SustainabilityCategory3 min read

Sustainability Isn’t a Cost Center—It’s a Value Driver

Nicola AcuttSeptember 20, 2021

I was recently asked what I would do if I was given a magic wand with the ability to solve any problem in the world. I briefly considered saying that I would create my vacuum cleaner that sucks pollution out of the air. But that would only address a symptom of a larger problem; it would get rid of existing pollution, but not change the underlying system that caused it.

So instead, I said I would wish for a true global consciousness—one that would reveal how closely we’re interconnected to each other, to the choices of our past, and to the outcomes of our future. With that kind of awareness of our interdependence, there would be no way humanity could ignore the peril of our planet. We would be driven by a deeper force to action.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand. And even though the impacts of climate change are well known—and becoming more and more real on a daily basis—we’re still a long way from the sort of collective action that will reverse and mitigate the damage already caused and continue to.

But I’m an optimist by nature. I believe change is possible because I believe in human ingenuity. And one of my biggest sources for optimism personally is the work we’re doing at VMware through our Environmental, Social, and Governance efforts.

Sustainability is one of three outcomes of VMware’s ESG agenda, and I’d argue it’s fundamental. Why? Because, being trained as an ecologist, I tend to look at the world through the lens of science. The world is made up of multifaced complex systems of all types and scales: my household is a system, the community I live in is a system, VMware is a system, the economy we all participate in is a system. And the planet is also an operating system of sorts —it is the ecological system that all human and economic systems rely on. If we don’t maintain the critical functions of the system, everything else falls apart. 

Yet despite how fundamental the planet’s health is to every company, pursuing sustainability strategies has for too long been treated as a tradeoff—a cost to the bottom line that has to be offset somewhere else. But this mindset prioritizes the short-term at the expense of the long-term health and resilience of the organization.

The thing is, it IS possible to be a profitable business and a sustainable business. VMware is in the midst of proving it.

Nicola Acutt, VP, Environmental, Social, and Governance, VMware

The thing is, it IS possible to be a profitable business and a sustainable business. VMware is in the midst of proving it.

Sustainability has long been inherent in our technology solutions. As companies virtualize their digital operations, they benefit from lower costs, increased flexibility, and more resilience—but also a reduced carbon footprint. In fact, VMware has helped its customers avoid more than 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions to date.[1]

But even with these impressive results, the world now demands more from us. So, we’re pushing ourselves to redefine what a sustainable digital future means. We are fundamentally realigning our business model around multi-cloud and SaaS. In the process we’re also making efficiency and decarbonization an explicit goal for products we create.

This shift does so much more than just help VMware achieve its own ESG goals—it also helps our customers achieve theirs. We’re like the center of a Fibonacci spiral. When we create services that are carbon aware, those benefits flow out and are amplified exponentially as customers in countless industries around the world use our products to digitally transform their businesses. It’s a positive environmental ripple—at scale.

Baking sustainability outcomes directly into our products and services reflects a mindset of shared value. We're doing this because we see sustainability for what it is: not as a cost center, but as a value driver.

Nicola Acutt, VP, Environmental, Social, and Governance, VMware

Baking sustainability outcomes directly into our products and services reflects a mindset of shared value. We’re doing this because we see sustainability for what it is: not as a cost center, but as a value driver. It’s the thing that’s going to be a competitive differentiator for us. And it’s the kind of big picture thinking that every company, in every industry, should be thinking about right now.

Moving the needle on climate change means more than doing less harm, it means adopting a mindset of sustainability innovation. Every company in every industry is going to have their own unique decarbonization challenges. But those challenges are not insurmountable. Instead, we should use them as a fuel for innovation that will not only improve the bottom line, but help save the planet.

During Climate Week, I hope you’re able to reflect and discuss how we can do more to accelerate climate action. We’ll also be talking about sustainability across product innovations and operations in a couple of weeks at VMworld 2021. Learn more and register here.

[1] IDC White Paper, sponsored by VMware. “Enabling More Agile & Sustainable Business through Carbon-Efficient Digital Transformations,” August 2020. http://www.vmware.com/go/VMwareIDCWhitePaper2020