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It’s time for an honest conversation about data and sustainability

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Matt Watts

The relationship between technology and sustainability is a double-edged sword. Research commissioned as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2030 Vision found that 70% of the 169 UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets can be directly supported by advanced technologies.

At the same time, as the amount of data generated worldwide continues to grow (Statista forecasts a global datasphere of 180ZB by 2025), so does its impact in terms of power consumption and carbon emissions.

Technology companies across the board, including NetApp, are therefore placing huge emphasis on what we can do to help build a more sustainable future. It‘s crucial that these efforts are rooted in data and facts rather than in marketing and rhetoric.

There is a fine line between impactful, measurable initiatives that contribute to correcting the climate crisis and vacuous greenwashing, which serves no purpose other than to create positive brand currency. This is the difference between looking sustainable and being sustainable.

Sustainability at NetApp

In the NetApp 2021 ESG report, we set out three clear and actionable objectives. These objectives demonstrate a purposeful effort to become more sustainable as an organization, to serve our customers with greener solutions, and to measure environmental output across the entire lifecycle of our products.

1.Establish science-based targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) gives organizations a realistic pathway to reduce Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Most corporate sustainability initiatives focus on Scope 1 and 2 emissions, referring to the direct carbon output of an organization and the organization’s indirect emissions associated with the purchase and use of electricity.

Fewer organizations think about Scope 3 emissions, which focus on the broader impact associated with a company’s upstream and downstream value chain. These emissions are more difficult to measure and to affect, but they are fundamental to any purposeful and impactful drive to be more sustainable.

NetApp has committed to SBTI and is currently working to set meaningful science-based carbon reduction targets for Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Once we have submitted the target and received validation from SBTi, we will communicate this information to our stakeholders and publish detailed progress reports annually.

2. Quantify the carbon footprint of our equipment installed at customer sites to report Scope 3 emissions

We continue to increase our efforts to further measure, monitor, and report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a specific focus on more comprehensively measuring the carbon footprint of our customers’ NetApp® solutions.

Our customers have a genuine appetite for information about our product lifecycle carbon footprint, and we already offer a range of capabilities that allow them to collect environmental data about their NetApp products. Through NetApp Cloud Insights, we enable organizations to pinpoint underutilized and wasted resources, reducing wasted energy from data centers. Since 2015, NetApp has reduced its energy usage by 20% and now saves enough energy to power 44,000 homes every year.

We’re working on ways to make it easier for customers to access and share that data, so that we can measure it and use this insight to make our products greener from cradle to grave. As part of these efforts, NetApp has joined the MIT Product Attribute to Impact Algorithm (PAIA) consortium. PAIA helps us to track the environmental output of products across their entire lifecycle, from components to manufacturing to transport to use in field and end-of-life recycling or disposition.

3. Improve NetApp’s CDP climate change score

The CDP is a not-for-profit organization that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, and governments to manage their environmental impacts. At NetApp, we voluntarily disclose our annual climate and water impact to the CDP.

As well as committing to independent assessments to measure our progress, we are looking closely at how we conserve, optimize, and responsibly source energy for our buildings, labs, and data centers. These efforts include energy-efficient design of new facilities and enhancing existing ones.

During 2021, and continuing into 2022, we have decreased energy use by shrinking our building footprint, and we have increased our use of renewables. Our new state-of-the-art facility at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus in Kansas is powered almost exclusively by wind power.

Toward a sustainable future

As a global cloud-led, data-centric software company, NetApp believes that it has a duty to help organizations use data as part of the solution in becoming more sustainable. Part of this duty is acknowledging that facts matter. There should not be a difference between how sustainable organizations think they are and say they are versus how sustainable they really are.

Achieving sustainability is not an overnight process, nor is there one way of being an objectively sustainable organization. A great place to start is by setting and measuring objectives using scientific methods and partnering with corporate sustainability experts who will ask difficult, sometimes uncomfortable questions.

Matt Watts

Matt Watts works closely with the Office of the CTO, Product Operations and Marketing teams at NetApp, but spends most of his time at events or with businesses articulating NetApp’s Strategy and the business value of IT. He has over 25 years of IT experience and has been with NetApp for the last 12 years.

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