Global Impact: Innovation’s Next Frontier

Recently, attendees from around the world gathered in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. The event celebrated achievements in climate action and served as a launchpad for deeper and accelerated commitments to prevent dangerous climate change. Attendees represented a diverse cross-section of state and local leaders, businesses, investors, scientists, students and nonprofits. While the aim of the summit was specific to driving positive impact, one thing was clear: diverse perspectives, technologies and tools were not only significant drivers of progress made to date, but also the most-essential components of plans for accelerated change and global impact in the future.

Nicola Acutt, VP of Sustainability at VMware, was one of the delegates at the summit. She works within VMware’s

Nicola Acutt, Vice President of Sustainability Strategy, VMware

Office of the CTO, an organization that focuses on fostering innovation and creating a better future for the company, the planet and the global community. “To me, there’s no more important work than creating a more innovative but also sustainable, equitable, and just world,” she says.

In a world where technology seems to comprise an ever-growing piece of the global economy, it’s more important than ever that tech companies recognize their full potential to help shape a better world for everyone. “This work is more than just a job to do – it’s about connecting what we do in the business to a larger mission of creating global impact,” Acutt says. “This means striving to leave ahead a better future. In other words, putting more back into the planet and the community than what we take.”

Back in 2015, VMware issued its debut Global Impact Report to communicate a vision for a sustainable company, as well as document and quantify the effect the company is having on people and the planet. The report was called the “Force for Good – Global Impact Report.” It outlined high-level aspirations for the VMware community and its impact.

This work has brought together different VMware’s stakeholders across the business on a topic beyond the company’s core technology to begin to understand how our global impact is interconnected and inherently tied to our products and our business.

Nicola Acutt and Ray O'Farrell collaborate on Global Impact initiatives at VMware

Nicola Acutt (left) and Ray O’Farrell (right)

“I always tell this story about Ray [O’Farrell, VMware CTO],” Acutt says, laughing. “We’d set out to create a product impact model with IDC to measure the impact of virtualization from a sustainability perspective. In the first draft of the report, Ray paused and said: ‘Are you sure about these numbers? You’ve got to double check, because that number is really big,’” Acutt says with a smile. “Our product impact was huge (in a good way) and continues to grow exponentially.”

Measuring the impact of virtualization was a start, but in order to continue to drive change, the 2015 report set our 12 goals including a science-based target for VMware’s global carbon emissions reduction and shifting to renewable energy. Of course, carbon emissions reduction is dependent on driving energy efficient operations, but it also requires a shift in the energy mix  on the grid, which in turn has an effect on our industry and the transition to the low carbon economy. Considering this type of interconnectedness, Acutt knew that in order to be successful, the VMware’s strategy would need to set goals not just for our operations, but for three different pillars of impact: product, planet and people.

“Our employees’ innovations are driving the impact our products are making. That’s why one of our goals is to create a vibrant employee experience that promotes innovation and ingenuity,” she says. “This is in service to developing products to have an impact on our customers and our planet.” Of course, diversity and inclusion are also integral to this goal, as diverse perspectives help create more innovative and diverse solutions. Another example of the interconnection between goals? The work of the VMware Foundation to provide opportunities for VMware employees to partner with nonprofits to accelerate their impact through digital transformation. The idea of being a Force for Good has captured the imagination and spirit of the VMware community. “While originally just the name of the report, it’s become something much more,” says Acutt. “The mindset of innovation is applied to everything we do. We’re challenged constantly to solve problems in new ways, whether that’s applicable to our products, our operations or society. That’s a new way to look at our collective purpose in the world.”

Today, VMware is at the halfway point in the journey to its 2020 goals. Reflecting on the work so far, Acutt comments that “journey is the operative word.” With the release of the Global Impact Report Annual Progress Update 2017, the company is steadily making progress. The company can definitely check the box on some of our goals and have work left to do on others. Acutt explains, “We’re not all the way there yet, but we’ve made pretty significant strides in an ambitious direction.” One result Acutt is particularly proud of is being named #17 on Fortune’s “Change the World” list as a result of our efforts.

Reflecting on what’s next for top companies in the area of global impact, Acutt predicts a near-term future where leading companies will double down on their commitments to drive change around the world. “In order to see real change, we’ll need to see a more aggressive focus on ambitious goals, which will materialize in a few ways. I think we’ll see more commitments to science-based targets and a sharper focus on diversity and inclusion. We’re on the right path, but it’s not enough. Tech companies are going to need to step it up.”

While leading companies will need to be more aggressive and focused in their goals, partnering across companies will also be key. Acutt sees a rise of cross-sector collaboration and the number of industry consortiums formed. “Companies are going to have to align their core purpose with their global impact.” In the past several years, public companies have become increasingly expected to disclose diversity data. Similarly, climate-related impact will soon also become the norm. “This evolution of disclosures and a willingness to collaborate will separate out the marketing from the companies that have truly aligned their global impact goals with their core purpose.”

Back at the Global Climate Summit, 21 companies (including VMware) announced the launch of the Step Up Declaration, an alliance dedicated to harnessing the power of the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020. The alliance’s declaration states: “We need to be held, and hold each other, accountable to rise to the greatest challenge the world has ever seen.” As we strive, as a global community, toward bettering our planet and all the people on it, let’s not forget the enormous impact that each person, organization and entity can have when we join forces across geographies, cultures, companies, experiences and identities.

For more information, read the full VMware Force for Good Global Impact Report Annual Progress Update 2017.