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In this Q&A, Ethical Corporation’s Head of US Operations Ed Long talks with Christopher Wellise, Chief Sustainability Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, on how HPE is moving from a linear to a circular economy, leading on sustainability and disclosing ESG risks to investors
Q: Why do you feel the Responsible Business Summit West is an important meeting?
A: The challenges we face as a planet and the opportunities we can tackle as businesses require us to use the knowledge, strength and influence of our organizations working together to drive positive impacts. RBS brings together a collective seeking to learn more and to take action on circular economy, clean tech, inclusion and diversity and more, and in order for us to drive sustainable outcomes we need to take action, together.
Q: Where does sustainability sit in your organization? And how are you working with other departments to deliver a sustainable future?
A: This is actually an interesting question for my team. With all the changes at HPE, from the split from HPQ to our spinoffs and reorganizations, our sustainability team has undergone a lot of changes. We recently moved from our marketing department to the legal department, a move that made a lot of my team nervous, as there was a perception that we could be reduced to a compliance function. Our team is made up of leaders and innovators who strive to push the boundaries and don’t want to settle for anything. Yet this move into the legal organization has positioned us with more support, visibility and authority than I’ve ever seen in my tenure here, with everyone from our CEO and C-suite to partnerships across our organization, and even an engaged workforce who value corporate responsibility, ensuring sustainability spans our entire organization.
Q: What kind of shift are you seeing in organization-wide strategy as sustainability becomes more of a priority for the business? What’s driving the change?
A: Sustainability has been a part of how we do business for decades, yet how well it’s integrated across our organization continues to evolve as more and more of our customers demonstrate how sustainability is a business priority. As billions of connected devices and people come online, our customers are struggling to adapt to a world where everything computes with increasingly less energy, materials and space for their IT solutions. Our stakeholders are emphasizing the inherent risks and the promise of technology in driving positive change in the digital age. We’re seeing an increase in sustainability-related request for proposals, driving emphasis from our investors and shareholders. Understanding this, we’ve been integrating our sustainability objectives across our entire value chain, into our overall strategy, into how we innovate as technology leaders and how we drive business outcomes.
Our CEO recognizes this and is not only pushing our organization and my team’s initiatives, but he’s publicly addressing this priority through engagements like the Tech for Good Summit in France with corporate, government and organizational leaders around the globe. Our executives are leading the charge by upholding our high ethical standards across the business, building a more inclusive culture of an increasingly diverse and empowered workforce, and imbedding our corporate sustainability goals across the business and our entire value chain. Even our employees are teaming together from around the world to phase out single-use plastics at their sites, positively challenging my team to keep up and advance more ambitious initiatives.
Q: What are your top three priorities in 2019/20? And why are they important to your team?
A: Our top three priorities are: driving the circular economy, investing in people, and operating responsibly. These priorities emphasize how technological advancement has the power to advance the way we live and work through a renewed focus on sustainable innovation.
At HPE, we’re building a world where factories monitor themselves in real-time; where healthcare is personalized and genetic diseases are a thing of the past; where clean energy technologies power the economy; where women earn equal pay for equal work; where technology is secure and trusted, basic services are available to all, and everything computes. Achieving a sustainable future will require disruptive transformation across every industry. In an era of infinite connectivity coupled with finite resources, we’re partnering with our customers and stakeholders to catalyze sustainable innovation in our industry and beyond. Only together can we solve the world’s most complex challenges.
Q: How is your company leading on sustainability?
A: We understand our unique position to drive sustainable innovation across the sectors, from manufacturing to utilities, healthcare to smart cities. Over this year we’ve had so much success in leveraging our sustainability leadership as a differentiator to customers that we’ve expanded our customer engagement program by 200%. This is a unique program that specifically engages customers on how they can solve their business and sustainability goals simultaneously through our efficient IT solutions, creating partnerships beyond our walls. Last year, our sustainability-focused customer engagements represented $5bn USD of total revenue and contributed to over $312m USD in revenue, and I know these numbers will only increase as more of our customers seek to improve their return on investment through the low carbon economy. To date, 596 companies are taking science-based climate action, 55% of company executives have gained competitive advantage from science-based targets, and HPE is ready to help our customers lead across sectors through sustainable IT solutions.
Taking a look at our sustainability commitments operationally, I think we’re leading on several fronts worth noting. Our focus areas span our entire value chain, with goals and initiatives aligned to six of the key United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals. We’ve chosen six key areas that best position us to make the biggest impact and apply our capacity as a global technology leader. I’m proud to say that we were the first IT company to set climate-science based emissions targets across our value chain, as our greatest environmental footprint comes from outside our direct operations. These goals enable us to engage our suppliers, helping them set their own greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and enable our customers to drive more efficient IT solutions across industries. This year, we reassessed the biggest opportunities we have and identified two new SDGs to prioritize—Gender Equality and Responsible Consumption and Production, helping us grow our business responsibly while addressing gender inequality.
Q: How are you and your team moving from a linear to a circular economy?
A: Transitioning to the circular economy is undoubtedly vital for businesses, yet not all businesses are doing this successfully. If you’re not fully transforming your company and where your material impact is to a more circular, regenerative model, you’re not transitioning, you’re stalling. At HPE, we recognize that rapid technological innovation can lead to new efficiencies while also leading to the rapid obsolesce of legacy IT hardware and the overconsumption of precious rare-earth metals.
That’s why we’ve positioned our circular economy efforts around how we can keep earth metals within the circle, designing for environment and circularity through extended product life, resource efficiencies, material recyclability, and reducing IT consumption overall through IT service offerings. We offer multiple programs across our global markets to encourage participation in the circular economy including asset trade-in, remanufactured and refurbished offerings, and recycling solutions. Over the past year, we took in 4 million units at our Technology Renewal Centers. 89% were returned into the circle and given new life, and the remaining 11% were recycled. We’ve also increased the recyclability of our products, with many of our key products across computers and networking at more than 99% recyclability.
Q: Disclosing ESG risk to investors is a hot topic for 2019 – how are you tackling the increased pressure and workload for you and your team?
A: I’m fortunate to have a team of driven, passionate employees with diverse skillsets that help us recognize the intersectionality of our climate crisis and how we as a tech company are uniquely positioned to drive positive change in the digital age. One project I’m particularly excited about is helping us anticipate and disclose ESG risks. This past year, we conducted a forward-looking analysis assuming two climate scenarios to better understand the environmental and financial opportunities of enhancing our current climate strategies and how resilient these strategies are over both the short (0-3 years) and long-term (5-15 years). This analysis adopts the recommendations set forth by the G20 Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which links climate-related risks and opportunities with the financial stability of our organization.
Our modeling confirms that the physical risks of climate change present potential negative financial impacts to our company, which are most pronounced in the limited mitigation scenario. However, the 1.5C scenario revealed that the opportunities from developing technology solutions to facilitate a low-carbon transition will outweigh the risks, reiterating the value of our work. We predict numerous business opportunities for HPE and our customers if we continue to advocate for a low-carbon economy, apply innovative technologies to reduce operational energy use, and create aggressive proof-of-concept solutions that help our customers thrive in a carbon‑constrained market. Read our latest Living Progress Report to see the details of
Christopher Wellise will be speaking at Ethical Corporation's Responsible Business Summit West 2019 in San Diego 9-10 October. He will join 250+ CEOs, investors and heads of business to share practical ideas on how business can take the lead and accelerate action on social and environmental issues.
This Q&A has been shared in the run up to the Responsible Business Summit West, taking place in San Diego, October 9-10, 2019.
We’re in the midst of transformation. The fourth industrial revolution coupled with the necessity to reduce global warming to 1.5C requires all stakeholders pulling in one direction, with grave consequences for failure.
This also presents an opportunity for business to innovate, invest and collaborate. The opportunity to deliver technologies and circular strategies which accelerate the move to a sustainable economy, conserve the natural environment and deliver business success. Grasping the chance presented whilst simultaneously responding to investor demand to be more transparent on ESG-related risks.
The Responsible Business Summit West will challenge 250+ CEOs, sustainability leaders, Investors, government representatives and NGOs to show how they’re going to leverage new technologies and investments to deliver the blueprint for the future economy – over two days you will learn how to move from dialogue to action on the key opportunities that lie ahead.
Hear from 60+ innovators and experts driving the clean, inclusive future:
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