Debbie Lizt (pronounced list) is Head of Global Sustainability for Intuit, the global financial technology platform that makes TurboTax, Credit Karma, QuickBooks and Mailchimp, where she defines and leads the execution of Intuit’s environmental strategy. She helps the company in its mission to power prosperity around the world through addressing the climate crisis, because without a healthy planet, none of us can prosper. Her portfolio includes engaging customers and employees on their own climate journeys, the decarbonization of infrastructure, travel, and real estate, providing environmental data in ESG disclosures, and scaling investments in climate positive solutions in underserved communities. Debbie’s held previous positions in green building design and construction, renewable energy development, and corporate sustainability; eventually leading to her current role at Intuit.
John Shegerian: Listen to the Impact podcast on all your favorite podcast platforms including Apple podcast Google podcasts, Amazon Music, iHeart Radio, audible Spotify Stitcher, and of course, at impactpodcast.com. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices. Please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by closed-loop partners. Closed-loop Partners is a leading circular economy, investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate Investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and Impact Partners. Closed Loops platform spans the Arc of capital from Venture Capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. The find closed-loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. And I’m so honored to have with us today Debbie Lizt. She’s the head of global sustainability for Intuit. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Debbie.
Debbie Lizt: Thank you, John, so much for having me. It’s great to be here with you today.
John: Debbie, we’re going to talk a lot about the sustainability journey at Intuit. But before we go into that, I want to hear a little bit about your journey where you grow up, how do you even got to this great position that you’re in Intuit and how you made that whole journey along the way?
Debbie: Yeah, I’d be happy to share that. So I’m from the Midwest originally and actually I am the granddaughter of a farmer so I would spend summers in Wisconsin on my grandparents’ farm and I think that that was really for me at a very beginning of my sustainability journey just seeing the human impact on nature and the land and vice versa, I have always felt a strong connection to our natural environment. And that really continued, I would say throughout my educational pathway. So in college, I was a civil engineering major, I focused on building structures that built environment. I was always fascinated with that and I was privileged enough to have a adjunct professor when I was an undergrad, who was an architect by day professor by night, I don’t know when he found time to sleep, but he was really phenomenal. In terms of introducing me to this very nascent world of green building and green architecture. And I learned so much from him that upon matriculation, I wanted to do something in that space and I wanted to be a part of the built environment in a positive way. And so after graduating, I went into the construction industry focused on Green Building and this was a time when lead… so that entire Green Building concept was still very nascent. It was new. And I was on a project where this large pension center in Chicago. For those who are familiar with the Chicago Convention Center, McCormick Place. They were expanding it and it was going to be lead certified, which at the time it was going to be, I think the largest building in the country by square footage to be lead certified. I raised my hand to essentially guide that process.
So I became a lead API guided that process and I became a… for the company I was working for at the time I guess, their first internal Green Building expert and so there I would go into these client meeting and introduce this concept of Green Building, the cost, the benefits, and I was always fascinated by the folks who I was sitting across from the decision-makers in terms of what went into their decision-making process to invest in these types of buildings, from more of a vanilla on strategic perspective, and I realized that I didn’t know how to necessarily speak that language. I didn’t know necessarily how to speak the business language and at the time, didn’t have a really strong environmental science grounding. So, after a few years of working I actually went back to school to fill those gaps. And I ended up getting an MBA and then a master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University, who at the time was one of the few schools who created programs like that. And now I’m just so incredibly impressed by all… It seems like every academic institution has some type of sustainability degree, certification pathway.
And so for me that’s just been extraordinary to see and just really inspiring. And after grad school, I worked in corporate sustainability for Abercrombie Fitch leading there really their first-person focus on sustainability leading their sustainability initiative. I then became fascinated in renewable energy. So I went to work for a solar developer for a few years but I always really loved the challenges presented in more of the corporate sustainability space. All of the problems that a large company was solving in terms of how to reduce its environmental footprint to have more of a positive impact on the planet. And so that’s really what led me to this role here at Intuit, as it had a global sustainability. And I’m I feel incredibly privileged to be in this role and to be really guiding and setting the direction for a company of Intuit, size, reputation, and with really all the work that we do, which I’m sure will plunge on.
John: But your journey’s fascinating because truly Debbie, you’re what I call with all affection and kindness, you’re one of the real sustainability. OGs, because you were back in the original. Like you said, the nascent stage of Green building, Lead certified, platinum-certified. That whole beginning back when you were working on the McCormick Place project and then went on to go get other formal, education in environmental sciences and stuff. And people think this concept in America, on a corporate basis, has been around a long time, but the truth is when I even started this show. There were very, very few chief sustainability officers or head of global sustainability or impact officers. And very few Universities had any programs in this that even as recent as 2007. So you have been doing this a long time, so it’s no wonder and it’s a lucky break for them to have you at Intuit running their Global sustainability program makes total sense now. Makes total sense.
Debbie: Thank you. Yeah. No, it’s been an amazing personal journey, and professional Journey for myself, and to your point, I’ve been in this space for over 15 years now and it’s just amazing to see the change that has happened and really just yeah, the groundswell of people that have joined our ranks and are really having an affecting change.
John: Well, you were there for the evolution and I feel like this evolution is now becoming somewhat of a revolution in a good way. A positive revolution, we’ll get into that later. Let’s go back and talk about Intuit for a second and for our listeners and viewers who are not familiar with Intuit. First of all, to find Debbie and all her great colleagues of all the important work they’re doing in corporate responsibility and sustainability, you could go to www.intuit.com, but understand that Intuit under Debbie, and her colleagues, have all these amazing brands that are so familiar to us household Brands like Turbo Tax. Credit Karma, Minute, QuickBooks, and MailChimp. So you are really sitting on top of a brand empire that most of Americans and people around the world are very very familiar with it. That have been using for many many years.
Debbie: Yeah. No, as a company we’re privileged to serve over 100 million customers globally through those products that you just mentioned and really in our mission to power prosperity or those that we serve our customers, our community. So, the impacts and the amount of individuals that we affect on a daily basis, and it is pretty extraordinary.
John: So what year specifically did you join Intuit in your role as head of global sustainability?
Debbie: Yeah. I am going to be celebrating my one-year anniversary with Intuit in this role and so Intuit has had a storied history of leadership in the climate space before I join this role. So I feel like just carrying the mantle and pushing the company forward into the future. So yes, still relatively new at Intuit but obviously bringing my expertise to bear at the company.
John: So now you join a year or so ago. Talk about how do you assess where Intuit was and where you wanted to take it, especially with regards to Intuit’s carbon footprint as it existed and operational footprint. Because there’s so many ways of doing this and doing it, right there’s so anyways to show progress and as I was taught many years ago by then, who was the person and who is the head of sustainability for Molson Coors at the time on the show he said to me, I was asking him about how weird is this end and he goes, “John, in sustainability there’s never finish line and it really was a very early education to how these journeys go. So now you start, you have a great storied history behind you at Intuit but now you are sitting in the seat yourself. How do you assess that carbon footprint and operational for print and create go forward plan for Intuit?
Debbie: Yeah, great question. Before I arrived Intuit had been focused on reducing, its operational carbon footprint for the last decade and had been making really great strides in terms of setting sustainability targets. So when I arrived, it was really an opportune moment where we as a company acknowledged that the science tells us we the planet of humanity need to cut our emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions no later than 2050. So therefore Intuit has committed and we’ve actually submitted are near a long-term science-based NetZero target, to science-based target initiative that’s BTI for validation and either fully recognizing that meeting these targets won’t be easy. And in fact, were exploring Innovative Technologies for our offices, were looking at new ways to engage our suppliers in hitting those targets because we know this is going to be a journey. And so right now we’re… and I’ll give you a couple of examples of what we’re doing. Since I’ve really taken over this role.
And then setting these targets is that particularly what it comes to our offices we’re exploring procuring, 24/7, renewable energy essentially for every electron that our office uses matching that with a renewable energy source and Google other companies have really pioneered this. They have a larger energy demand than we do. So we’re really looking at this from, how can a company of Intuit size really lead in this area that perhaps we can Inspire other companies to engage with. And there are certainly challenges to procuring 24/7 renewable energy. It is not easy, and so we’re really working through that with legal through various partners to explore how we can do that. Because we really see this as one, away that we can have incredible impact and two ways that we can as I said Inspire our peers to also look at these new Innovative Partnerships and and procurement methods to really drive down emission quickly.
And and then even on the supply chain level our company is scope three emissions make up 97% of our total emissions footprint. So we know that we have to engage our supply chain in this journey. And so we’re looking at really innovative ways to engage with them and particularly be a company that serves small businesses through Quick books, were paying particularly close attention to those small business suppliers in our supply chain and in fact, what resources they would need because unlike an Intuit, these small businesses, small business suppliers may not have in-house climate experts like myself. They may lack capital to really move towards this climate transfer… jump on this climate transformation that we’re all need to essentially engage in and so we’ve introduced to at least our small business suppliers and our small business customers a platform that we created in November of 2021 and you can actually find it on our website.
It’s Intu Climate action Marketplace and it’s essentially an online destination for any small or medium-sized business to get connected to solutions that eventually will help them replace high-emission business activity is wick more sustainable solution Your category is like energy, travel, office supplies, food waste often an exclusive discount that’s why we created this market place to begin with was to really enable small businesses [inaudible] journey and particularly they lack some of that capital to provide them with an incentive to take those steps. So I’m really excited about all the work that we’re doing operationally right now and thinking about that long-term future excited about again creating these innovative solutions to really push the needle to hit our target.
John: And what I read about your targets, talk a little bit about what it means your 50… Why is it called 50 by 30 climate call again? Explain that to me. So I understand it our listeners and viewers can understand that.
Debbie: Yeah, so actually for a little bit of historical context so they said we as a company have been on the Journey of reducing our operational footprint for the last decade, and by 2019, we had actually met… our goal was to procure, 100% renewable energy for operations to reduce at that time, our carbon footprint by 50%. We met those goals 10 and five years. Yeah, and by meeting those goals early, it gave us the band way to ask ourselves. How can we do more and knowing that climate change severely impacts the ability of our employees, our customers, and the communities that we serve to prosper, we knew that we needed to look at that point beyond our operational boundary, which is why we created this climate positive commitment, which essentially states that were going to reduce carbon emissions outside of our operational boundary by 2 million metric tons by 2030. And that 2 million metric tons is 50 times what our 2018 carbon footprint was, by 2030. So that’s where you get this 50 by 30 strategic name. And that was really our goal and to do that by helping these key stakeholders that I mentioned our employees, our customers, and the communities that we serve to one, reduce their own climate emissions, but two to become more resilient in the face of the climate crisis.
John: So 50 by 30 was started in 2019, you said?
Debbie: Correct. 2000… Yeah.
John: This is about four years old. So what were some of the… I know you just joined about a year ago, but what are some of the best lessons learned since launching 50 by 30 that you’re taking forward, and using that as informing you as you make further decisions in the sustainability journey for Intuit?
Debbie: Yeah, so great question. So really, this climate-positive commitment has allowed us to explore Innovative Partnerships and accelerate solutions and products that we otherwise necessarily wouldn’t have explored or tested and so I’ll give a couple of examples. So one, particularly in the communities that we serve we’ve been able to pilot so pretty Innovative Partnerships. One partnership that we have is with a company called Clear Loop, and their work is really focused on cleaning up the grid here in the United States and providing clean energy access through the development of solar project in community that are otherwise being left behind in this renewable energy transition by we as a country are in the middle of right now and that, we as corporates have been able to take advantage of. And in partnership with this company, we’ve been able to go into communities where we have had presents and find these solar projects that not only help these communities one, gain access to clean energy that they would have never had access to before, and therefore helping to reduce emissions.
But two, we’re creating jobs in these communities, through these projects new jobs in these communities and we’re also through these projects, creating a platform for students in these communities to get exposure to this clean energy future and jobs of the future in this space and learn more about these technologies through stem educational programs. And that really has been, I think one of the amazing lessons for all of this in terms of these projects is we’re really, not just accelerating solutions and projects that would reduce carbon emissions but we’re really creating a myriad of benefits for these communities which is been extraordinary and it is not to say that this is easy. One of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned over these past few years is particularly working with these types of projects, is that they take time and there can be a number of roadblocks in getting these types of projects and programs established. But the end of the day, the work is really more than just about reducing emissions. It’s about creating these opportunities in this communities.
John:: Got it. How many… just so our listeners and viewers and for those of you just joining us, we’ve got Debbie Lizt today with us. She’s the head of global sustainability for Intuit to find Debbie and her colleagues and all the important and great work, they’re doing in sustainability and corporate responsibility. Please go to www.intuit.com. Intuit remember controls and owns, Turbo Tax, Credit Karma, mint, QuickBooks and MailChimp. So you’re definitely going to be positively affected by Debbie and her important work at Intuit. How many employees does Intuit have? And how dispersed is your employee base?
Debbie: Yes, we have over 17,000, employees globally. Dispersed all over the world, yeah, and they certainly are as I mentioned one of our key stakeholders. So we’re really looking at ways that we can not only engage our employees in our climate positive commitment and in our efforts and what we’re doing operationally but really trying to provide them with more access to solutions themselves that they can take into their personal lives, that will help them lead more sustainable lives. Help them reduce their carbon emissions and essentially even help them stay and save money too a couple of benefits that we offer our employees is, we have a wellness for life benefit. That is a certain number of dollars that employees been certain categories. And we open that up, that employees can essentially offset the purchase of solar panels for their homes with this type of benefit, which I think a number of our employees. I don’t have the exact stats on this one, but I think a number of employees have taken advantage of that wellness for life benefit, to engage, and to procure sustainable solutions for their homes.
John: What was fascinating to me is that you get to have the benefit also of having employees that are so dispersed and creating solutions and opportunities for them where they are sitting geographically and culturally speaking. But also, I guess I would bet that they also get the share back, what’s going on because as we know we’re somewhat as a country somewhat behind some of the countries in Europe for instance that were into sustainability probably 40, 50 years ago. But based on their size they knew they could have live in a literary economy that had to be more circular based even though that was a terms that were being used regularly back then but it must be a fascinating experience to have dialogue an ongoing dialogue with all these employees around the world. And sharing best practices.
Debbie: It is. We have sustainability champion teams. That’s what we call. essentially are green teams across the world and it’s amazing. I’m always inspired by the ideas and the programs that these teams are creating locally. Because to your point, so much of what’s happening in the world is hyperlocal as well and a solution that might work here in the United States, may not work in India. May not work in the UK, or maybe there is some type of solution or product, et cetera, that can work globally. And so it’s really neat to work with teams across the world to see what’s happening both in their geographic locations. And also, just what we can do to accelerate, what they’re doing in those location [crosstalk].
John: With regards to your operational footprint the rethinking and how you’re going about on the energy procurement, how hard is that to create the energy goals? How hard is it to achieve the energy goals that you set out about 10 or 15 minutes ago with regards to other sources of renewable energy that Intuit and your client base in the folks that you touch which is massive like you said at the top of the show 100 million plus? So there’s more opportunities, is energy, diversity, and choice, a difficult thing in the times that we live in?
Debbie: I think it certainly can be. There are certainly challenges like I mentioned moving towards like a 24/7 renewable energy procurement policy for a company of our size while we have incredible amount of influence, it still is challenging. There are still these roadblocks that I’ve mentioned whether they’re legal, whether they’re financial whether they’re even just structural challenges to procuring energy which is why we’re exploring them or trying to find partners that will think creatively with us on how to remove some of those barriers that will allow us to connect to those energy sources and not something that we’re trying to do for our employees, for our customers, for the communities that we serve like I mentioned with that partnership with Clear Loop, trying to unlock access to renewable energy and communities that otherwise wouldn’t have had access to renewable energy before. And as I mentioned on our climate action Marketplace, we actually have one of our solution providers, is a company called EnergySage and they’re a solar energy Marketplace here in the United States. That essentially helps individuals and small businesses connect with different solar providers. Because that can also be a challenge, a lot of our small business customers, a lot of our employees don’t know where to begin, and taking that next step, either, whether energy procurement, whether it’s even just how to divert waste, food waste, how to procure more sustainable, office, supplies et cetera. And so that’s where we’re really trying to look at those barriers and think creatively about how we can partner develop solutions that start reducing those barriers so people can connect to the solutions.
John: It seems like you guys were so far ahead. Like you said, you beat your goals by ten years or so. And then you made a real double-down commitment, to really power and facilitate sustainable practices and opportunities for your SMBs, in your client base around the world, which is so it’s really wonderful because like you said, so many people don’t know where to even start the sustainability journey, small and medium businesses are lost and they don’t have a Debbie Lizt sitting in their office that they could go turn to and ask for help. So, this is just unbelievably wonderful. That’s great.
Debbie: Thanks. Yeah and I’ll just throw up some statistics on it. [inaudible] a small business community. 90% of our global business population is made up of small business employees and here in the United States, there are over 30 million small businesses. And so it’s extraordinary when you think about the scale and I think particularly those small businesses haven’t been engaged when we talk about solving the climate crisis, how do we empower a very large portion of our global business population to take those first steps to really move along that journey like large corporations are and we at Intuit as I said, we focused on small businesses. They’re one of our [inaudible] and there was a stop that I read recently from Bheema here in the United States, Federal Emergency Management Agency that said something like 40… estimated that something like 40% of small businesses never reopen after a natural disaster and that really struck me like 40% of these small businesses can’t recover. And we recognize that these small businesses in the fate of these climate crisis particularly they lack the type of safety net. That like a large corporation has an access to capital that a large corporation like Intuit has. They may never recover in the wake of a disaster. And so that’s why we really are focused on trying to create tools and products and services that can help them take that step to become more climate resilient and to be able to thrive.
John: On a personal note Debbie it seems you have such a great history in sustainability, going back to the McComirk Place story. When I started on the journey too back then, somewhere in that same area, there was no such thing as part of our vernacular, Aleksic [?] on such as the acronym ESG, or the shift from the linear to Circular economy was certainly not happening then it seems to be happening now and there wasn’t the financial institutions like Larry Fink over Black Rock Stella saying, “Hey, my portfolio companies have to not only be talking about ESG but they better be doing it and proving to me that they’re doing it otherwise, they won’t be a portfolio company. Where are we in this fascinating sustainability journey? Where do you feel that we are and are you more hopeful than ever before given where you sit right now and where the world is evolving on these different acronyms and practices and media messaging is that we’re hearing more than ever before?
Debbie: So I am hopeful. I really I’m hopeful I know that particularly when you read the headlines and you just look outside your window and you see what’s happening. It can be incredibly depressing and disheartening but I guess I’m forever an optimist. I look actually at particularly the work that we’ve done as a company, and the projects that we’ve been able to create and the communities where we’ve been able to impact, and I remain incredibly hopeful that there is a future that is possible. Where we do mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and when reading the headlines about ESG, I think we’re moving towards the direction where there’s going to be greater accountability for companies to not only show ambitious target but to really show progress against those targets to really disclose the impacts that climate change is happening, and the risk that climate change has on their businesses. But also the opportunities that this opens up to and I think it’s going to lead to… this is me speaking personally, but I think it’s going to lead to greater transformation. You mentioned things like circular economy et cetera. And I think that there’s like an extraordinary opportunity to grow new businesses in this type of environment to think and develop new Innovative technologies that will really help us draw down emissions. And so I am incredibly hopeful and particularly now at a company that has a climate positive commitment that looks not just in our operations but outside of our operations and the positive impact that we can have for the planet, but also for those that we serve, keeps me energized every day.
John: Obviously, and what’s wonderful about what you’re doing at Intuit is that you’re empowering all of your customer base. And that’s a domino effect, that’s massive in terms of not only just doing linearly what Intuit is about but you’re affecting the whole world by the all your client base, which is like you said 100 million plus, which is just fascinating. For our listeners and viewers Debbie’s corporate responsibility report is published every year somewhere in the August area, you could find their corporate responsibility reports on intuit.com.
Debbie, where are you going next with Intuit you’re a year into this. You’ve got a big future in front of you and some big goals talk a little bit about what’s next? Because I find it always facsinating that is such an interesting array of issues that you could decide to be focused on. What do you look at as what’s the next thing in the years to come for you and your team at Intuit?
Debbie: Well certainly as I stated we’ve committed to these NetZero science-based NetZero targets and so like where my next few years will take me as really being and working cross-functionally. When we talk about business transformation, it really is about working cross-functionally across the business to ensure that we have the carbonization roadmaps and place that we have supplier engagement pathways, bringing our suppliers along with us on this journey. It’s about exploring these Innovative technologies that will really help us put us on that path to achieving those targets. And then continuing to look beyond our operational boundary, beyond the value chain. We have this climate-positive commitment to reduce 2 million metric tons by 2030. That is no small feat and three years in, well, we’ve been able to help reduce 400,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. So, that’s a little over 10X on our 50X journey, we still have a ways to go. So for me and it’s working with my team, working with partners that we have outside of the company, to continue to innovate and to continue to think creatively about what types of programs and products that we can create both in the communities that we serve for our customers for our employees. And I know that it’s not a specific targeted answer, but there’s a lot of work still ahead to be done and I’m just really excited about the possibility.
John: Well, we are very excited that you’re in this very important role, at Intuit. And again, for our listeners and viewers to find Debbie and her colleagues and their corporate responsibility report, you could go to www.intuit.com. Remember Intuit owns Turbo Tax, Credit Karma, mint QuickBooks and MailChimp, so were all affected and we all get to use some of your wonderful brands on a regular basis. Debbie, thank you and all the great people at Intuit for making the important impacts that you make in making the world a better place. We look forward to having you back on and continuing your story and your journey with Intuit in the near future.
Debbie: Thank you.
John: It was such a pleasure to be with you today and I look forward to our next conversations and thank you all for listening today, I’m really excited to share Intuit’s story with you.
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John: This edition of Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT, and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices. Please visit eridirect.com.