Corporate Sustainability for IT Managers

By Justine Burt

Kathrin Winkler is Vice President for Corporate Sustainability at EMC, an IT solutions company headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

TriplePundit: What was your path to becoming the sustainability manager for EMC?

Kathrin Winkler: My trajectory was purely technical. I started out in product management for one business unit and built up a new product management team in hardware. That’s where I started bringing awareness of the opportunities to reduce our negative impact. In that role, I started working on what I call green IT: design for environment, energy efficiency and helping customers manage energy demand. I connected with peers in facilities who were doing greenhouse gas footprinting and working on policy. There were people throughout the organization who cared. We started up a company-wide sustainability initiative from the middle out.

In 2008, the CEO realized we were doing great things but it was not cohesive. They posted a position for a corporate sustainability lead. Everyone said it was like the job description was written for me. So I applied.

It’s interesting. In product management there is a lot of cross-functional work: translating between the business and technical sides, between the engineers and marketing, looking at the big picture and individual features. Sustainability is also cross functional and coalition-building by nature.

3p: The focus of sustainability in IT has been on the efficiency of energy and water use. Meanwhile the amount of data being stored and processed on a global scale is exploding which will mean there will be more demand for energy and water by data centers. You have said global data was 0.8 zettabytes (1 zettabyte = 1 billion terabytes) in 2009 and will be 35 zettabytes by 2020. Is efficiency enough to get us to sustainability, the balance between the demand and supply of resources?

KW: Efficiency is not enough but there are so many more opportunities to do it. Efficiency is amazingly important when we’re talking about 44x increases in data. Cloud computing is really changing the way we store and process data. Cloud computing is going to make a big difference because of its agility and ability to pool resources.

This is where the idea of data de-duplication comes in. Think about making a PowerPoint with 6 megabytes of video embedded in it. You send it out for review through Outlook. Then you update it and send out another copy to your review team. Meanwhile the whole file of each copy is backed up every night from the computer of each person who has a copy. When you open the PowerPoint in Outlook, there are more copies. Whereas if you just put it on the cloud, everyone can see it every time it’s updated without making a new back up. This is a far more efficient use of resources. IT has been innovating like crazy around this space.

We need to consider not just how much energy IT is using but also how much it is driving energy efficiency. How much energy is saved by holding virtual meetings instead of traveling to a meeting? We need to credit the energy not used.

3p: Is there a quantifiable return on sustainability efforts at EMC?

I was at a conference recently having yet another discussion about the return on investment of sustainability. I asked “Tell me the truth, did you do the business case beforehand or afterward?” They did it afterward. You have to make people want to do it by engaging the right side of brain. The business case helps them justify wanting to do it.

There is quantifiable and quantified, quantifiable but not quantified, and then not quantifiable. EMC has a facilities team that is aggressive in efficiency. Manufacturing and supply chain are driven by corporate goals. Members of the sustainability team are driving it. We have a packaging initiative where we are reusing packaging and saving money. These are all initiatives with savings that go to the bottom line.

Interestingly we receive many customer questionnaires asking “Do you have a sustainability program, do you report it to the board of directors, is there a global labor policy, how do you handle e-waste, what are you doing about removal of hazardous substances?” Substantially deep questions about our sustainability program. Billions of dollars of EMC’s revenue come from customers who asked those questions. EMC is asking the same questions of their suppliers so it’s a virtual circle.

3p: What role do you think women play in the sustainability movement?

KW: Sustainability is all about connectedness. About how business, society and environment are interconnected. Women tend to look at things more from how they connect together than how they stand apart. Gro Harlem Brundtland connected us to future generations [with her now classic definition of sustainable development.] Rachel Carson connected human health to the health of the environment [with her book Silent Spring.]

If you read any of Sally Helgesen’s books on women’s leadership, she talks about how women view work in a larger social context. Women are more likely to assign value to their work based on the quality of the daily experience than on what their job implies for the progression of their career. What I do today is more important than where this job will take me in the future.

Justine Burt is a sustainability consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area who supports clients developing sustainability management systems.

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