Capping emissions

9th February 2017

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Philip Winslow

Capgemini's Matt Bradley tells Paul Suff about the company's carbon ambitions

Capgemini UK set new environmental objectives last year after meeting a previous target to reduce its carbon footprint for non-datacentre activities two years early. A key commitment was for the professional services company to become ‘net positive’ and cut three times more carbon from clients, suppliers and staff than it generates from its operations.

In 2015, Capgemini UK shaved a further 11% off its emissions, which chief financial officer and executive sponsor for the firm’s environment initiatives, Tony Deans, said brought it closer to its net positive aspiration. Now the French-owned business has gone further still, announcing a new programme of 2030 objectives across the range of sustainability issues.

Matt Bradley, group environment lead, claims the new programme is something that no other business has attempted. ‘Capgemini wants to be different and needs to be “out there” in its thinking. Our mantra is to be the best we can. We are always trying to be 18 months ahead of the game. Some people think what we talk about is crazy.’

2030 targets

  • To reduce the carbon footprint per employee by 20% by 2020 and by 40% by 2030 (compared with 2014)To reduce business travel emissions by 25% by 2020 and 50% by 2030 (compared with 2014)
  • To reduce office energy consumption by 20% by 2020 and 40% by 2030 (compared with 2014)
  • To improve data centre energy efficiency and reduce the average PUE (power usage effectiveness ratio) to 1.5 by 2020

A matter of importance

When Bradley presented his initial ideas for the new programme to the UK board in April, the response was enthusiastic. ‘I unveiled it as a 12-month project, but the board liked it very much and wanted it sooner,’ he says.

This engagement is at the highest level. Capgemini UK established its corporate responsibility and sustainability (CRS) board in 2007 (it is now replicated globally). It has overall governance of CRS matters and comprises the chief executives and other senior executives from the firm’s business units and is chaired by Paul Margetts, chief executive of application services. Bradley reports to James Robey, global head of corporate sustainability, who is responsible for the global sustainability agenda at Capgemini. This covers more than 40 countries and almost 180,000 staff.

The tough new targets are a deliberate ploy to bring out the best in people. ‘The aim was to create a programme that pushes the boundaries,’ Bradley says. ‘If you make targets hard, I believe people will try that bit harder to reach them. They will get people thinking.’ He adds that the targets will act as a reminder to the business that it needs to continue to take action and to make resources available. ‘We have to keep telling the board the firm needs to do more. We don’t want them thinking they’ve invested heavily for eight years in measures to reduce emissions and our buildings are now 40% more efficient. They have to keep investing, achieving ever higher standards.’

The 2030 goals include interim targets. Staff and the business units need to know they are making progress, maintains Bradley: ‘They need something to move towards.’ He says it is relatively easy to generate support for short- and medium-term targets, such as to 2020, but not longer-term ones. ‘It is more difficult to get buy-in for a 2030 target. It’s such a long way off. And anything further is just “greenwash”.’

Own backyard

The 2030 programme fits with Capgemini’s corporate responsibility and sustainability vision to be a leader in sustainable excellence. This it defines as affecting positively clients, staff, society and the planet through ‘bold and influential’ action. In terms of environmental sustainability, this involves Capgemini reducing its own impacts and working with clients, suppliers and people to moderate theirs. The firm is committed to becoming a ‘net positive’ business, so its positive social and environmental impacts outweigh the negative ones. ‘As a business, the biggest influence we can have is with our clients. But we have to keep working to get our own house in order,’ says Bradley.

The UK operation set new environmental objectives in 2015 after surpassing previous targets to reduce its CO2 footprint for non-datacentre activities by 20% by 2014 against 2008 levels – it achieved the target in 2012 and by 2014 had reduced its footprint by 29%.

Energy-efficient offices are key to the company shrinking its carbon footprint. Bradley reports that 40% of the 29% reduction in carbon achieved by Capgemini UK by 2014 compared with 2008 was from measures to curb energy use on its estate. Principal among these was the installation of LED lighting and building management systems that enable office temperatures to be set remotely. UK sites reduced energy use by a further 7% in 2015, with 14 of its 22 offices cutting consumption.

Of the 9,000 workforce in the UK, only 2,000 are based in Capgemini offices. TravelWell, the firm’s award-winning approach to business travel, has helped to drive down travel-related emissions by 30%. The scheme encourages employees to ‘think green and think smart’ on travel choices. Initiatives have included installing video or teleconferencing and other collaborative working tools. Virtual working, flexible working hours, and personal carbon statements have also been introduced.

Capgemini UK reports that its staff averaged 2.8 million minutes of Skype and video conference calls a month in 2015. Bradley, who uses online conferencing tools where possible to reduce his own travel, says video is good if you are in an office, but something like Skype is better for employees who are mostly mobile.

He concedes that online meetings are not always best: ‘Sometimes people need to travel; they need to have face-to-face interaction. Also, we’re supplying a service and clients tend to expect you to be visible. So you need to have a conversation with the client. It’s also about staff wellbeing, or productivity, so it might entail altering conventional work patterns.’

He acknowledges that tackling emissions from travel can be tricky, and remains a challenge for the consulting sector: ‘Business travel is a particular issue for the professional services industry. Overall, it is 30% of our carbon footprint, although this varies from country to country, with flights accounting for a significant proportion of business travel in India and the US.’

Each month Bradley examines sustainability data for the UK, while global data is reviewed quarterly. ‘When we spot issues, we quickly intervene to find out what is happening and why, and to identify possible solutions.

‘You can’t take the figures at face value. You have to understand why there has been a change. In France, a strike by air traffic control staff has in the past skewed monthly data.’

It is sometimes possible to use such events and incidents to engage staff on changing their behaviour. ‘You can ask people how they overcame the disruption to flights,’ Bradley says. ‘Did they use video conferencing instead? Did it work?’ Engaging staff on the issue of travel should not solely be about pointing out the environmental benefits, he stresses. ‘We promote smarter travel: what the alternatives are, and what the impacts of travelling less might have on, for example, home life or productivity.’

The bigger picture

Reducing operational emissions is only one element of the commitment by Capgemini UK to be net positive. The company believes that its expertise in technology and business processes, combined with the experience in reducing its own emissions, puts it in an ideal position to support suppliers and clients in achieving reductions.

Capgemini operates a red, amber and green system for suppliers, which scores them against sustainability metrics. ‘It’s an online survey, covering everything across the sustainability spectrum, from carbon emissions to diversity,’ says Bradley. However, suppliers need not complete the whole survey. ‘It all depends on the size of the business. We would not expect, say, a legal practice in Ireland employing five people to have emissions reduction targets, but they might recycle and install energy-efficient equipment.’

Bradley says Capgemini has a team to help small and medium-size suppliers engage with sustainability. Firms that rate red or amber undergo an assessment to see whether the score is due to a mistake in submitting the information or whether sustainability is not considered important. ‘Red or amber means it is time for us to have a conversation. We want to help them do better but we won’t continue to use those that refuse to change.’

Client services support Capgemini’s carbon aspirations. Its sustainable datacentres, including the Merlin facility in Swindon (see panel, left), is one example and, due to their high energy efficiency, will help clients reduce their emissions.

Fast forward to 2030

Bradley accepts that Capgemini will be unable to eradicate all its emissions. ‘We’ll focus on reductions, but we might need to consider offsetting emissions at some stage,’ he says.

But offsetting is a contentious issue, and Bradley stresses that it should be used only for emissions that are impossible to eradicate. ‘It shouldn’t be considered as salving your conscience. You still need to invest in energy efficiency. You still need to engage staff to travel only when necessary.’

Business travel will continue to be one of the main challenges to bring down emissions, as will engaging colleagues in other parts of the business that are perhaps new to sustainability. Capgemini’s acquisition of the US technology firm IGATE in 2015 swelled the global workforce by more than 30,000, including many in India.

Bradley is keen that the term ‘net positive’ is more widely understood in business. He also wants more transparency. ‘We need to measure and communicate what Capgemini’s contribution is, and also how we look at the whole picture – good and negative. The major focus for our net positive programme will be about promoting the need – and ability – for our industry to be part of the solution.’

Bradley believes that continuous communication and engagement is key to overcoming environment and sustainability challenges: ‘You have to get people to continually re-engage with sustainability or it becomes the status quo. That’s why communication is important and why we have to get the messaging right.’

The magic of Merlin

Matt Bradley, group environment lead at Capgemini UK, describes the company’s Merlin site in Swindon as one of the world’s most sustainable datacentres. ‘Others might beat its power usage effectiveness but, because it’s housed in the old Honda parts factory, is a modular construction, has a fresh-air cooling system and uses flywheel technology to eliminate batteries, Merlin is a real leap forward,’ he says.

The 3,000 sq m centre opened in September 2010 with a design that minimises water use and optimises energy performance and heat management. It uses pre-assembled data modules.

The factory-built units, which are constructed of 95% recyclable materials and have very low embedded carbon, can be transported to site and be installed quickly. The typical lead-time to construct a conventional datacentre is around 18 months. Bradley says the modular idea for the datacentre stemmed from the purpose-built, fully equipped hospitals that were dropped by helicopter into the desert during the Gulf War. ‘Instead of building a big, empty building and fill it with servers over several years, we decided to install new modules as when we need them. When we run out of data space, we order a new module, which arrives six weeks later on the back of a lorry. It is offloaded, plugged in and ready.’

Innovative engineering solutions have been used at Merlin to save energy and reduce running costs. Flywheel UPS technology uses stored kinetic energy to replace batteries, while an independent building management system for the modules incorporates a cooling unit that uses primarily fresh air cooling for external temperatures up to 24°C, with secondary evaporative cooling controlling temperatures up to 34°C.

Swindon was one of 360 potential sites considered and was ultimately selected on the basis of power availability, telecommunications and environmental factors. The Wiltshire town has optimum air quality, temperature and humidity, so the facility requires minimal cooling, says Bradley. He uses the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to describe why Merlin is in Swindon: ‘It’s not too hot or too cold, it’s just right.’

Capgemini continues to invest in measures to drive down energy consumption, installing differential pressure sensors last year to improve airflow and cooling at Merlin. The firm wants to improve datacentre energy efficiency by 25% by 2017 against 2014 levels.


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