In May 2021, VMware unveiled VMware committed to zero carbonan initiative to encourage partners to power their data centers with renewable energy sources by 2030. To date, more than 70 of the world’s leading cloud service and solution providers have made the commitment and are working towards fight climate change by radically reducing their carbon emissions.
“After VMware was certified as a carbon neutral company in 2018, we knew we wanted to do more,” says Nicola Peill-Moelter, Ph.D., director of sustainable innovation at VMware. “The VMware Zero-Carbon Committe initiative was born from this desire and became a reality when Atea, Equinix, IBM, Microsoft, OVHcloud and OVHcloud US joined us for its inaugural launch. Since then, its growth reflects the technology sector’s commitment to the fight against climate change.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with E. Freya Williams, influential sustainability expert and author of “Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion-Dollar Businesses,” to get her thoughts on the VMware Zero Carbon Commitment Initiative and the attributes that enable the most successful sustainable businesses to excel.
This interview, abridged for this article, offers a perspective on sustainability from one of the most insightful voices on the subject today.
What does sustainability mean to you and why is it important?
I shifted my career towards sustainability when I became a parent. For me, it is about the obligation to ensure that our children benefit from the safe and stable climate that we have enjoyed and that we do not deny them a healthy and prosperous future. If we do nothing, our children will not be able to enjoy the life we dream of for them. I reject the idea that our children will solve this problem – the next generation is amazing, but it’s not their job to solve the problems we’ve created.
What motivated you to create a career around corporate sustainability initiatives?
I was working in advertising when I had my first child and realized I couldn’t keep selling people products they didn’t need to make a living. I also knew that I had relevant skills for the transition to a sustainable economy: my experience as a communicator and my relationships with major global brands.
Business is the dominant institution of this century. The majority of global emissions come from businesses, so they must play a leading role in the transformation towards more sustainable practices. It’s not about altruism; Tackling climate risks is essential if we are to prosper. Multi-trillion dollar economic opportunities are also at stake. That’s why I’m so motivated to help companies find the sweet spot where solving the world’s problems drives business growth. We are engaged in a battle for the soul of the company, where it has the opportunity to be much more than providing returns to shareholders.
In “Green Giants,” you looked at nine of the world’s most exceptional companies – companies that have achieved incredible commercial success while being sustainable – and identified six factors that gave them power. Why are they important?
I wanted to understand not only which companies have succeeded in turning sustainability into billion-dollar companies, but also how they have succeeded and use that to develop a playbook to inspire and enable other companies to follow their lead. They all shared six characteristics that explain their extraordinary success:
- Iconoclastic Leader: In all cases, an individual emerged as the spiritual leader of the strategy. In seven of the nine green giants, it was the president or CEO. That’s because it’s not about creating a slightly greener version; this is a business transformation. To drive change of this magnitude, you kind of have to be the boss.
- Disruptive innovation: Each of the green giants built their billion-dollar business on the back of a new product, service or line of business that disrupted the dominant paradigm. They all decided to build something that was not just greener, but better.
- A purpose beyond profit: a purpose provides a clear articulation of your business strategy; it gives your business a role in the 21st century; it attracts and motivates teams and provides value to consumers. This proves what I call the Paradox of Purpose – the surprising fact that businesses that pursue a purpose beyond profit are more profitable than those that pursue profit alone.
- Integrated and not integrated: Too often, companies entrust sustainability to an individual or a team. Green Giants understand that to truly generate billion-dollar sustainability opportunities, sustainability must be factored into the structures that run the business – the corporate strategy and organizational, cost structures. , governance, reporting and incentives.
- Mainstream appeal: You can’t build a billion-dollar company without your ideas being relevant to a mainstream audience. Too often, “green” marketing uses tropes that only appeal to an ultra-green niche. Green giants have cracked the code of sustainability integration.
- New behavioral contract: transparency, accountability and collaboration are more than just buzzwords in the business world. They constitute the foundations of a new behavioral contract between the company and society. The green giants adopted them and behaved like billions.
In your opinion, what are the obstacles to overcome?
An example of how difficult this context is is the recent shift in messaging from Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, who abandoned the term ESG after his previous leadership on these issues. We must ensure that leaders who speak out on these issues are celebrated, protected and rewarded. Moving beyond compliance to leadership is where business benefits reveal themselves. And we need more iconoclastic leaders willing to embrace the necessary transformation and prove that money is made in the process.
Employees must also use their voice and skills to promote positive change. And consumers can drive demand for more sustainable offerings by voting with their wallets and at the ballot box.
What would you say to technology company leaders?
Sustainability transforms technology, and technology transforms sustainability. Technology companies have been at the global forefront of climate change action and clean, carbon-free energy commitments and procurement practices. In the United States, the technology sector is responsible for supplying 48% of all solar and wind energy.
Some of the most ambitious strategies have come from the technology sector. I think of Google with its commitment to 24/7 renewable energy, Microsoft with its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and VMware’s Zero Carbon Committe initiative which aims to help data centers data to use 100% renewable energy sources. Tech companies are also using their innovation, risk tolerance, and intelligence – human and artificial – to invent tools that will help solve climate change.
Why is VMware’s Zero Carbon Committed initiative important?
One of the six traits common to Green Giant companies is their adherence to a new behavioral contract, which includes radical collaboration. The VMware Zero Carbon Committee initiative is an example of such radical collaboration in action, not only with partners, but also with customers and their end users.
If you could convey one message to the readers of this article, what would it be?
We need you to lead. It’s so simple. Sustainability is everyone’s business. As technology leaders who are some of the smartest and most talented people on the planet, we need the audience of this article to use their abilities for the good of humanity. But it’s not just an obligation; Consider this opportunity: In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act alone has committed $390 billion in federal funding to decarbonization over the next decade and the International Energy Agency estimates that $1.7 billion in investment will go into clean energy this year.
This is the business opportunity of the 21st century. The business voice is important. Commercial action is important. Using both ensures you are on the right side of history. And to those participating in the VMware Zero Carbon Committe initiative, thank you for your leadership!
To learn more about the Green Giants, read “Green Giants: How Smart Businesses Are Turning Sustainability into Billion Dollar Companies.”
About E. Freya Williams
Freya Williams is on a mission to help bring sustainable businesses, behaviors and brands into the mainstream. A communications and business strategist, she has advised organizations such as Coca Cola, Unilever, the United Nations, SAP, Tetra Pak, The Economist, Waste Management, Kraft and many others on how to integrate sustainability, responsibility and social good in their brands, and brand sustainability and CSR initiatives. A veteran of the communications industry, Freya is the strategic mind behind brand initiatives and campaigns including Coca Cola’s PlantBottle, Hellmann’s move to free-range eggs and the award-winning Hopenhagen campaign in support of the United Nations during of the crucial COP15 conference on climate change in Copenhagen. (the campaign recruited 6 million supporters in 60 days, 70% of whom had never joined a climate movement before).
One of the early pioneers of the modern sustainable business movement, Freya’s experience has given her an insider’s perspective on the trials and tribulations of integrating sustainability into a business and the opportunity to live first-hand the successes and failures of the movement. By persuading her clients to try new, sometimes counterintuitive approaches, Freya has accumulated a wealth of data on the business case for sustainability as well as an instinctive sense of what works and what doesn’t. not. She is also well versed in the challenges of imposing change within large, complex, often siled organizations where skeptics outnumber believers, and has developed strategies and tools to overcome these challenges.