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Facing Existential Threats

Having recognised that we are pretty much all in uncharted territory, how do we respond?  First let’s be clear that we are talking about factors, internal and external, that can threaten the continued existence of an organisation.  Specifically we are not covering “conventional” threats from poor operational / financial strategy or execution e.g. poor sales performance or cost control.  Rather we are considering those factors that might otherwise seem outside of our immediate control such as environmental changes, a government mandated lock-down of citizens and a growing issue of employee disengagement with their employment and employers.

Why plan for things you can’t control?  Well, while we may not have a solution which fully mitigates the issues, our response may well ultimately determine our survival as an organisation, both directly through the response itself and, equally importantly, indirectly through the message that it sends to stakeholders (staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders and investors).

These factors will be considered in more detail in a joint webinar with 6 Degrees (https://www.6dg.co.uk/event/tackling-existential-business-threats/) and a set of action points will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now let’s consider the headline issues and responses.

Threat Origins

Probably the simplest way for any organisation to profile its potential threats is to use the PEST (Political, Economic/Environmental, Social, Technological) analysis process.  With a little creative thinking we can quickly identify not only a high-level matrix of specific threats, but also two key factors; priority and interconnections.  

What quickly emerges from such an exercise is a complex mix of internal and external issues, many of which directly affect each other; staff engagement affects productivity which affects economic performance and investment.  Sustainability is covered by compliance legislation, has a direct effect on staff attraction and retention, as well as investment.

Prioritising & Planning Responses

Our first response should be to rate the threat priority.  This is a trickier exercise than simply identifying the threats as it involves not just the importance to the organisation (in its widest sense), but also the degree to which the organisation is able to take action in a specific area. 

As an example a government instruction for all non-critical workers to “stay at home” may be the biggest impact and threat, but it can’t (and shouldn’t) be challenged.  In fact the priority response areas for this are Social (creating / maintaining a supportive culture) and Technological (creating maintaining a flexible working environment).

The creation of a weighted scorecard for priority response along the lines of criticality(the degree of threat), scope for action (the ability to mitigate the threat) and immediacy (the timeline for action / impact) allows us to list these in order and also to create a visibly comprehensive action plan.

Of course this does presuppose that the organisation has a clear view on its operational priorities and critical roles.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but having this analysis and planning in place BEFORE existential threats materialise is always much more effective than trying to create the data sets and analysis DURING the crisis. 

Let’s be clear, we’ve all been there, making the best of difficult situations with limited resources.  The trick is to learn from our experience and that of others – to build our knowledge and capability based on reality and what actually was effective.

What Next?

In part II we’ll look at the specific issues and threats from Planet (Ecological), People (Workforce) and Productivity (Economic) perspectives.

While you’re here….

Please take a minute to participate in our research into the impact on emissions of the current travel restrictions.  The survey (https://www.research.net/r/cvd_response) is anonymous, takes roughly 1 minute and contributes to our PhD sustainability research with the University of Warwick.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity. He is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Doing the Impossible Every day

Not too long ago when we discussed flexible and remote working as part of an overall strategy to improve sustainability and tackle climate change the response was typically guarded.  How many people, how often?  How will we know what they are doing?

We did encounter some organisations that had fully embraced flexibility and mobility, but they were the exceptions.  Mostly it was accepted as a management and cultural issue, that attitudes and processes would need to change over time.

Today’s reality is suddenly rather different.  The impossible has pretty much been achieved and the exceptional has suddenly become normal (albeit not without significant effort, cost and disruption).  There’s an interesting lesson in the fact that nature didn’t give us the luxury of that long time to change, we have been hit by something that needed dramatic, rapid action that looks like it will affect almost everyone one on the planet.

Taking a very rose-tinted view it does show is that we have the capacity to act together on a common purpose.  What we need to do now is look out for each other and the planet in difficult times and look as far as we can outside the narrow confines of our usual perspective to consider the broader common good.

#px3 #sustainability #climate change #climateemergency #strategy #greenIT

Take a breath…

We’re in a place very few of us have any direct experience of.  For many the health of our loved ones and survival of our businesses is in doubt.  A rising sense of panic affects behaviours in unexpected ways, despite an underlying feeling that this may actually be an over-reaction to the actual level of threat.

I can speak from past personal experience when saying that the fear of fear is crippling.  Being anxious about having anxiety attacks is deeply damaging to wellbeing in general and particularly for mental health.  We lose perspective on the wider picture of what is good and worthwhile and narrow our focus into an intense, internal beam examining every detail of how bad we feel.  Our physiology reacts and we self-fulfil and confirm our fears with affected breathing, heart rate and cold sweats.

It is essential that we break the cycle.  We have to do this by shifting our focus outwards, away from the self and a detailed examination of our personal issues towards others and the wider world.  This is the power of the balcony singers in Italy or the recognition in the news that with the shut-down, deaths caused by pollution in China have fallen by more than the actual death-toll from the virus.

I finally cast off my panic attacks for good more than 30 years ago when I discovered that my inner voice could be trained to quietly encourage me to pause, take a breath, look at the world and feel strong – to focus outwards rather than those immediate feelings.  I discovered that no matter how intense the anxiety was initially, it faded quickly when not amplified by my focus.  Once the cycle of anxiety is broken, its power rapidly diminishes.

Too personal for a business post?  Not just now, I don’t think.  The more we can pause, reflect and take a wider perspective than just what’s in front of us (and shouting the loudest) the better.  All of us have dependants, colleagues, customers, stakeholders or supply chains to consider.  We need to set the example of what ethical and sustainable business should look like.

So take a breath, stay positive, and focus on the widest view you can take of society, economy and ecology (not necessarily in that order!).  And don’t forget the coaching and encouragement that your inner voice can deliver.  Tough times demand good people to step up.  You are strong and you CAN do the right thing.

#px3 #sustainability #climate change #climateemergency #strategy #greenIT

The essential common ground between ecology & economics

Whether you are the CEO, sustainability manager or CFO, cutting consumption is key to success

Ecology and economics share a common root – Eco, taken from the Greek work οἶκος meaning “home”. One means the science of our shared home, the other the management of it (although home has morphed from household management into organisational or country finances over the centuries). There’s a second clear link though; maintaining a viable ecology requires us to significantly reduce our consumption of non-renewable resources and this in turn will have a significant economic impact.

Why is Cutting Consumption Necessary

From an economic perspective an upwards spiral of consumption can be seen to be a good thing, particularly if you have control over a significant amount of a relatively scarce and diminishing resource. This has pretty much been the picture for the last 300 years as waves of technological advancement, automation and consumer demands have seen our demand for power grow rapidly, and are still growing now, year on year.

Fortunes continue to be made in fossil fuels, despite all of the media attention and growing public concern over climate change and global warming. There are strong economic reasons for some companies and individuals not to want reductions in consumption to happen

Unfortunately we simply cannot continue on our current trajectory. Even from an economic perspective, our reliance on exploiting fuel sources which destabilise our climate makes no sense. As we’ve seen with recent extreme weather around the world, the economic consequences from disruption and mitigation are huge. While the current Corona virus outbreak is undoubtedly serious, the likely long-term impact of continued global heating is much more extreme and longer lasting.

Our only option is to reduce our consumption of these resources and thereby at least halt the ongoing climactic change. The switch to truly renewable energy will help, but this is just one element in the overall mix of things that need to be improved. To have a beneficial effect in time we need real and significant reductions in fossil fuel consumption as quickly as possible.

Where to Focus?

Clearly we have a personal responsibility to each do as much as we can and potentially more than we are 100% comfortable with. That includes going meat free for a significant part of the week, eating local, organic food where possible, travelling less and switching to “green” energy suppliers. It means making sustainability a serious consideration for every purchase and every decision.

All of this has implications for the economy. As our attitudes and purchasing shift, so the supply chain and industry shift with them. We cannot underestimate the power we have through our spending.

At Px3, however, our focus is on the choices we have at work. Does our employer have sustainability as part of their mission and does that cascade down to us in terms of real, achievable objectives? Is there significant engagement with staff and stakeholders to identify and reduce areas of waste or unnecessary travel, printing and overall energy use.

The interesting thing from my perspective, seeking to drive change at a strategic level, is that the majority of the initiatives to reduce consumption will actually save rather than cost money.

Reducing premises footprint and encouraging flexible working, using virtual meetings to reduce work travel, switching to lower energy devices like tablets and “thin clients” all offer substantial savings in time, energy and carbon footprint, while also cutting costs and some potentially improve work-life balance.

If we can put together a plan that shows the CEO a way to meet sustainability targets, the HR Director a way to engage with staff and the Sustainability Manager a way to show actual reduction in Scope 2 and 3 emissions, that’s a pretty compelling proposition.

Coming up with an “Eco” Plan

Our starting point needs to be a recognition that change is required. That can be driven by compliance, by stakeholder pressure, economic factors or by an individual’s passion for sustainability.

From there we need to have a strategic plan with executive support. That plan must identify areas in which reductions can be achieved in a specific time period and because we’re linking up the “ecos” it needs to have a budget, or at least a way of monitoring the associated costs and savings.

Any plan must propose significant and measurable changes in order to be credible and avoid the perception of “green-wash”

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s particularly important that we avoid any suggestions of “green-wash” as this undermines the credibility of real initiatives. Any plan must therefore propose real, significant and measurable savings over a defined period.

From an economic perspective we also need to recognise that investment in new technology may be required. If we are expecting staff to work from home, from satellite offices of co-working facilities rather than travelling into work we must provide the user experience, collaboration tools and security to keep them at least as productive as they would have been before.

Fortunately there are now more choices than ever before in terms of effective workplace and workspace technologies, most with the option for a revenue rather than capital model to reduce up-front costs and provide flexibility.

Making a business case for such investments is easier when backed by cost reductions in energy use, by extensions to the working life of existing technology and by productivity improvements from “smarter working”.

Conclusion

There are many words jostling for attention as “key words of the 2020s” at the moment – but for me there is no more important one than “reduce”. From power consumption to waste, from car use to international travel and from single use plastics to junk food.

All are addressable in a combination of our work and personal lives and the good news is that we can reduce environmental impacts and save costs at the same time.

We urgently need to commit to look at every aspect of what we do in order to minimise the harm we leave behind for future generations and to taking action as soon as possible.

#px3 #sustainability #climate change #climateemergency #strategy #greenIT

About the author:

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Ewen Anderson is CIO and co-founder of Px3, a company which provides consultancy and analytical services to help organisations measure and reduce the ecological impact of their workplaces. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 25 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, SMBs, public sector and Not for Profit organisations. 

Putting Workplace Emissions Reduction in the Fast Lane

Px3’s mission is simple: work with customers and partners to reduce workplace emissions by the equivalent of 100,000 cars p.a. – and here’s how we’ll do it…

There’s a fine line to draw between raising legitimate concern which promotes responsible action and flag waving which achieves very little. Let’s be clear from the outset that we are firmly in the business of the former, believing comprehensive action on carbon emissions reduction is both necessary and urgent.

The Global Energy Issue

Let’s start by putting the issue in context. The UN put forward 17 sustainable development goals, which were accepted by all member states in 2015. Included within these are commitments on climate change, sustainable business and responsible use of resources. These have been followed up by local legislation and commitments, including the UK’s legislation in 2019 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Why? Because the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on our planet, population and economy have raised the threat level to critical. Energy and transport are two of the largest contributors.

Research indicates that energy and transport are jointly responsible for about 49% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Undoubtedly there will be technological advances which will help, as we have seen with the increasing use of truly sustainable power, but if we look at trends over the last 10 years we see continued year on year increases of around 3% in the use of power and of non-renewable resources such as oil and gas. We therefore need to follow a course which encourages but does not depend on technological innovation – in other words we need to switch to sustainable power wherever possible and simultaneously reduce power consumption by working more efficiently.

Why IT and Travel?

Our findings, as part of PhD research overseen by the University of Warwick and Warwick Business School, indicates that Information and Communications Technology (Desktops, laptops, tablets and datacenters) and work-based car use (for commuting and business use) make a significant contribution to worldwide emissions. Indeed we calculate that 5% of global CO2e emissions come from these sources.

Perhaps as significant is the fact that these areas are “addressable”, by which I mean we can make significant improvements without radically affecting our lives, budgets or productivity.

Savings of 40% energy reduction in ICT and travel are realistic and achievable in many organisations

There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved, as long as they are brought together into an overall sustainability improvement strategy and plan within the organisation, shared and communicated to create common purpose. Moving to lower energy devices, using cloud and encouraging flexible and remote working can all be employed to considerable effect.

A Mission Built on Partnership

Our mission since our foundation in 2017 has been quite simple – to work with customers and partners to drive changes in the workplace that reduce emissions equivalent to 100,000 cars on the road each year.

In 2017 we committed to working with customers and partners to remove the emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars p.a. from the environment by 2050

We have been working with many top-tier technology partners (notably Citrix, Microsoft, Google, Lakeside and Igel) to identify the potential emissions savings from using lower energy devices, prolonging the life of existing devices and shifting workloads from on-prem datacentres into more efficient hyper-scale cloud, driven by (mostly) green energy.

We’re also currently working with customers from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to measure their current emissions from ICT and travel, identify the problem areas and then put a plan together to reduce them.

Px3 seeks to create a virtuous circle from environmental commitment, stakeholder engagement and productivity-enhancing technology

Our name, Px3, is a recognition that organisations need to address the Planet (environmental) issues, but that this has to be done by engaging People and encouraging them to behave differently, but that we must support them with the right technical solutions to ensure we do not lose Productivity. This can form a virtuous circle, where commitment to environmental issues, staff engagement and user experience actually improves both productivity and work-life balance.

#px3 #sustainability #climate change #climateemergency #strategy #greenIT

Conclusion

Every organisation needs to look at its workplace technology and flexible working policy to determine whether there is scope for significant, positive change. Taken together these factors have a carbon emissions footprint equivalent to one of the major world economies. The sooner we take action, the more impact it will have – and if we do it right we can actually improve the productivity of our workplaces at the same time.

About the author:

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Ewen Anderson is CIO and co-founder of Px3, a company which provides consultancy and analytical services to help organisations measure and reduce the ecological impact of their workplaces. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 25 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, SMBs, public sector and Not for Profit organisations. 

Spotting the Greenwash…the SMART test for sustainability

greenwash

My first encounter with the term “greenwash” was in the US, but at the time it was being used to ridicule companies trying to align themselves with Ireland to sell more products on St Patrick’s Day.  Today the term has much wider and more serious implications, identifying those who make a public virtue of sustainability while actually doing very little about it.

So is there a quick test to determine whether an organisation is really serious about its sustainability?

Most of us are familiar with the SMART acronym when it comes to objective setting and even if the exact interpretation of what each letter means varies, the broad concept is the same; set an objective which is meaningful, easy to understand, measurable and delivered to some sort of timetable.  So let’s use something similar to provide a critical lens for claims of sustainability.

In our case I suggest SMART is best interpreted as Strategic, Measurable, Aligned, Radical and Targeted (although I’m sure other suggestions will follow and be most welcome!).

Let’s start with Strategic.  What I mean by this is that be credible sustainability must be in the core mission statement and board-level objectives, that these are communicated to all stakeholders (employees, customers and business partners / suppliers), that there is a budget for it and that someone at a very senior executive level has personal responsibility for it.  Not difficult, but if it’s done clearly and openly then everything else becomes much easier.  I know that major investment houses and financial analysts are now rating and judging companies on the basis of their sustainability strategies and credentials and where the money goes, the rest of us inevitably follow.

Measurable is a little more tricky but is no less important.  True sustainability requires that we consider the environmental impact of every aspect of all significant operations.  This will range from raw materials and energy consumption to supply chain and staff travel. Clearly these vary hugely between say a steel producer and a local authority, or between a bank and a school, but the principal is the same; identify the scope of your operation and profile its impact, both direct and indirect (e.g. from suppliers).  Benchmark it and ideally identify some historical trend.  Then identify ways to reduce it and how that will be measured.  Finally set targets and timescales linked to the strategic objectives and report progress (to all stakeholders) regularly.

Next we have Aligned.  Mike Berners-Lee in his book “There is no Planet B” rightly warns us about unintended consequences or re-bounds.  A sustainability strategy must therefore cross organisational and geographical borders.  It must not celebrate success in one area while ignoring negative impacts in another.  Sustainability is to do with the entire planet and alignment in this case means that the organisation has considered, co-ordinated and communicated (internally and externally) to the extent that common purpose has been generated throughout.  So aligned also refers to the inclusion of the sustainability goals in everyone’s objectives, cascaded from the strategy but made appropriate to the departmental, team and individual responsibilities and areas of influence.

Radical is simultaneously the simplest and most challenging.  If we are serious about sustainability then proposed changes cannot be small steps or minor changes.  Having worked in strategy and consulting for over 20 years I am not naïve about the difficulties of radical change, however, whether declared as such or not, we face a climate emergency which requires us to do more than place a green gloss over existing operations.  My suggestion therefore is that we need to use a benchmark of 40% as our definition of “radical”.  By which I mean every organisation (and we as individuals) should be committing to reduce negative impacts by 40% with immediate effect.  I’m certain that this is simultaneously not radical enough for many and too radical for most, which hopefully means it’s in the “plausible” zone.  Just consider that working from home two days a week, using a low-energy tablet device and at a personal level removing meat from your diet three days a week will all fall within this proposed “radical” success measure.

And finally we have Targeted.  Which in my case simply means the organisation must visibly be doing the most important and impactful things first.  In sales speak it’s known as going after the “low hanging fruit”, but there’s three very good reasons for doing so.  Firstly the sooner we make a difference the more impact we have.  The trajectory of our carbon emissions, energy consumption and pollution are all currently in the wrong direction.  We need to take urgent action right now to avoid irreparable damage to the planet and the sooner we do this the more impact the change will have.  Secondly it builds momentum and overcomes inertia – quick wins drive effective change faster.  Finally a targeted approach demonstrates to others what’s possible.  To be clear, while genuine sustainability may soon become a competitive advantage for organisations there is no benefit in pointing at “others” and berating them for their lack of progress, if we are serious about sustainability we need to have, and celebrate, exemplars and champions.

So that’s my SMART measurement of credible sustainability.  I’m always happy to hear comments and suggestions, but equally please do try applying this to your organisation to see how it stacks up.

(NB If you are interested in how to put all of this to action in your organisation please do not hesitate to get in touch using the details below).

#sustainability #climate change #climateemergency #strategy #greenIT #greewash

About the Author:

Speaker (2)

Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability.  Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership.  Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, SMBS, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.  He can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Why Sustainability Metrics are Increasingly Important

IMG_3894There’s a moment in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator when all seems hopeless.  The task of just surviving is simply too great until our hero “Dutch” spots a drop of alien blood on a leaf and utters the line…. “If it bleeds we can kill it”.

While it’s rather obviously obviously set up to play with our emotions I rather childishly like the way it provides a catharsis and a complete mood shift, from helplessness and weakness to opportunity and strength.

Equally I was struck by the passion with which Mike Berners-Lee in his book “There is No Planet B” warned of the dangers of re-bounds when dealing with technology.  How expecting IT in particular to drive positive change led to unexpected and negative outcomes.

He cautions against any notion of technology providing a “silver bullet” and urges us all to take responsibility for our own actions, for reducing our consumption, for using our purchasing strength wisely and for lobbying those in power.

As we consider the urgent question of how to improve sustainability we have lessons to learn from both.  We cannot let the enormity of the task overwhelm us.  We have to look for, and build on, the positives we can find.  Measuring where we are today and setting that as an initial bench mark is an important first step.  Measuring our steps from there towards defined objectives is then an equally important second step.  If we can’t measure our progress it’s very hard to know if we’re going in the right direction, or travelling fast enough.

There is a mood and momentum shift to be had in clearing away the doubt, publishing emissions figures then showing real intent and progress towards reducing them.

Equally we need to exercise caution that we do not proceed in a way or direction that causes greater harm than our current operation, either directly or through unintended consequences.  This will involve a change to way that we consider every aspect of our organisation’s activities, not least the operation of the entire supply chain.

Technology decisions must be assessed from an ethical and sustainability perspective across all aspects of resources, manufacturing, distribution, operation, longevity (including repair and upgrade), re-use and ultimately disposal.  We must also consider how it fits into new operational models and ways of working and whether the technology enables productivity and flexibility.

There is an understandable concern at an executive level that all of this becomes too emotional and “fluffy”, but in fact the hard economics are with us as well.  Whether it’s compliance with current and future legislation, market valuation or staff engagement,  measurable sustainability is rapidly becoming one of the key business metrics.

About the Author:

Speaker (2)Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability.  Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership.  Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, SMBS, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.  He can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

 

Sustainability, Productivity and Employee Engagement are Linked – Here’s How

Partnership 6From an ecological perspective there’s scarcely a news bulletin that doesn’t feature the environment these days, and with good reason.  There’s direct scientific evidence that  glaciers and ice caps are receding at an alarming rate and that air pollution is at critical levels in many cities. Clearly something more radical than talking about the issues needs to be done.  The UK’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is an important statement of intention and direction, even if the process and cost of delivering it are less clear.

From an economic perspective UK productivity (critical to economic growth) has not significantly improved over the last decade (Source ONS 2019).  Our historic gains in productivity were driven by automation and information technology, but instead we’ve seen by a switch away from capital investment towards a rapid growth in low-wage employment.

From an employee perspective the vast majority of organisations claim a strategic commitment to employee experience and engagement, yet more than 50% of staff report that their employer fails to provide a positive work environment or meaningful work (Deloitte “Human Capital Trends” 2019).  The uncomfortable question here is whether staff are being treated as “disposable”.

So what links these three important, but apparently unrelated issues?

Organisations seeking to reduce their overall carbon footprint need to look carefully at a number of issues; where people work, how they get there, the devices they use and the IT services they access.

In the UK it is estimated that 12% of all electricity is used by ICT and the Department for Transport reports that business travel (including commuting) is responsible for 31Bn car miles annually.  We cannot meet our sustainability objectives without addressing both these issues.

Moving datacentre workloads to the cloud and adopting a low-energy device strategy will help, but ultimately we need to look at patterns of work and travel to work as very significant issues.  Less than a third of the UK workforce are able to work flexible “on-demand”, despite flexible and remote working being reported as key contributors to employee satisfaction, specifically because of their contribution to work-life balance.

IT is a key enabler for this flexibility and two thirds report a “less than good” IT experience, while only 16% of employees reported that their IT experience at work made them feel valued.   Crucially only 38% of workers felt confident in using the technology they had been issued with (all figures Capita “State of IT – The Employee Verdict” 2019).

We have an interesting conundrum.   From an ecological and staff engagement perspective we need to encourage flexible working.  Most staff have a strong desire to work flexibly, but many are not confident that the technology will allow them to be productive.  A significant number of staff are restricted, either partly or wholly, from flexible working, often by management concerned over productivity, collaboration, security or supervision.

What is needed is a secure working environment that is simple to access from any device and any location, but crucially one with excellent user experience which makes collaboration as simple as internet browsing, and which simplifies business processes (accessing and running them) through automation.

If we deliver this we can improve employee satisfaction and staff retention.  We can also reduce travel to work and therefore reduce both carbon emissions, pollution and congestion on roads and public transport.

With over half the local authorities in the UK declaring a climate emergency, there is no more pressing problem to address than this.  The link between Planet, People and Productivity is one which every organisation must consider and look to address.

About the author:

Speaker (2)Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability.  Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership.  Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.  He can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Sustainability at work demands a new productivity calculation

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In business productivity is normally quoted as a straightforward financial measurement; output divided by cost over time. Like GDP it is often used as a simple, universal measurement of performance.  Certainly it has very little to do with sustainability.  And this, like GDP, is where some of the problem lies.

It’s like a sales person just talking about sell-price, or a buyer just focused on headline cost.  Both miss the wider opportunity to consider value.

So what would happen if we changed the underlying premise of the formula?  If our productivity measure became a more inclusive calculation of “consumption divided by contribution”.

calc

We can then scope our consumption to include not just pay, energy and raw materials but all of the elements that go into us carrying out the work – including transport, food, healthcare, benefits, IT and communications.  In fact our entire work and social “footprint” becomes part of the equation, because who we are and how we live are an active part of what we do.

In my opinion our current sustainability challenge requires us not just to reduce our current consumption levels, but to actually refuse to engage with or purchase those products and services that fail to meet a minimum sustainability standard.

On the other side of the equation is our contribution.  Without a doubt our completion of work-based tasks is essential to productivity, but what about our other activities?  The time we spend unofficially mentoring and helping others, on childcare, caring for relatives or on charitable work.  On growing food and planting trees.  It is not just our work activities that are positive contributions to society and the environment.

We are increasingly dependent on citizens providing these unofficial services as the state lacks the budgets or will to do so, but the contribution goes largely unrecognised, never mind rewarded.

I’m not suggesting all of this should be formally (and certainly not officially!) monitored, but actually simple analytics around elements of it does help us identify our current balance of consumption vs contribution and encourage us to improve it.

A little guidance on today’s balance and some hints on what could be done to improve it in the future can help us all be more sustainable (and productive).

About the author:

IMG_2752 (2)Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability.  Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership.  Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.  He can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Fighting Climate Change with ‘Ecological Workspaces’

I recently read in a survey by the Carbon Trust that 67% of UK consumers are more likely to buy a product with a low carbon footprint. Add to this the increasing levels of Climate Change awareness in general, then perhaps it’s fair to state that most people would prefer to consume IT in way that lowers environmental impact. One of the areas we can make this happen in business is by moving away from traditional desktop computing towards agile device based solutions that lower our personal carbon footprint. For now, and as one element of the research I am currently working on, I will call this the ‘Ecological Workspace’ or ‘EWS’ for short (as the IT industry loves a three letter acronym).

Here’s how it works…

Moore’s law observes that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit double every two years. By this, the founder of Intel was suggesting that processing capabilities of ‘computers’ will increase two fold every twenty four months. This theory has, with minor deviations, proven to be true and following the popularisation of personal computers in the 1980’s, businesses have been fighting to keep pace at the desktop ever since. As such, investment in desktop computers is, in most cases, a short term or tactical strategy and the hardware only remains performant in years one and two. After this, the desktops are liable for replacement from year three onwards. This race to stay productive as old computers struggle with new applications designed for faster processors has caused peaks and troughs in both business capital expenditure and employee productivity for almost forty years. Add to this the recent proliferation of a myriad of end user device options, the lure of cloud computing and a surge in security issues, it is not surprising that companies are exploring better ways of delivering an agile, scalable and secure desktop experience.

‘Secure Digital Workspaces’ from global software companies such as Citrix, meet this threefold criteria by enabling access via any device, in any location, to a workspace that mirrors the look and feel of a traditional desktop and its applications. This is achieved by delivering the image, security and processing power directly to the device from on premise, cloud or hybrid data centres via internet technologies. Adopting such an approach means that the user / company can now select user devices that suit business models and promote a work life balance that increases productivity and employee satisfaction.

As the device no longer needs to be a highly performant traditional desktop nor does it need connection to a local private network there are, perhaps not so obviously, environmental gains to be achieved too.

‘Ecological Workspaces’ Reduce Pollution

The creation and consumption of electricity represents over 60% of all CO2 emissions, a gas responsible for as much as 84% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Currently, as nations strive to abate the production of CO2, Information Technology (IT) continues to be the world’s 12th largest consumer of electricity and produces 2% of global carbon emissions. As we enter what is being termed the 4th Industrial Revolution, driven by digital transformation, IT is set to increase electrical consumption dramatically. Seeking sustainable methods of IT delivery that lower carbon footprint is essential if the IT community is to help to reduce the damage this digital revolution will have on the planet.

Low Energy Devices

As described, secure digital workspaces remove the need for intense processing, high-energy consuming desktop computers and monitors by shifting the workload back into the data centre. An ‘Ecological Workspace’ takes one-step further and rather than replacing one power hungry device for another, such as changing a desktop to a traditional laptop, it replaces the desktop computer with a low energy portable device such as a tablet, smart phone or Google Chromebook.

To highlight this, imagine a single employee using a traditional desktop computer from 9am to 5pm, Monday through to Friday. Taking into account the statutory UK 28 days paid holiday (including bank holidays), this equates to 232 working days or 1,856 active desktop hours during a working year. The average desktop (including a monitor) uses 70w of power per hour resulting in an annual electrical draw. This is equivalent to leaving a 60w lightbulb burning constantly for 90 days. A low energy device uses less than half of this, consuming an average of 33w per hour. Additionally, due to the ten-hour plus battery life, the same device will only be drawing power from the mains supply for an estimated four hours each day. This reduction in electricity consumption by using a low energy device equates to being able to switch that ethereal light bulb off after just 21 days.

Translated to carbon emissions, a low energy ‘Ecological Workspace’ device will deliver a staggering reduction of 1,656 light bulb hours of electricity per user, per year. In a company with 1,000 employees this equates to abating 73.9 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e). That’s equal to stopping the carbon emissions equivalent of over 181,000 car miles every year.

Improved Carbon Life Cycle

Each year the UK disposes of over two million tonnes of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and IT is one of the main and growing sources of WEEE. All electrical and electronic equipment has a carbon footprint that stretches from manufacture to disposal. This is measured as a carbon life-cycle assessment and includes the impact of the product’s raw materials, manufacturing process, transportation emissions, power used during operation and impact from re-cycling, recovery and disposal. Adopting an ‘Ecological Workspace’ approach allows for the use of devices with a lower carbon life cycle impact. Material needed during manufacture and associated transportation emissions are reduced as the items are most often smaller in volume. Power consumption is reduced as previously described reducing associated CO2e emissions and crucially, the useful life time of the product is extended due to breaking the tie with performance at the device level. This alone minimises the need to introduce more devices more often into the supply chain, reducing the strain on Earth’s natural resources.

Low Carbon Data Centres

Encouragingly the carbon footprint reduction does not stop at the device level. When combined with locating the digital workspace management plane and a selection or all of the workloads in a highly energy efficient and low carbon cloud data centre, the now ‘Ecological Workspace’ infrastructure can deliver as much as 99% CO2 emissions reductions when compared to traditional on premise data centre operations.

The reason this is feasible is due to the fact that large scale cloud data centres are now concentrating on Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE).

Data centres consume up to thirty times more electricity per square foot than office space and are on track to be responsible for 18% of the global ICT carbon footprint by 2020 producing emissions of 0.257GtCO2e. The majority of traditional on premise data centres house as many as between 15-30% of servers that are powered but idle. Additionally, with almost half operating at temperatures of up to 15°F below the recommended ASHRAE limits, these non-cloud data centres are deemed to be highly energy inefficient. To address this, best practice frameworks for data centre efficiency operate in both the United States and Europe and incorporate a measurement called Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) created by The Green Grid.

PUE calculation allows for electrical efficiency to be measured by comparing the Total Facility Power and the IT Equipment Power. A PUE result of 1.0 suggests the data centre is 100% energy efficient whilst one of 1.7 suggests that the power grid is having to supply 70% extra electricity to power the data centre compute, storage and networking capability than is theoretically necessary.

Studies highlight that PUE ratings for on premise data centres, range from between 2.9 and 1.7. This indicates that traditional data centres ‘waste’ between 70% and 190% of energy consumed due to inefficient operations. For several years, ‘hyperscale cloud service providers’ such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google, have examined multiple options to reduce cost in an increasingly competitive market where lowest price per Gigabyte is vital. One key area of focus has been the reduction of energy consumption. As a result, AWS data centres have already achieved an average PUE of 1.2, Google 1.16 and Microsoft 1.12. With PUE readings approaching the realms of zero waste, hyperscale service providers are now generating comparable computing capabilities with over 50% less electrical waste than standard on premise data centres. The impact is such that even Greenpeace reports recognise that this significant shift to cloud computing is playing a part in reducing the overall IT carbon emissions.

Carbon Usage Efficiency (CUE)

Whilst this ecological advantage of hosting in the cloud is considerable, PUE is only part of the story. To achieve significant CO2 emissions reductions Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) must be considered. CUE is a sustainability measurement that calculates carbon per kilowatt-hour intensity for data centres, again created by The Green Grid.

Over 80% of on premise data centres continue to consume electricity created from fossil fuel, such as coal, whereas many of the hyperscale service providers have switched to predominantly renewable energy sources. As an example, Microsoft has created multiple wind farms that directly supply their cloud data centres with low carbon, renewable energy plus the company has committed that all new data centre construction is subject to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. To highlight the ecological benefits of combining renewable energy sources with electrical efficiency, it is worth examining the CO2e emissions of a standard on premise data centre versus a cloud data centre.

A 5000sqft on premise data centre with a PUE of 1.7 and relying on 100% fossil fuel (coal) derived electricity would produce (27,000kWh x 870gCO2e/kWh) 23,490tCO2e emissions. A similar hyperscale data centre with PUE of 1.1 consuming 100% clean energy source would produce (17,490kWh x 5gCO2e/kWh) 87tCO2e.

The difference between the two CO2e emissions for the data centres is 23,403tCO2e. This is the equivalent removing 5,011 cars annually from the road per data centre suggesting that an ‘Ecological Workspace’ service operated from an energy efficient and low carbon data centres will carry a far lower carbon footprint per user.

Lowering Employee Commuting Emissions

Secure Digital Workspaces enable employees to work securely from anywhere at any time. This new level of flexibility enables employees to create a work life balance that suits modern living, increases productivity and improves employee retention. One dimension of this is that staff can choose their place of work. As such, many opt to work from home on a limited number of working days. According to Global Workplace Analytics, employees embracing E-Working solutions such as digital workspaces are spending on average two days a week working away from the office. This lowered commute time is reducing transportation fuel consumption and over the course of several years (to 2030) and will contribute to an impressive 3% (0.363Gt) global emissions reduction. As an example an employee utilising an ‘Ecological Workspace’ and working from home for two days each week, during a year consisting of 47 work weeks, could reduce the number of commute journeys by 94 return trips. As the average commute journey in the UK is 7 miles, an average one thousand-user ‘Ecological workspace’ solution would prevent 1,316,000 car miles being driven every year. This is the equivalent of removing 114 cars from the UK roads every year, forever.

In this instance Corporate and Social Responsibility charters that encourage home working for the well being of the employee are, when coupled with an ‘Ecological Workspace’ approach, reducing personal and business atmospheric pollution and carbon footprint.

Summary

Whatever your views are about climate change, it is sadly a scientific fact that our atmosphere has become highly polluted due to what is termed as anthropogenic interference. This unnatural pollution is driven in the main by electricity generation, industry and transportation. Previous and current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports predict that if we simply continue regardless then by 2050, humankind will face a pivotal environmental milestone whereby this pollution will have irreversibly damaged the Earth’s atmosphere. The impact of this will be accelerated global warming and climate change. Temperatures will increase as our ecosystem struggles to release radiation through a blanket of greenhouse gases (GHG), seas will acidify as CO2 dissolves into carbonic acid, and oceans will rise as the polar caps and ice sheets melt.

Faced with this information, it is reasonable to state that we all need to investigate ways to improve our carbon footprint if we are to secure a sustainable future. Perhaps ‘Ecological Workspaces’ (or EWS for short!) are part of the answer?

 

About the author:

Justin Sutton-Parker, MBA, has 25 years IT industry experience, is a Director at Citrix, a post graduate PhD student with Warwick University researching Computer Science, and Non Executive Director for Environmental Research at Px3.