Women and Sustainability

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Nancy Novak is joined by Brittany Marley, Senior Global Client Executive, Platform Alliances at Equinix. They dive deep into the role of women in sustainability, the need for collaboration, and the importance of measuring impacts.

Nancy Novak is joined by Brittany Marley, Senior Global Client Executive, Platform Alliances at Equinix. They dive deep into the role of women in sustainability, the need for collaboration, and the importance of measuring impacts.

Marley and Novak discuss:

  • The importance of women leaders in sustainability, and why their underrepresentation could mean missing out on critical solutions.
  • How corporate sustainability hinges on collaboration, specific metrics, and reduction of emissions throughout the supply chain.
  • The need for improving efficiency in data centers to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions, with a special focus on Microsoft’s Azure platform.
  • The complexities of solving carbon emissions and the necessity for collaboration at all governmental, corporate, and individual levels.
  • The challenges in supporting digital transformation within energy constraints and the shared responsibility of corporations and consumers.
  • The pivotal role of diversity, inclusion, and equity for success, specifically, the representation and involvement of women in decision-making processes for quality of life improvements and climate change mitigation.
  • Despite the complexities of sustainability and digital transformation, Marley underscores the need for holistic approaches, collaboration, and the invaluable contribution of women’s leadership.

Brittany Marley, with her extensive experience in developing scalable infrastructure solutions for hyperscalers and cloud providers, has been instrumental in creating strategic partnerships with global clients. She prioritizes operational excellence for complex compute and edge networks, ensuring rapid delivery to meet market demand. Her expertise offers invaluable insights into the need for diversity and innovative thinking in tackling sustainability issues.

Read the full transcript below:

Nancy Novak: Hi everybody. This is Nancy Novak, Chief Innovation Officer at Compass Datacenters. And we are excited to introduce you to the next episode of Extending the Ladder, Women and Sustainability. We have with us Brittany Marley. Brittany, we are so excited to have you and we would love just as a beginning introduction to understand a little bit about your path and what makes you so passionate on this subject.

Brittany Marley: Thanks so much, Nancy. It’s my pleasure being here. I’ve been very lucky to be in the data centre development space, which is at a forefront of understanding sustainability, predominantly from the use of energy and its impact on the carbon footprint. So as I got into this project, I had a great opportunity to meet with a lot of people who have a lot of opinions about the state of renewable energy and just the more I learned, the more actually impassioned I am about this. And happy to have this conversation and hopefully share some ideas with your STEM leaders.

Nancy Novak: Well, I’m really excited because I know you’ve done some extensive research and you’ve interviewed quite a few leaders in this space. And I think the first thing I wanted to ask you is, do you think women are in a unique position to address sustainability and why would that be?

Brittany Marley: It’s a great question. And I didn’t presume to have the answer actually off the top of my head, so I sought out the opinions and experience that some fellow women leaders had and this included the head of sustainability for Accenture and SAP and Microsoft. And we even met with Julie Davenport, who is an officer of the most excellent order at the British Empire because she was the first female founder for a renewable energy company. So I really put the question to them to help get a much broader view of what women’s role is in sustainability and how they could affect change. And I think the dominant point of view was really that they’re just not at the table. When you don’t have women involved in leadership roles and they don’t have a seat in the decisioning and influence, you’re literally missing half the story and that means you’re literally missing half the solution.

Nancy Novak: That’s absolutely true. I love thinking about that from a gender diversity standpoint, we are half the population. And I do think it’s fascinating too that you had mentioned earlier that change is driven by individuals. And that’s really what you were trying to dig into is these really powerful individuals and how they have a position to address sustainability more at those grassroots levels when it gets right down to who makes decisions in the household versus an individual and a corporation. Correct?

Brittany Marley: That’s true. And in fact, Tamara Walker from SAP has done a lot of work on this, not just in her professional role, but she’s very active in the local community and local governments. And I think that was a unanimous sentiment in that women have a grassroots mentality that they’re great at mobilising communities and they actually have a unique role in many lower socioeconomic communities in particular where they’re the household provider, they’re the nurturing, they’re caring for children and they’re making most of the purchase decisions. So that’s at a very individual level. And then you go to the community level and then you go to the corporation level and then you get to the government. And we just see a lot of disparity between the women and their presence in each of those levels and how all are important in order to affect change.

Nancy Novak: Yeah. I just find that so fascinating. And I know there’s a lot of empirical evidence that supports exactly what you’re saying, but having the perspectives from these women that you interviewed is just really, it feels like it’s hitting close to home. I know that you probably have seen with social media that I speak a lot about diversity and inclusion and being Chief of Innovation, I like to point out that diversity helps innovation, which then helps problem solving, which then can make more money, which can in turn affect change. And I wanted to ask you to give us more of your lenses on being the only in the room and the benefit of being the only in the room.

Brittany Marley: Well, I’ll give a funny example from Julie Davenport and she said, look, even in say the automotive industry, it’s not specific to data centre development or high-tech, but the ergonomics of the female anatomy is very different. And when they went to do industrial design for the cars, the test dummies were replicating a male physique. And so as a result, most of the whiplash and concussion cases coming out of cars, women were 40% more likely to incur those types of injuries because the seat belts didn’t sit on them properly.

And just by having women involved in the design process, they were able to make a change that was beneficial not just to the health and safety of the individual, but also the integrity and the safety of the manufacturer as it rolled out more cars. So I mean, it seems like a simple example, but really it’s not, there’s definitely a unique point of view. Whether it’s the ability to communicate, to advocate, to get people I invested in the betterment of all, the good of all and not just for the individual. I think it takes that long view that women, I think, are uniquely positioned to do in order to motivate everyone and at every level.

Nancy Novak: Yeah. And women do represent all forms of diversity, which I think is another important point to make when it comes to the gender diversity versus diversity overall. Because you’re right, those different perspectives I think are so critical. I love how you brought up the story of the contribution of the female in the decision making room is when they’re in the design stages. I have the story I always tell about GM, which is also the automotive business where Mary Barra achieved parity on her board and it was through the assistance of her teams telling her that, “We’ve got to have more diversity in order to really stay relevant.” And they wanted a steering committee and she said, “Well, then the board should be the steering committee if it’s really that important.” And sure enough, that came from the top down, so it made a really big difference.

And I just really love the fact that… Oh my gosh, I have to tell you that the whole Ford Explorer commercial where they said this is a Ford made for men or by men specifically and it was literally missing all the parts that were designed by women like windshield wipers and heaters and GPS and things that were invented by women. And therefore kind of silly, but really captured our attention over how important it is to get other perspectives when you’re not just designing but using. And I think sustainability fits right into that category because there’s such big problems to solve. And it just would be devastating, I think, for us to leave half of our talent on the sidelines by not having them at those decision making tables. So I have another question for you, Brittany, on the state of sustainability, let’s talk a little bit about where we’re at, how we’re measuring it and what kind of changes we’re looking for through these processes that will allow us to get better and better?

Brittany Marley: Yeah. Well, it is a global problem and it’s a global opportunity to solve. So I always want to focus on what can be done and not just doom and gloom because I think we’re in a position now and I think it was very well said, that people make societies and societies make economies. And those economies now have to be making decisions that are now going to support those very same societies and individual and people that are in them. Sustainability and global climate change, these are not for one person to solve. And I think when you look at even G20 and the World Economic Forum and Davos and the people who are trying to collaborate across governments, across corporations, thought leadership and innovation, they have membership that is upwards of 30% of women, but they have almost no presence in the board level in making decisions. And what a great opportunity to start there because of, again, teamwork, collaboration point of view.

I think from a corporation standpoint, I really got a lot of great insight from the women that I spoke to and the things that they’re advocating for. Both Accenture and SAP and Microsoft, they all are dealing with the largest corporations in the world and are also the largest corporations in the world. And one of the things that they have that is unique is the ability to look at the full supply chain. A lot of companies have mandates, they know they want to be carbon-neutral, they have aspirations to be net-zero. And let me be very clear, carbon-neutral is making sure your carbon dioxide emissions are either accounted for or offset by renewable energy credits. Either you’re not producing them or you’re doing energy credits to offset them, which is sort of a rob Peter to pay Paul, really want to focus on the elimination and reduction of emissions. But net-zero is really focused on all green gas house… No-

Nancy Novak: Greenhouse.

Brittany Marley: Thank you, I got tongue-tied on that one. All of the emissions and not just limited to CO2. And so the only way to effectively do that is through metrics. You have to know what you’re producing. Is it from manufacturing? Is it from operations? Is it further downstream in the supply chain? Is it upstream in your distribution and your ability to deliver to your customers? And if you’re not measuring it in this entire circular ecosystem, then you don’t even know how you’re making an impact. And if you don’t have a benchmark or context around what those metrics mean, it’s very hard to find out where you’re able to make change and where you’re able to show successes. So with all of the systems that are in place, CRM systems, ERP systems, systems that are already being provided, there are ways to capture that data and we just have to get smarter and better about looking at the whole picture and having the whole ecosystem involved and not just a point to point or a business unit solution.

Nancy Novak: So Brittany, I’m super happy that you mentioned the importance of understanding what measurements actually mean and including the holistic view of the supply chains upstream and downstream. Here at Compass, we’re trying to coin a phrase called Scope Four. And really all that means is that benchmarking that you’re talking about, about making good decisions through product selection, means and methods, design decisions, use of technology or whatever it is that actually shows that you’re making a good decision. And that decision is offsetting carbon that would go into the atmosphere had you not made that better decision. So really changing the narrative around that I think is so important. I really loved also what you said about learning from other industries. If we could just dig into that a little more, I think that would be fascinating.

Brittany Marley: Yeah. I mean, just parlaying off what you said on Compass, even at Stack, the production of the data centre itself, it is improving the efficiency of power. It is reducing the use of water. But that’s just industry specific. And one of the things that I thought was really unique that Microsoft is doing for their Azure platform is they have tools inside that allow enterprises to measure the impact that it has from going on on-prem infrastructure into cloud infrastructure. And really being able to see how it affects their use of energy to support their day-to-day operations. And it’s just one data point, but it’s one worth mentioning. Another one that came out of SAP is that 1% improvement in your carbon emission upfront can create a 45% improvement downstream.

Nancy Novak: That’s crazy.

Brittany Marley: And that’s incredible. And again, if you’re not measuring it, we really don’t know how to then improve it. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the individuals to get together, again, at the grassroots level, do what you can locally, do what you can as an individual. I’ll give myself as an example, in a small hiatus from technology, I decided I’m going to start a skincare line. And I worked with some of the largest companies to bring that skincare line to market. It won Most Sustainable Product because we looked at packaging, we looked at the ingredients, we looked at our carbon footprint when we brought that to market. So it’s something I’m very proud of.

And it has nothing to do with technology, although certainly the innovation, and I know you mentioned this earlier, is really you’re most successful when you have all parties at the table, when government is aligned, when corporations are aligned. When corporations are designing and developing innovations that truly make an impact. For instance, moving to graphene, using batteries for lithium-ions versus having a graphene based battery. What’s the whole ecosystem and how are governments looking at this, countries are looking at this, environmentals are looking at it? It’s not just a point solution, it has to be looked at a holistic point of view.

Nancy Novak:  Yeah. And I think that’s important too and that’s why the whole ES and G also need to be taken into consideration. So when you look at sourcing raw materials and where those come from on the planet and any unintended consequences around coming up with these innovative ideas, I think it takes all the lenses at the table in order to really understand that cognitively and also just from a scientific point of view. And I do know that there are things that we can do in the built environment industry that could garner us a lot of momentum if we learn from other industries who have partnered with some of these raw material suppliers and some of the largest suppliers on the planet. There’s still an issue, but we’ve improved a lot just by understanding how we use the materials, how we logistically ship the materials and through means and methods on how steel is smelted and how concrete is produced and things like this.

We can learn from other industries and we can really make a big difference. I always like to point out to the audience that the built environment is close to 50% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And out of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions concrete, the most abundant material on the planet, has a component called cement and the cement is 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions. So imagine the move that we could have if there was a replacement for that product or a reduction on that product on a global scale. I mean, just huge opportunity here. So let’s talk a little bit about learning from other industries as well as just when it comes to larger infrastructure changes, how do we mobilise this and how do we solve for these things that we’ve been discussing, Brittany?

Brittany Marley: Yeah. So there’s a lot to unpack there and it’s not an easy solve, which is why the more people at the table, the better, so you can generate those ideations and innovations. So I’ll start at the basics in the environment side. The carbon emission has to be solved. And that is a universal solve, it’s going to be at every level. Governments are in a position to create policies, policies are hard to enforce and you also still need to have the right metrics in which to measure success or failure against those policies. And those are areas that are still under development.

Corporations are in a unique position because they have mandates. They have mandates to their own values that they have with their employees, their clients, but they also have answers to the street. They need to make sure that they’re leaning forward and they’re being good citizens and that they’re addressing their investors’ goals and values as well. And that’s where a lot of these corporate mandates come from. And then you have at the individual level, how are we creating jobs for ourselves? And if our job in some countries is based on deforestation, so they can have lumber or they can get coal or they can get other natural resources to benefit their economic position, how do we then incentivize them or monetize a way for preservation?

I spoke with my friend Yobie Benjamin, who’s very active in this space, and he pointed out, look, there’s only so many ways you can create oxygen or deplete carbon from the environment. Where are your carbon sinks? How are you going to… If you are not monetizing or incentivizing people to preserve the largest oxygen producers, these beautiful forests in the Amazon and Congo and in Indonesia, then we are not solving it at the most basic level. And so I think there’s a lot to be done there. And corporations have never been more empowered than now in terms of directing policy and creating their own charters. So I think in that instance, it’s really that working hand in glove together to address these at a universal level.

Nancy Novak: So Brittany, I was just talking about how we were in the West Coast together at a conference and I think it’s really interesting to wrap our brains around the data centre industry and the opportunity they have to really pivot in the built environment. And I wanted to frame this up so that you could talk a little bit more about this entry point and the policymaking from a blank slate approach. While we were over there, I thought it was fascinating to hear about how we’ve been building enterprise level colo-data centres and now cloud data centres for the past 25 years here in the US and in the developed countries, basically. That’s really how I was trying to frame this question to where you could let us know that hindsight is 2020 and now we’ve got some foresight, what should we do really?

Brittany Marley: Yeah, so great question. What I’ve heard and discussed and shared ideas about is just this role of government policy, government public utilities. We are in a market that’s one of the most dynamic and fastest growing, anywhere in the world we cannot produce enough energy to support the demand for digital transformation. And is that the responsibility of the corporation, the end user, the local utility, the subsidies from the government? It is not an easy solve. The grid that is put in place today was not intended to support the amount of demand and it hasn’t been hardened to the degree that it needs to be to support all of the digital transformation that’s happening in the market. So going to renewable energy and going to other sources of energy, battery, solar, wind, hydro. All of these are great, however, our system today doesn’t allow the equitable distribution of all of those resources.

And I’ll give you a perfect example. Michelle Lancaster, again, from Microsoft, she was citing, “It’s great that we’ve moved to electrical vehicles and trying to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.” Great. If you’re driving an electric vehicle in Montana that’s being charged and powered by the local grid, that grid is on fossil fuels. So here we have the gap. Now, whose responsibility is it to solve? And the answer is, it’s everyone’s. It’s not just the government, it’s not just the corporation, it’s not just grassroots or environmentalists, it has to be everyone. Which means the challenge is these silos. Then how do you collaborate? How do you innovate when the cost of entry is going to be different for each party? The enforcement is going to be different, the operational changes will be different. There’s a bit of leading with the paycheck and it’s going to take money.

And that money might come from a government subsidy to help do some of the enhancements and reinforcements, but it might also fall on the consumer for paying higher prices on the products produced or to the corporations in order to literally change their existing systems, their existing operations and take a step forward. And that cost is typically in the early adoption phase. It’s amortised, it grows, it propels you forward. Going back to the sentiment that our societies build these economies, well, now these economies have to shift to now support the people and these societies. And the only way to do that is to invest in it. And in fact, Julie Davenport has one of the only 100% women led investment funds that was just listed on the London Stock Exchange and their entire charter is going after renewable energy and sustainable practises. And insofar as even helping consult companies on how to be a green startup, how to look at it from a holistic point of view. There are definitely mavericks out there, we just need more of those mavericks to be at the table.

Nancy Novak: I love that. I love the term maverick. So on that very note, so ESG and DE&I, how do they intersect? And then we can close out with really how can female leaders lead the charge towards this more inclusive and sustainable practise? And there’s an intersection there. Let’s talk about that.

Brittany Marley: Yeah. Well, it’s not just a sentiment to have diversity, inclusion and equity. And I think we’ve shared enough examples today on the importance of having women at the table, having the empowerment. If we can’t represent 5% of the CEOs when we’re 50% of the population, there is something missing. And it’s not just an advocacy, it’s also an awareness that the way we all process information is different individually, not men or women, just individually is different. But we need to round it out and have putting our best foot and holistic point of view forward, we need to have more women at the table and helping making those decisions. You won’t see the improvements in our quality of life, you won’t see the improvement in climate change and making it the most hospitable place for anyone to thrive, any company to thrive, if we don’t have that social engagement, the diversity engagement and the metrics to support it and show that we’re truly making an impact.

Nancy Novak: Hey, Brittany, that has been just a fantastic conversation. You are a wealth of knowledge. We are so excited to be learning from you. I hope our audience can take away some really good nuggets. And I would just love for you to just leave parting words about if there was one thing you want them to really grasp and maybe a call to action, what would that be?

Brittany Marley: Likewise, Nancy. Great conversation and I’d like to take credit, but I really can’t. I was very fortunate to be talking to a lot of thought leaders in this space and will continue to do so. And so that’s a perfect takeaway for anyone listening. Don’t stop learning, don’t stop asking questions, don’t stop advocating and using your voice. Make the move, challenge your companies, challenge your communities to do things differently. It does take a village and that village includes the women here on the call. So thanks so much, Nancy.

Nancy Novak: I love it. Very good. Thank you so much, Brittany.