January 07, 2019
Leading the Way on Corporate Environmental SustainabilityWhen IBM’s environmental executive Wayne Balta was growing up, it was the built environment more than the natural one that caught his attention.
“Every time a new house was being constructed in the neighborhood, I would walk through it after the workers had gone home. I would sneak around not just looking at the wooden frame, but I’d go outside and study the lot, look at the digging, all of that,” he remembers.
He’d also construct his own tree houses, forts, and shacks in the woods, and it was that constant fascination with building that led him to study civil engineering as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon. Here, along with specialized knowledge, Balta developed strong problem-solving abilities. “The civil engineering program at Carnegie Mellon taught me how to make decisions about complex matters. That's what I do today,” he says.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1982, Balta earned a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1984, he joined IBM as a real estate and construction project manager and, within five years, became executive assistant to the corporate vice president of global real estate. In 1989, when IBM’s CEO brought up the topic of environmentalism, the real estate VP turned to his assistant Balta for support. Immediately, Balta set out to understand the company’s current state and start defining a strategy that would elevate IBM to an environmental leader.
In 1990, Balta presented to their CEO a portion of that proposed strategy, which was in many ways ahead of its time. “I was so captivated by the breadth of the strategy we developed that I decided I wanted to be part of that new corporate staff we were recommending,” recalls Balta.
That experience marked Balta’s shift in focus to the natural environment. He soon became IBM’s Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs, and, in 1997, was instrumental in making IBM the first major multinational company to earn single global registration to the ISO 140001 standard for environmental management.
“Our management system is what guides IBM employees all over the world, over 300,000 of them, to keep environmental leadership in mind as part of whatever their daily job may be,” he explains, citing creating that system as his most important project. “It integrates and institutionalizes environmental leadership into the fabric of IBM’s business and our company's culture. That's what I leave behind. That will outlive everything else I do.”
As Vice President of Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety at IBM, Balta now leads the environmental efforts he helped to start nearly 30 years ago. Today, over 41% of the electricity IBM consumes is from renewable sources, with a goal of reaching 55% by 2025. They’ve reduced CO2 emissions by over 42% from 2005 with ongoing reduction goals. Their energy conservation and recycling achievements are likewise extraordinary, and they’re even applying their technology for the greater good.
Balta explains, “We're very interested in leveraging environmental data and analytics using internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain to attack difficult problems like urban air quality, water quality, plastics recycling, and even protection of endangered species.”
Beyond IBM, Balta has shared his expertise with organizations that include the Environmental Law Institute, the World Environment Center, and The Conference Board. In 2012, the White House named him a Champion of Change for advancing corporate environmental sustainability. Most recently, Balta received the prestigious 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), recognizing his vast contributions to the environmental health and safety field.
Balta is also a long-time supporter of Carnegie Mellon and received the Carnegie Mellon Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2009. He is currently IBM’s Partnership Executive for the university and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Engineering.
“I am grateful for how well Carnegie Mellon prepared me to succeed. My civil engineering background has been extremely valuable. I rely on it all the time,” says Balta, who enjoys visiting the campus whenever possible. “Carnegie Mellon is one of the world’s most fascinating and compelling institutions. It is truly a feast for the mind.”