While many people think sustainability is about green policies, that is only part of the story, says VMware Vice President, Sustainability Strategy Nicola Acutt. 

“Our view is holistic and inclusive of sustainability for people and the planet.”

Indeed, Acutt says VMware frames its definition of sustainability around three ideas: people, planet and product. “For us, sustainability is about resilience and capacity to thrive over time.”

Sustainability is a sufficient good, worth pursuing in and of itself, however in business in particular it is also important to focus on the fact that sustainability also delivers better financial outcomes for business.

According to Acutt, “There has been a kind of a reckoning and a recognition recently around the business value of sustainability. This is not just from the point of view of the bottom-line impacts of efficiency and minimising waste, all of which is important.

“There is also the top-line piece, and that’s the opportunity for innovation. Increasingly, there is a recognition of the opportunity for innovation and for doing things differently to meet changing and evolving customer needs.”

Acutt also stresses the importance of resilience.

“Our CEO (Pat Gelsinger) is fond of talking about resilience as sustainability’s twin. During the next decade that will become even clearer.”

While companies are occupied dealing with COVID-19 right now, the climate crisis is not going away — and nor are the other issues talked about by the United Nations in the Sustainable Development Goals, she says.

Nicola Acutt, VP sustainability strategy, VMware. Source: VMware.

“We have to think differently about our businesses and start to view them through the lens of sustainability. That’s what’s so different.”

Importantly, the financial markets are starting to recognise this, and it is influencing their investment decisions and leading to the reallocation of capital towards more sustainable businesses, she said.

The pressures put on companies in recent weeks as COVID-19 has disrupted economies around the world have put the practices and processes of sustainability executives through an almost unimaginable real-life stress test.

Just the effort required to move entire working populations en masse from an office environment to a home working environment has revealed the importance of flexible and agile approaches to working.

That proved a live issue for VMware itself in March.

“We had imagined that over ten years we would get to a really ambitious goal of 35 per cent remote workforce, and overnight we’re at 100. Yeah. Obviously, that’s not completely sustainable. I don’t know that we will ever be 100 per cent fully virtual or distributed. But it’s just been proved overnight that this is actually possible.”

The experience is a proof point for the role of digital technology infrastructure, says Acutt. “For our customers, VMware as a product suite is hugely relevant, and hugely important in the ability of our customers to scale digitally, literally overnight. That’s all being built on core software-defined data centre infrastructure, as well as our end-user computing solutions, software-defined networking and of course Carbon Black for security.”

Technology leadership

VMware’s customers are large enterprises running hyperscale infrastructure — and all of the corporate data centres account for a very significant part of the world’s emissions.

Its technology plays a big part in reducing those emissions by creating much greater efficiency in the core infrastructure.

One of the challenges for the sustainability team is to work with VMware’s customers to “flip the narrative” so those customers get credit inside their own organisations for helping to reduce emissions or energy consumption. 

“The technology purchaser isn’t always empowered to make decisions about power and about carbon. Many large enterprises have made commitments around sustainability and science-based targets, and to achieve these goals they’re looking across the entire enterprise,” Acutt says. 

IT has an opportunity to be the hero in this story, and to contribute to corporate sustainability. And VMware, whose technology helps lower electricity consumption as a function of greater efficiency, can support the CIO in connecting these dots. 

“We’re working on some tools and some ways to make this visible at the CIO level. There is a little bit of a disconnect, but the winds of change are afoot and there are growing expectations around public reporting and transparency around carbon footprints.”

As the layers of reporting transparency become more detailed, IT has more of a chance to become a central part of the conversation. “I hope sooner rather than later there will be a knock on the door of the IT operators from their sustainability teams who have come to acknowledge their contribution.”

In the short term, the company is helping VMware customers understand how they can squeeze much more efficiency out of their portfolio. 

About this author

Andrew Birmingham is the director of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which VMware is a corporate member. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply. 

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