Navigating the complex landscape of sustainability - five focus areas for the C-Suite

Patrick Smith Profile picture for user Patrick Smith February 28, 2023
Patrick Smith, Field CTO for EMEA at Pure Storage, discuses how the gap between organizations’ public sustainability efforts and their internal actions can be closed.

Green leaf on the converging point of computer circuit board. Nature with Digital Convergence and Technological Convergence. Green Computing, Green Technology, Green IT, csr, and IT ethics Concept. © PeachShutterStock - Shutterstock
(© PeachShutterStock - Shutterstock)

It’s no longer a surprise to hear organizations pushing their ESG credentials, particularly around sustainability. It’s become part of the corporate lexicon and so it should. In the aftermath of COP26, keeping a 1.5 degree increase in global warming within reach has kick-started many organizations to focus on setting net zero goals and laying out a plan to achieve them. COP27 has served to keep focus on this critical measure.

Unfortunately there is a continued disconnect between many organization’s public facing efforts and internal action. Pure Storage recently conducted research of an international group of sustainability program directors which found that while 70% of survey respondents had committed to be net zero by 2030 or sooner, only 51% were on track with their sustainability goals.

This gap has got to be closed. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to make change, but a lack of clarity on where to start. Where should the C-Suite direct their attention? Here are five key areas to focus on and make positive, impactful change.

1. Measure everything

Many organizations aren’t sure what their energy use costs or statistics are – for example power and cooling costs or how many megawatts per hour are used. Some costs are simply accepted without being measured. Not only is this bad business practice, it doesn’t help understand where environmental improvements could be made. If a manager doesn’t get positive feedback from the wider business for implementing energy saving technology, how is this improvement tracked or celebrated?

There needs to be an integrated, top-down strategy to measurement. While it could be hard to get a holistic view, it's necessary in order to understand benchmarks. For example, in a data center – what are the technologies which are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions; what is the power consumption; how can technology choices positively change this? If activities aren’t measured, they can’t be improved and achievements can’t be quantified. There are a number of tools to help customers examine, measure and improve their energy use and organizations should be able to hold vendors accountable. It’s possible to have visibility on the environmental impact of each product an organization uses. This will be useful for both immediate sustainability related SLAs as well as longer term goals on Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

2. Eliminate legacy systems

After measurement has been carried out, it will become clear where the pain points are and what needs to be done to improve energy use and reduce emissions. It’s often cited that energy reduction isn’t possible because of the carbon hungry and inefficient existing technologies. Not only do they hold back progress and innovation, they could block improvements in emission reduction. However, some technology changes have such a significant cost saving in terms of the energy they use, it’s part of the value proposition in implementing new infrastructure. For example, Admiral, a Pure Storage customer in the UK, saw data center power and cooling costs cut by 74%, and reduced power consumption by 56% upon moving to Pure Storage. Italian customer, Elmec, a Managed Service Provider, reduced data center footprint by 85%, cut power usage in half and has seen faster return on investment due to the reduction in data center costs.

In addition, as organizations start to look beyond Scope 1 and 2 emissions and consider Scope 3, it will become clearer that not only do they need to look inwards, but find out about external providers' energy use. Ignorance will no longer be an option and it’s vital to know the specifics. Legacy equipment will have a large impact on scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions so it will pay to address these issues in the short term for long term reductions.

E-waste is another important consideration. What happens at the end of a product’s life? Legacy hardware is often shredded after three or four years, creating a big addition to the environmental impact of technology. It’s important that hardware longevity is built in and not designed for periodic obsolescence. Rather than changing it every few years, upgrading to ensure optimum conditions are met is key. We practice this ourselves with our customers – 97% of our arrays purchased six years ago are still in service.

3. Talk about it

Most organizations are figuring out where their efforts are best placed. Be open and honest about progress, otherwise it will be seen as greenwashing. This isn’t a competition where there are winners – it’s about helping the planet. Hearing from others about what they’re doing is valuable. It helps to collaborate and understand both an industry perspective as well as alternate views.

Internally, the entire organization needs to be involved and invested. We’ve seen more organizations publishing sustainability or ESG reports which lay out their goals, often sponsored by the CEO. It’s a key document to educate employees and prospects and highlight the organization’s priorities. Additionally, it can be useful as a recruiting tool with younger people in particular being acutely aware of the importance of sustainability. Our own ESG report can be found here.

4. Recruit a sustainability officer

If an ESG report is a rallying cry, how do organizations harness all the enthusiasm into action? We will see more and more roles focusing purely on sustainability. It’s hard to corral all the different strands of thought and action within an organization so it makes perfect sense to have a senior sustainability officer take control. They will need to ensure that the overall sustainability strategy is known and understood right across the organization to maximize the impact of activities and changes.

The role of Chief Sustainability Officer isn’t too far away as we get closer to the date when organizations need to meet net zero goals. It’s a growth area with more awareness and more roles being offered.

5. Sign up for standards

There are a lot of standards out there – and unfortunately they don’t all agree with each other. Some are stricter than others and there’s a difference geographically with Europe generally being ahead in terms of awareness and adoption. Well known standards like EcoVadis, or the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) are a good place to start as they’re recognizable, understood and respected. In addition, the energy star rating which has been applied to white goods is now being applied to enterprise IT. This is easy to understand and will help customers make more informed decisions, sales teams, public perception of an organization and more importantly, the planet.

Harnessing enthusiasm into action

Being more sustainable is important for people and the planet and it’s essential for organizations to adopt greener practices. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and it’s so important to garner this into impactful action. In doing so, not only are organizations doing the right thing, but if they implement the right processes and technologies, they could quickly save money as well as emissions.

My hope is that one day we won't be talking about these steps and processes as sustainability initiatives but rather as standard business practice. We need to be open and honest about what action is working and where we can make future improvements for the good of the planet as well as better business.

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