Earth Day Executive Q&A's with Nexthink and Colt Data Centre

Our talks continue with Technology executives on sustainability on Earth Day 2022. It's the turn of speakers from Nexthink and Colt Data Centre Services

To help raise awareness of sustainability in technology on Earth Day 2022, we are welcoming executives today from a number of companies to discuss what actions they are taking. This time, it’s Yassine Zaied, Chief Strategy Officer, Nexthink and Scott Balloch, Director of Energy and Sustainability, Colt Data Centre Services.

Nexthink are a software company focused on helping IT to shape smart and productive workplaces, helping to bring clarity to IT departments through a unique combination of real-time analytics, automations, and employee feedback, while Colt DCS is a 100% carrier neutral, so can manage private and secure connections to all major cloud platforms, working within hyperscale environments, colocation and hybrid cloud connectivity around the world.

Yassine Zaied, Chief Strategy Officer, Nexthink

What pledges have you made as a company towards the environment this year, and what is your sustainability approach? 

Nexthink have pledged to achieve zero waste, plastic free, recycled, and eco-friendly offices globally. We aim to reach this goal by moving to processes, products, office supplies, food and beverages that are either recycled items, local products or certified with eco-labels. This has been applied to the logistical side of our offices, from installing low-flow faucets for taps and toilets to automatic sleep modes and occupancy sensors when it comes to lighting and equipment. The paper used in our offices is exclusively made of recycled material, and there are comprehensive recycling schemes in place in all offices. The Boston and Madrid office buildings have also been LEED certified (U.S. Green Building Council).

Nexthink is committed to reducing the impact digital technology has on the environment through its own solutions as well as a specific focus on internal employee awareness initiatives. With digital technology making up a carbon footprint of about 4% of global carbon emissions, the impact of IT is almost double the aviation industry’s contribution of 2.5%. Nexthink’s Green IT solution enables IT teams to identify and reduce the source of unnecessary energy consumption, e-waste, and CO2 emissions within their digital landscape. IT leaders can leverage remote technologies to gain insights into employees’ digital workspaces, from device and application usage data to hardware start-up time, to identify and eliminate sources of unnecessary emissions.

The implementation of technical tools to reduce carbon emissions must also be coupled with employee awareness initiatives, ensuring internal stakeholder engagement and investment in green efforts to maximise results. Establishing internal resource groups to promote sustainability, such as Nexthink’s 'Greenthinkers' to support green practices through awareness initiatives, is a good way to achieve accountability for green goals. Empowering employees on a practical level to actually invest time towards protecting the climate is also crucial: Nexthink offers paid time off to participate in field volunteering activities that have a positive impact on the environment, such as community clean-up.


How can technology-based businesses become leaders in the move towards a sustainable work environment and overcome common obstacles where businesses often fall short in setting sustainability goals? 

Technology-based businesses can become leaders in the move toward a more sustainable work environment by ensuring that their digital workplace is up to scratch when it comes to green standards. As a first step, IT leaders must gain deep insight into their employees' digital experiences to visualise and detect the source of settings, behaviour, hardware or infrastructure which contribute to energy and CO2 wastage.

This will enable businesses to understand not only how to limit environmental impact most effectively, but how to do so in a way that will not block productivity or negatively impact experience. Businesses can then leverage these insights to deploy remote actions to eliminate sources of unnecessary emissions, and immediately improve environmental impact. For example, Nexthink has calculated that based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration and an average laptop energy consumption of 60Wh, for a company of 10,000 employees, switching off a laptop after a 7- or 8-hour workday can save up to 250 metric tons of CO2 emissions and $75k a year. Deploying a remote automated alert to remind employees to switch off their laptops at the end of the day rather than putting them to sleep would have a significant impact on a business’ efforts to cut emissions.

Whilst most businesses, from corporations to SMEs, are aware of the pressing need to take action to meet net-zero emissions, IT systems remain a prominent blind spot in sustainability strategy. The main reason for this is that CIOs and leaders are unclear as to how to reduce carbon footprint in IT systems without harming employee and user experience. Rooted in a lack of knowledge, decision-makers fear that implementing sustainability initiatives will be unpopular amongst employees and will get in the way of their work in the digital workplace. Businesses are currently letting fear of the unknown get in the way of meeting green goals. By gaining deep insight into the employee digital environment through leveraging remote technologies, businesses will understand not only how to limit environmental impact most effectively, but how to do so in a way that will not block productivity or negatively impact experience. Insights such as device and application usage data to employee sentiment of workplace tools will then inform IT teams when deploying remote actions to eliminate sources of unnecessary emissions, without disrupting the individual employee.


How has the understanding of sustainability and approach to sustainability changed for businesses in the post COVID world?

Employee values have dramatically shifted due to the pandemic, with more people than ever prioritising green goals as a requirement from their workplace. Research from Targus in December 2021 found that over half (54%) of UK employees don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t prioritise sustainability, with Gen Z and millennials the most sensitive to this issue. In turn, businesses must address these increased sustainability concerns in order to attract new employees and retain existing workers in a competitive job market.

Scott Balloch, Director of Energy and Sustainability, Colt Data Centre Services

What pledges have you made as a company towards the environment this year, and what is your sustainability approach? 

Sustainability is central to how Colt DCS operates as a whole, with environmental priorities integrated into all parts of operations. The future of Colt DCS is driven by science-based ambitions, which is why Colt DCS has committed to hitting global net-zero emissions in our data centres by 2040. This goal is in line with the Paris Agreement’s aim to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050. 

This science-based target will drive a wider holistic low-carbon business model for the company. With customers and partners increasingly under pressure to achieve their own emission goals, the climate targets adopted by Colt DCS remain driven by a customer-centric vision. 

There are a range of initiatives that Colt DCS is implementing across data centre campuses in order to meet science-based targets. In terms of energy, power-saving measures such as LED lighting fixtures, power factor improvement and the reduction of proper cable sizes and material to reduce IR2 losses, are all schemes being adopted. Environmentally-friendly campus management initiatives in place include run off rainwater tapping and harvesting, organic waste composter for treating organic waste including wet garbage treatment, and solar cell powered street lighting.

Alongside the overall pledge to global net-zero emissions in our data centres by 2040, Colt DCS has also announced further commitments to the environment. When it comes to electricity, Colt data centres will run on 75% renewable power by 2023, and 75% of leased vehicles will be electric by 2030. The company will also make a complete transition away from natural gas to renewable fuels by 2030, along with implementing carbon offsetting techniques.

How can technology-based businesses become leaders in the move towards a sustainable work environment and overcome common obstacles where businesses often fall short in setting sustainability goals? 

It’s crucial that businesses examine the sustainability of the entire operation chain. This means addressing the challenge of sustainable data centres: data centres have become a central and integrated element of many companies’ operations, and a provider’s ability to deliver its services with a low/zero carbon footprint is crucial to customers’ and partners’ ability to meet their commitments. 

It’s critical that data centres are purpose-built with environmental concerns in mind, with sustainability integrated throughout the process. It is sometimes assumed that data centres in themselves are inherently wasteful due to the power generated. However, on the contrary, using a purpose-built data centre facility designed to be efficient saves more power than the alternative: companies relying on large server rooms distributed across multiple different buildings which have not been designed for purpose. 

For example, operators are increasingly redeploying reused network equipment back into the chain of hardware when possible. Facilities also have the potential to self-generate power, in comparison to outsourced buildings which won’t have a cohesive sustainability strategy.

It should be acknowledged that planning data centre capacity can be problematic, with traditional planning cycles accounting for decade-long requirements and lacking the agility to adapt to technological innovations. It can also be challenging to accurately measure carbon emissions generated. This has sometimes led to businesses making unfeasible, unrealistic or nonfactual corporate sustainability promises when it comes to carbon footprint. 

To tackle this, businesses on a net-zero journey should set science-based targets that are accredited and regarded as the industry standard. Becoming sustainable means that an organisation is equipped with the methodology to measure their actual carbon footprint as well as monitor the progress made towards those targets. This approach prevents sustainability efforts from being purely a market positioning initiative and drive an authentic change within and outside the organisation.

How has the understanding of sustainability and approach to sustainability changed for businesses in the post COVID world?

Covid-19 increased businesses’ dependency on digital infrastructure, with the shift to remote work resulting in a drastic increase in energy consumption and generating demand for large-scale solutions, such as hyperscale data centres, to support the seamless transition. It has been predicted that IT will consume 8.5 per cent of global electricity, compared to five per cent in 2021, with data centres in particular taking up a large share of this demand. 

The dramatic increase in energy consumption has forced businesses to acknowledge that they must play a role in not only cutting their own emissions, but also enabling their customers to do the same. IT decision-makers in data centres are increasingly having discussions about corporate and social responsibility to make decisions based on environmental criteria when it comes to the running of operations. For example, Colt DCS is choosing to invest in renewable power for the running of buildings and leased vehicles and is committed to a policy of Zero Waste to Landfill.

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