and entertainment sector.
Meier couldn’t have been a better fit for this issue—as her expertise sits at the cross-section of good business practices and the ways in which they can promote healthier humans. Plus, one of this issue’s big features centers on how UL Environment is bringing scientific rigor and transparency to the green building market.
PART 1: HISTORY + TRUST
gb&d: I was fascinated in my research of UL to learn that the company’s first standard was a fire extinguisher label put in place in 1903. How does it feel to work for a compa- ny with such a rooted history?
Lisa Meier: I’ve worked with some really big brands in the past that I’m proud of—RCA, GE, Motorola, etc. None of them have the same kind of history and trust associated to safety that makes you feel this proud. I joined not knowing the value of the brand. And my position today continues to grow with the message and the team. Everyone in the organization believes in that mission and history that started 120 years ago. You watch how it continues to evolve, and it makes you want it to evolve even more. Very quickly, people associate trust with the brand, which is a powerful place to be. It feels good.
gb&d: My next question was actually going to center around this trust, as it appears to be an important running theme within the UL Environment brand—the trusted transparency and trusted global reputation. Do you think this trust comes from the history? Do you think the change that UL is impacting comes from that level of trust?
Meier: I would say yes, it comes with the history, but the history is just a piece of it. If you look at how the definition of safety is evolving—it’s part of UL’s communication on the topic and its forward-thinking vision. In the past 15 years, it’s started to evolve and continues to evolve to support a much bigger definition based on how people communicate what safety means to them. So there’s that opportunity to capitalize on, but there’s also a piece that goes with the science that UL tries to communicate consistently and that it maintains on the highest level. It’s great to know that that level of trust is really backed by the science.
To the second part, I would say yes—some of the trust comes from the history, but there are several components. There’s the trust, the history, the science, the facts, and quite honestly—the global reach, the areas that UL plays in today that support the definition of sustainability, that all comes into play. We’ve learned from some of our customers that as they look at their message in the market, many of them on a global scale, the number of global players that can support the message that our customers are trying to communicate is very limited. So when you add up all of these components together and look at our global footprint, quite honestly, we have a huge opportunity at UL to drive the message and the mission forward, as well as the mission of our customers.
gb&d: UL was one of the first companies to start setting standards and certifications and obviously tons have followed. With that have come issues with “greenwashing.” How is UL combatting that problem?
Meier: Greenwashing is a challenge. We did a study, which was recently released, titled “Under the Lens: Claiming Green,” that researched how people interpret some of the claims in the marketplace. We did find that many of the claims and messages being communicated were surrounded by a question of greenwashing. So we’re very sensitive to how we use the market and how that message comes across in promoting what the customer is trying to relay. It’s backed by science, and that science is promoting the brand we believe, which goes back to trust and standing by the message or the initiatives that the client is trying to promote.
PART 2: BUSINESS BACKGROUND
gb&d: Your work history sort of prepped you for this job in terms of experience, but did you ever see yourself working in the sustainability realm? How does it feel to be here?
Meier: I did not seek out the sustainability space, and before I joined UL Environment, I didn’t quite yet understand the value of sustainability. So when I was job searching, that wasn’t a top priority. Now that I’m here, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge. It’s amazing what I’ve learned and what I’ve been teaching my family. As we figure out avenues to do more of that type of education, we’ll see that acceleration and that transition of the mass to the other side. That’s what I get excited about because before, I did not know. Now that I’ve been in this space long enough to get pretty confident in some of the conversations, I’m amazed at what opportunity there is and the value of driving the mission as a global mission. That’s very exciting to me.
gb&d: Your background is really rooted in business, and it’s interesting to think about sustainability in terms of how it can save money and how important that can be. I was looking at UL Environment’s Twitter today and read a tweet that said, “Sustainability is not a gimmick; it’s a business necessity.” We still live in a world where climate change deniers are plentiful. Are you seeing more people who are accepting sustainable practices or maybe embracing them because they realizes it means better business and ample savings?
Meier: Absolutely. It’s interesting; I had mentioned before what’s exciting for me is the opportunity to work across so many different industries. Some are much more based on sustainability and have embedded it as a part of everyday decision making. The automotive industry would be an example of that. Sustainability represents a huge chunk of decisions in the automotive space, and it can range quite broadly. That being said, they value the association to the word even more than other industries do that might not be on that same curve. I do see a huge opportunity.
But coming from my background, what was interesting to me in the beginning—and is still interesting as an opportunity—is that I feel that I represent more than 90% of the population that is still trying to associate the value of sustainability and its impact and the business benefits as the biggest opportunity for us to identify how to relate to the masses. So you have five or 10% of the population who understands it and values it and talks a lot to each other. The opportunity now is to try to bring the rest of the masses along and figure out what are the key sensitizes that are personal to the majority of the people we can touch and truly accelerate that change.
PART 3: LOOKING FORWARD/PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
gb&d: What would you say are UL Environment’s goals for the future? Does the company strive to have the standards become government mandated?
Meier: We’re not pushing for anything to be government mandated, but we are working with governments—not just ours—to support information and science, so that’s a positive. We do see our place in bringing more clarity on a global scale. That’s where we see our biggest opportunity—to become the model for the best practices.
gb&d: How does UL practice what it preaches in terms of the workplace? Are there initiatives in place within the company to abide by the standards of wellness and sustainability that it certifies and enforces?
Meier: We have several buildings and UL has acquired several companies in the past three years. Many of them were already LEED-certified, and some are going through the process now. So we certainly promote this idea that we, ourselves, have to revisit sustainability and that we’re following what we’re trying to sell and communicate. We’re also continually going through the process of revisiting our priorities. Even today, UL is going through a whole review with our most senior leaders, including our CEO, to revisit our CSR strategy and make sure that it is consistent and relevant with where we are today and in line with the best practice we promote. The space and the initiatives are always evolving, and once you feel like you’ve achieved something, you need to raise the bar again—and that’s part of our normal process. It makes you feel very confident and makes you know that when you’re talking to a customer, you’re not just telling them a story. We truly live by what we are communicating and what we’re helping our customers better understand and communicate on behalf of their own brand.
gb&d: Does UL put its offices and its spaces through the same testing that it does for other clients? And do you use products that you’ve ceritified in these workspaces as well?
Meier: Yes it does, absolutely. Can we do more of it? Absolutely, and the company has recognized that. And yes, we also promote that we use or own certified products. When customers have come to us to get their products certified, we always consider those products when we’re remodeling or changing locations. In our Marietta [,Georgia] office, everything has been GREENGUARD certified and LEED-certified. We certainly promote it, but as any company can do better, we try to reach a new high.