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Nutanix’ Sustainability Advocate, Nicolas Leseur, on ESG, Tech Innovation and Sustainability

By Nicolas Leseur

June 21, 2023 | min
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The success of any organisation’s ESG strategy hinges on it being implemented from the top down, with senior leadership teams taking charge and pushing for accurate measurement, reporting and transformation, where required. 

Nutanix’ EMEA Marketing Programs Manager and sustainability advocate, Nicolas Leseur, discusses this in more detail and tackles the subject of digital sobriety as a tool to reduce energy consumption, tech innovation vs energy consumption and the commercial benefits that can be gained by addressing sustainability at scale.

What is your role as EMEA Marketing Programs Manager and as importantly, how did you become a sustainability advocate at Nutanix?

I joined Nutanix in 2019 as a contractor, managing projects within the marketing team, and by 2021 a full time contract was offered and I felt so ingrained in the business I was happy to make it official. I’ve always had an interest in sustainability and more recently, the role of corporations and industry in achieving net zero goals. Knowing that the EMEA marketing team at Nutanix manages events, campaigns and programs, I knew I had an opportunity to influence people internally and externally around the sustainability cause and create an ‘army’ of eco advocates at Nutanix. Also, it was also clear to me from the outset that Nutanix solutions could deliver excellent results when it came to more efficient datacenters.

In my role I partner with Nutanix’ ‘Cloud Economists’ in EMEA, ESG committee members, products managers and US teams who work with customers to create case studies for Nutanix’ products. We investigate and create these case studies to illustrate how having a cloud-based datacenter not only has efficiency and financial benefits but may also link to sustainability benefits. With a cloud-based infrastructure you may be able to lower your electricity bills and carbon emissions, and we create case studies around the evidence of this so we have facts and figures to back up these claims. The goal for me is to have tangible proof points that show that using Nutanix infrastructure vs another architecture  may bring financial and environmental benefits. To verify the data further and claims, I also worked with an independent, research and advisory firm that focuses on emerging and sustainable technologies. They analysed the effects of HCI on energy costs and CO2 emissions in the datacenter. These were examined as part of a model calculation that has been built in partnership with Nutanix Cloud Economists. For the first time, we were able to offer a forecast of the aggregated savings potential at European level (EMEA) and individual national markets. This highlighted what a broad-based transformation towards modern datacenter architectures could achieve in terms of energy efficiency and climate protection.

As well as the Cloud Economists, I work with systems engineers and account managers who work with clients and other marketing teams across the EMEA and US markets. I want to understand every pain point a potential client might have and be able to provide an answer for them, as it relates to the sustainability financial benefits of Nutanix. Also, the more people we have involved in the process the wider the ripple effect and the faster we’ll make progress. 

Can you define what the current challenges facing organisations are when it comes to achieving sustainability goals?

There are many challenges, some of which are fundamental but every industry will have its intricacies.  Speaking specifically to energy consumption, for industrial industries like steel, the IT energy consumption and C02 emissions will be low but for other sectors it will be much higher and more difficult to address. For example, The Bank of New York Mellon reported in their 2021 ESG report that almost half of their energy consumption is linked to their datacenters. So it may be simpler for some industries than others, but overall every industry is facing the same issues. Broadly speaking, we could consider the following as cross-industry issues:

Economic growth vs sustainability targets

Achieving growth in the current economic climate is already difficult and we know that as things stand, if you aren’t seeing incremental growth as a business you won’t survive, but growth often means accelerating production, services or resource, and generally speaking that consumes more energy or produces more waste. Add to this soaring energy costs caused by supply shortages and the war in Europe, as well as the pressure from Europe and other governments to reduce energy consumption, and it becomes a very difficult process to grow and meet sustainability targets. 

Come 2024, companies in Europe and US-based companies with European links will have to report their carbon emissions within the ‘three scopes’, which are essentially the ‘direct’ ‘indirect’ and ‘all’ carbon emissions. Measuring and reporting on this is a very difficult thing to do and the ‘penalty’ for not achieving decarbonisation targets is being taxed, which will hit most businesses while they work towards their growth goals. 

Measuring and reporting on decarbonisation

The process of reporting on decarbonisation is heavily involved and to even begin you need to be able to accurately measure where your emissions are being produced and at what rate. Companies should already have their reporting processes and structures in place this year (2023) but pressure is being put on governments by companies to push back the deadlines, because the reporting process has been difficult to establish in only one year.  A ‘schedule’ of deadlines for reporting has been put in place, which is organised by the size of the company starting with the biggest corporations, as they will be able to finance the resources needed to investigate and produce these reports.

Pressure from investors and customers to be proactive 

Society at every level is now aware of and being affected by climate change. Extreme weather is more common with droughts, flooding and gail force winds happening more regularly and with more intensity. Investors, customers and even employees are taking things into their own hands, by looking into businesses ESG ratings before becoming involved with them. There has become no way around it; having a proactive, visible and effective sustainability strategy is an essential element of survival for businesses across every sector. Moreover, some companies are starting to make a Net Zero pledge (by 2030, 2040 or even 2050) and, as this is a chain with suppliers and vendors, all companies that work or do business with them will also have to undertake to respect this commitment.  

Broadly speaking, what place do you believe sustainability should have within a business growth strategy?

Every organisation should be implementing their ESG strategy from the top down, from the Board and C-Suite, and the main sponsor should be CIOs and CFOs leading the charge - they are already paying the electricity bills after all, so it should be in their interest to invest in energy and money saving initiatives! As it stands, I have seen a real mix of preparedness, with some companies well on the road of their ESG strategies, while others are only just understanding how to report on their energy consumption.

The more conversations that are had about this subject, the more that can be learned. For example, I hosted a workshop at the end of 2022 which was all around sustainability and one customer spoke up and said that he was required to build a new datacenter for his company and, thanks to everything he learned in the workshop, he decided to change his plan and not open his centre in Poland where the electricity is mainly generated by coal, thus producing a lot of bad C02 emissions that will be counted in their CO2 emissions reporting.

Further to my point about the need for a ‘top down approach’ is that more businesses are specifically creating roles to address sustainability, with titles like ‘Sustainability Leader’, ‘ESG Leader’ and ‘ESG Director’, cropping up on job sites, which illustrates the seriousness of the movement. 

Finally, for companies with good ESG ratings, it is a good way of attracting and retaining talent, which is crucial as it is one of the most important issues on the corporate agenda.

Can you explain what ‘digital sobriety’ means and how businesses and consumers could apply its principles?

The term ‘Digital Sobriety’ is a commonly used term in France which refers to the abstinence or a more responsible consumption of digital products, either dramatically reducing or stopping entirely. By doing this you reduce your energy consumption and associated emissions. Fundamentally, businesses need to address how they are using the resources they need for growth. For example, historically IT has been a bad industry for this as we always ‘over provision’ incase of peaks or a sudden surge in demand (that never happens) but this isn’t an efficient use of energy or money, and can’t be acceptable any more. Now, we have the opportunity to show how technology, such as more energy efficient infrastructure and operations in datacenters, can actually help accelerate us to sustainability targets.

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, MidJourney and Jasper are improving efficiency across industries, but with that comes more energy consumption and data creation. What are your thoughts on how innovation and sustainability can coexist?

While generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT is, generally speaking, still in its infancy, tech like AI and ML in the right hands could be used to help improve how efficient technology itself is. It can help us to improve the way we’re using the resource we have and we can refer back to digital sobriety here - sobriety is when you have to stop completely but AI and ML will allow us to plan and avoid that ‘sudden stop’. Across some of the worst offending industries, the use of AI and ML can help to improve efficiency and, most of the time, improved efficiency equals less resource used, less power consumed and more strategic thought put into how to achieve big goals. The only caveat or consideration is that in order to work, AI needs data to work from, so this needs to be considered before jumping on the AI bandwagon - it definitely isn’t the saviour or final solution!

Can you recommend any resources for businesses who want to stay up to date with sustainability measures and targets?

Absolutely, we have an article about building a sustainable IT strategy and you can read Nunatix’s take on the emerging carbon calculators too. If you want to find out more about decarbonisation strategies and the potential effects of Hyperconverged Infrastructures (HCI) on energy costs and C02 emissions, download the Nutanix report, ‘Improving Sustainability in Data Centers’, and you can read Nutanix ESG report 2022 here. The next report will be released this summer 2023. 

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