Amidst the myriad of dominant facts, figures and increasing news headlines reporting on adverse sustainability trends, climate change realities and future threats of planet devastation, we can easily fall into a cycle of fear and depression about the results of our consumptive patterns. The most effective remedy for despair is action, to focus energy on the opportunity we have right now to make a positive impact to these global social and environmental challenges. However large our organisation and market share are, no one company can create impact alone. Earlier this year, Microsoft President, Brad Smith, recognised this fact in this commitment to lead industry to more sustainable strategies.
Among the many innovative sustainability focused projects that infuse the Microsoft community, products and services; one area of focus is our restorative circular cloud initiative. The cloud has been one of the most disruptive technical forces in the last 12 – 15 years and global transition to the cloud is increasing rapidly and non-discriminately. This exponential growth could result in increased demand on our natural resources, materials, energy, water as well as heightened greenhouse gas emissions. However, as Microsoft act on the commitment to industry leadership for sustainability, we practise the power of unity and curiosity. Our Cloud Supply Chain Sustainability team proactively engage throughout our entire cloud partnerships to focus on our global cloud eco-system and reimagine models that seek circular regenerative approaches, optimised data and material flows and revisit sourcing to increase recycled material content and reuse models, maximise utilisation and innovate our end of use options.
Throughout our programme of data centre expansion, Microsoft has consistently carefully and successfully maximised the recovery yields of materials from data centre assets as well as overachieving on our renewable energy targets. However, as we practice our growth mindset, we appreciate that we are still on a learning curve as part of the journey to a circular economy, and no one organisation has all of the answers yet. Therefore, by working collaboratively and continuously challenging traditional procurement, operational and disposition models and assumptions, we are making significant progress towards increasing our cloud material circularity scores and energy footprints we create disruptive new models to extend the lives of our products and the legacies that go way beyond our own organisational footprint and accelerate the journey to a circular economy.
Who defines and leads sustainability goal setting in your organisation?
Microsoft are not the only organisation to incorporate sustainability centrally into corporate strategy as the business case becomes more compelling.
Is sustainability the overarching driving force for your success criteria and performance indicators? Have ambitious sustainability objectives been cascaded down from your leadership to steer mindset and behaviour change?
Bold leadership of a sustainable IT asset management strategy creates significant potential for your team to demonstrate value.
The business case; sustainability is no longer just a line entry on the risk register to be managed, disconnected from strategies and key performance indicators, but as a core value is proven to determine innovation, growth and profitability, a necessary success factor for a positive bottom line, brand differentiation and reputation and excellence in compliance and governance.
Electronic waste statistics creep nearer towards 50 million tonnes every year, as managers of IT assets, it is our industrial duty to source materials and assets responsibly, consume energy responsibly, use data responsibly, eliminate waste and feed material stocks back full circle into product loops responsibly.
Best practice to capture value; implementing sustainability at the core of your ITAM strategy is about following clear and simple structures to enable supply chain collaboration and joint exploration rather than taking specific defined actions.
A best practice in the creation and delivery of a strategy with sustainability at the core is to use following structure:
Connect; developing trusted relationships across our complex global networks of cloud infrastructure stakeholders to augment our understanding of joint values, social and environmental purposes, missions and risks. From a place of shared understanding we can align perspectives and seek to strengthen our positions in terms of supply, compliance and governance by pursuing forward thinking regenerative closed loop approaches that preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling our finite stocks of materials. Creation of cross functional focused internal teams optimising expertise from our Legal, Financial, Operational and Procurement colleagues are key as we design shared innovative goals, Sustainability is organically infusing into everyone’s role throughout our cloud organisation and wider as we continue to follow sustainable strategic objectives that are companywide. Our cloud teams have invested in formal sustainability science based training, focused cross company workshops to embed Microsoft’s sustainability principles and vision to ensure that we have the necessary tools as we also give birth to new global holistic cloud initiatives focused on product and material circularity.
Evaluate; accurate calculation and assessment of our datacentre infrastructure environmental baselines were a critical step as part of our learning, evolving and eventual design of our circular cloud measurement framework to track future progress and performance. Evaluation of the current circulation of materials, waste production, greenhouse gas emissions, water, energy and related costs from end to end had to be completed. As you create your tools to facilitate baseline metrics and reporting that cascades through your supply chain tiers, keep them simple, digestible and facilitate shared platforms where possible and consider some of these measures:
- Product lifecycle extension; evaluating outcomes of asset disposition routes in terms of value and waste and reuse
- Waste production: enabling improvement plans for reduction and elimination of wasteful flows of materials; products and packaging as well as wasteful process flows; transport and operational
- Water and energy consumption; by products and partners, seeking reduction and renewable alternatives
- Raw Material circularity: assessment of materials coming into your DC and the materials recovered through responsible recycling. How can you innovate to circulate?
- Decarbonisation; reviewing your supply chain contribution as well as direct emissions
- Costs; assess reduction and avoidance across each impact area
New sustainable business practices and pilots may require policy updates– however they may not. Ensure both new and existing practices to optimise product utilisation and value are based on policy and not assumptions or older customs and practice. Have you checked that it is written policy mandating the use of brand new parts for repairs and spares? Can you reuse and circulate refurbished components harvested from decommissioned equipment?
Adapt: From science based trusted baselines, it will be clear where behaviours must be adapted, new connections established, and models and pilots created to align to your sustainable strategy objectives. Reliable metrics, regular cadence and review retain focus on the continual evaluation of meaningful data enabling adaptation where necessary and constant orientation towards your future social and environmental goals as external volatile factors change the landscape. Your baselines enable bold time related sustainability targets to be shaped and set with partners linked to increased recycled content, replacement of substances of concern, optimising lifecycles and so on. Tracking progress against these baselines must utilise data that is transparent, searchable, and calculated using a standardised methodology. Procurement input may be required to update contractual terms and statements of work relating to reporting and closed loop working practices.
Circulate: through seeking more restorative product initiatives that place materials in perpetual cycles in our datacentres and wider organisations, economic and environmental value is generated. Find innovative ways to ensure joint financial gains for your team and others through cost avoidance and reduction whilst accelerating wider change to the current economic landscape. Microsoft have created a portfolio of new internal cloud hardware reuse initiatives across network, server and components that have demonstrated over $18m of cost avoidance in just the last 12 months whilst preventing the extraction of key materials such as copper, steel, aluminium and tin and significantly extending the life of existing assets. Evaluating and adapting your existing ITAM strategies you will quickly be able to demonstrate to your key C suite stakeholders that data centre IT product and material circulation equals value creation.
Scale: sustainability pilots linked to your strategy must be designed with the ability to move relatively quickly from small wins and proof of concepts, to operationalising at scale if you want to make a significant impact to global goals for wider wellbeing now and in future generations. The practice of inquisitiveness, collaboration, meticulous tracking of results of our carefully designed pilots at Microsoft has successfully positioned us to scale and replicate sustainable practices from local to global and is the structure that is driving the strategy and design of our future exciting circular cloud innovations.
The data centre value chain has an important role to play in reversing the trend towards a depleted and less habitable planet, by joining forces setting sustainability at the heart of our strategies we can align our direction, concerted actions, continued focus and learning and as an industry can lead the global turnaround towards a long sustainable future for many generations to follow.