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Green IT needs business buy-in for success

In this Q&A, Faith Taylor of Kyndryl explains why sustainability efforts must combine business growth with concrete emissions reporting to meet net zero targets.

Green IT should be a part of every organization's goals if climate change improvements are going to happen, according to Faith Taylor, who heads environmental, social and corporate governance efforts at Kyndryl.

Spun out of IBM's Global Technology Services unit in 2021, Kyndryl is one of the world's largest providers of IT infrastructure services, operating 400 data centers in 63 countries. All of this creates a considerable carbon footprint.

Green IT has been a foundational pillar for Kyndryl since the start, Taylor said. But the path to becoming a more sustainable organization is not easy, and organizations will need to build programs that track metrics and can be ready for reporting requirements implemented by governments in the EU and the U.S.

In this Q&A, Taylor, who attended the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai last week, discusses Kyndryl's sustainability efforts and how organizations need to consider integrating long-term sustainability goals with business considerations.

Can you describe Kyndryl's sustainability program and your role in it?

Faith Taylor, global sustainability and ESG officer, KyndrylFaith Taylor

Faith Taylor: My role at Kyndryl has been to build the sustainability program from the ground up. When we broke off from IBM, we had to reset the boundaries. … We follow the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and redid our entire scope of boundaries. In our corporate citizenship report, we've established what our global footprint is and then set targets and goals.

We built the program aligned with our business model because you have to decouple carbon from quarterly growth. You need to make sure you're hitting those numbers, which means integrating it into working with our chief operations officer and chief accounting officer to understand how you do that.

We're committed to being net zero by 2040, 50% down by 2030, with having 100% renewable energy by then. We went through a third-party validation process because what you look at today in terms of regulations and investors, it's a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the numbers are as accurate as possible.

How can companies manage sustainability programs? Are successful efforts driven from the top down or bottom up?

Taylor: It has to be both [top and bottom driven]. You can't have the top just saying, 'Do this and then try to push it down,' that's not going to work. For Kyndryl, it goes across functions, across business units and countries. We have associates who are part of the Green Guild [an internal program] that are building the solutions that we're implementing with our customers. We have education and training on what net zero means for the company. The senior leadership has goals associated with ESG that were held accountable at the end of the year.

How do you balance short-term business requirements with long-term green IT goals?

Taylor: You also must have a good understanding of your business strategies and how you're delivering growth and profitability, and incorporate that into how you're going to get there. It's not only expense reduction, but also building in efficiency and looking at revenue sources. If you can say that, of our revenue sources, cloud migration is efficient and reduces your carbon footprint, and we work with customers to define it and help them track and monitor efficiency and sustainability in addition to profitability. It's not only a cost-reduction program but can be a revenue driver for companies and more companies are getting on board with that because of the transformation that's happening in clean energy, electric vehicles and the demand by customers for more sustainable products.

There can be sustainability benefits for cloud computing, but there are costs as well. For example, the growth of generative AI consumes enormous computing resources and energy. How does a cloud infrastructure provider like Kyndryl run those systems more sustainably?

Taylor: You have to look at this from the inception. It's not only the usage of that technology or application, but it's also how you develop it and the source of energy used to generate it. A key component in generating the solution is doing it in a responsible way through more efficient coding that doesn't need as much energy. Also, you have to look at using renewable energy sources to supply the solution, whether it's cloud migration or AI. There's also the end of life -- are there are types of disposal or recycling or circular economy things that you can incorporate. We need to look at the entire value chain of using the technology, and companies are starting to consider that because of the requirements for reporting.

Some of those reporting requirements, like the EU's CSRD [Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive] are becoming real now, and others will be implemented in the years ahead. What's the purpose of these regulations, and how can companies manage the various directives?

Taylor: The goal [of regulations like CSRD] is to validate the claims that companies are making, and then roll it up into the carbon reduction efforts by the governments. One challenge with this is that you have to harmonize these standards and what you're reporting on. Different industries have different scopes and boundaries, so there's a lot of work that has to be done there. But the goal is to get the information and roll it up to understand what your actual reduction is. That's why the private companies and government entities have to work together to figure out how that happens. It's going to have to happen on a global basis: You can't do it for just one company, one country.

You attended COP28, which is controversial in large part because it's taking place in Dubai. There's skepticism that real sustainability goals will be decided at the conference. What is a realistic outcome from COP28?

Taylor: I'm hearing all the skepticism, and I'm very realistic about this. But we're at an inflection point, and we have to adapt and mitigate, so my goal is to be part of the solution. We have the technological capability today, it's about leadership and if it's going to be an all-encompassing goal. Even if we can have pockets of excellence that we can start to scale, then I believe we're going to get there. For example, people talk about how AI can be used for good and for bad. But if you want to use AI, use it in a way that's going to help us solve climate change at a scale we've never seen before.

My focus is on the solutions and how we're going to get there. It's going to be a difficult conversation, this isn't easy because you have to have all the players there. You have to have oil and gas companies, companies like Patagonia that are at the very top and the ones in the middle. We all have to be part of this discussion and figure it out.

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget senior news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for TechTarget Editorial.

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