Verne Global

Sustainability | Insights |

5 June 2017

A light bulb moment for corporate sustainability

Written by Adam Nethersole

Adam is Director of Marketing at Verne Global and has worked within the area of sustainability for the last 15 years.

Back in late 2012 I was walking through Heathrow airport and somewhere between getting off my flight and queuing for passport control I stopped, looked up and saw a large billboard poster showing how Verne Global was the world’s leading 100% green data center. I called them the following day - over the next 6 months our company became a supplier - and 8 weeks after that, such was my admiration for their unique proposition, I joined them.

One of my first jobs at Verne Global was to man a stand at the 2014 GreenBiz event in Phoenix, Arizona, at which our CTO, Tate Cantrell, delivered an entertaining presentation highlighting the remarkable similarities between brewing beer and brewing data. It was an interesting event bringing together a range of clever and colourful characters from the international sustainability field – all of whom were attending to share their experiences and learn new ways of ‘greening’ their operations. The enthusiasm in the room to ‘do good’ was infectious – this was a group of people that, like me, had been bitten by the sustainability bug and they wanted to invoke real change.

However, from all my discussions with delegates in the breakout sessions something really struck me – just how short-term much of the thinking was. Sustainability heads wanted quick, easy solutions. They wanted corporate sustainability’s version of low-hanging fruit – energy efficient light bulbs, water-saving gadgets and paperless admin solutions. Talk to them about the carbon savings achievable by moving their computational data to a 100% renewably powered data center and they gulped, and looked at me like I was asking them to scale Everest in a pair of flip-flops.

Tried and tested energy efficiency measures was what they were looking for – the kind of green crusading that is quick to implement, works well in an office environment, doesn’t have the CFO ringing you up in the small hours, and makes a guaranteed, noticeable impact. Job done! And, let’s be honest, who can blame them? Championing sustainability in a private sector environment during economically lean years, and in the USA, isn’t the easiest task, and with the average life-span of any executive position being about 24 months, people want a way to make their mark on both the organisation they work for, and their CVs.

Now, don’t get me wrong - I’m not belittling the impact of energy saving light bulbs – everything has its place and every little bit helps. But ultimately I left Phoenix disappointed that I hadn’t been able to track down that braver, more resilient corporate eco-warrior who wasn’t following the path of lease resistance, and who was willing to go the extra mile to make a real statement of intent across their company – the kind of foundational change that makes sustainability a central pillar to the company and not something you add on, or screw in, as an after measure.

According to the Economist, the world’s most valuable resource is now data. We’re all aware that data is increasing at such a rate that by the time you’ve read just this sentence some video about a hamster playing the xylophone has gone viral and created another XYZ of petabytes. All of this data – yes, alas, even the hamster playing the xylophone – needs a home and that’s why data centers are now consuming more than 5% of the world’s energy, and emitting more carbon dioxide than the entire aviation industry.

For an ambitious and determined Head of Sustainability the increasing importance and reliance on data presents a real opportunity to make that statement I was talking about. Jumping back to Tate’s presentation in Phoenix – he ended by asking the delegates a simple question: “Can you account for your company's computational footprint?” In the age of data, this IS the question all Corporate Sustainability leaders should be asking themselves.

For those that have the gumption to do just that the rewards can be huge. The low-hanging fruit isn’t so tasty when you can see the sheer scale of what can be achieved by moving your computational workloads to more environmentally friendly locations. By colocating a percentage of their data storage and processing to a data center like Verne Global, the Head of Sustainability is guaranteed a win-win of Everest style proportions. In one swoop they can firstly dramatically reduce the carbon emissions being emitted from his or her company’s big data usage - the kind of reduction that will make Heads of PR forever in their debt. Secondly, they can cement their place at the finance team’s annual Christmas party by reducing the costs associated with data storage, processing and IT infrastructure by as much as 80%. That’s the kind of saving that makes the C-level suite, shareholders and executive head-hunters sit-up and take notice.

Here at Verne Global we’ve talked many times about how leading automotive manufacturer, BMW have done just that, and it’s a case study I never tire of. Across the development of its i-series vehicles, BMW cut a massive 3,570 metric tons of CO2 emissions (the equivalent to 1.46 million litres of fuel) and 82% of its operating costs by crunching data in Iceland versus Germany.

3,570 metric tons of CO2 emissions saved. That’s a lot of energy saving light bulbs - actually,  just over 94,000 to be accurate. Good luck screwing all of them in...

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