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Life-Cycle Approach at EMC Changes People’s World View

July 17th, 2013

If your job required you to “Change people’s world view” (and maybe it does), then how would you approach it? EMC Corporation’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winkler told me, “You learn quickly that telling them what to do is not the route to go; instead, let people see the world through your own eyes.” And what is her vision? –That by addressing each stage in the life cycle of IT, EMC can positively change the industry, economy, and society. Here’s step one.

Winkler takes the time to write the blog, Interconnected World: Transforming corporate mindsets, and my discoveries along the way, to have authentic dialog. “Today’s communications tend toward black and white, but sustainability is context-dependent. What I try to do with the blog is to walk the nuances, to do the job of influencing — which I have to do every day.”

Bit by bit, she’s influencing people at EMC to embed the view of sustainability into the company’s very identity: shifting executives’ and other employees’ thinking from, “Sustainability is something good to do,” to “Sustainability is something we do.”

Life-Cycle Approach Enables Four Concentric Circles of Sustainability

It’s through “changing views” that Winkler addresses four concentric circles of profitable sustainability. The circles are drawn around all life cycles of IT, and expand from the inner-most circle (most control, least global impact) to the outer-most (least control, greatest global impact):

1. Operations within EMC’s 4 walls: “These are decisions we can make and just do,” says Winkler. Many of these projects save money in obvious ways, such as the fresh-air cooling system in Cork, Ireland, which in 2012 avoided 2,000 MT CO2e emissions and >US$400,000 in energy costs. Other in-house projects are less obvious but also strongly profitable — such as the ESS Hybrid Project, which in 2012 saved (globally) US$4.3 million, 26.19M pounds of CO2e, and 182K cubic meters of water from reducing use of LN2 in EMC’s environmental test chambers.

2. Supply chain through end of life: “Through the Value Chain we save money for us and our suppliers, and through more resilient supply chains we reduce our risk,” says Winkler. Managing electronic-products’ end of life responsibly exemplifies consideration of environmental, economic, and social benefits. “We need to think of all three dimensions of each project, and — because we have influence and leverage but not complete control — collaborate with suppliers, partners, and peers.” One example of capturing economic value is protecting EMC’s revenue as more customers concerned with E-waste demand proof of responsible take back.

3. Global IT infrastructure: Because society cannot afford to increase energy, costs, and data-center real estate commensurate with customers’ surging data growth, this circle’s scope extends well beyond the efficiency of EMC’s own branded products. Winkler sees EMC in a leadership role, fostering global-scale efficiencies through server virtualization, data de-duplication (avoiding backing up identical blocks of data), and disk-drive density optimization (according to access frequency, and improving performance). Not incidentally, by leading well, EMC earns more revenue.

4. Broader societal economic impact: Through using EMC products, private and public entities are advancing society through genome mapping, efficient routing of delivery vehicles, providing resilient information services, and more. This is the visionary circle, in which EMC has least control but the effects have the most impact.

Influencing Where Products are Manufactured

TFI has studied EMC’s supply-chain strategies for many years. We know that whereas electronics assembly (as directed by EMC or its suppliers/partners) is largely conducted in low-labor-rate regions such as China, increasingly EMC configures products in customer-proximal facilities: in Ireland, Central Europe, Brazil, and the USA. I noted that supply-chain responsibility is on the list of materiality in the 2012 sustainability report, and asked Winkler if she sees a continuation and perhaps expansion of regional manufacturing, with Lean and Green benefits of less transportation, greater control over environmental and worker health, employing people in customer regions, and faster customer responsiveness, etc. She explains that “issues of locality are constantly being reviewed for both manufacturing and reverse logistics,” optimized through community relationships, environmental efficiency, and even package design for lower-impact logistics modalities, including train travel.

Design for Environment as a Tool for EMC’s Life-Cycle Approach

Given TFI’s work with EcoFly life cycle assessment and our DfE Online® training, I asked to what degree EMC deploys both beyond-regulations DfE principles as well as LCAs to objectively compare the environmental impact of EMCs’ product generations. Winkler started EMC’s DfE program in 2007, which today is driven by a full-time Environmental-Design Architect. I like the Architect’s approach, which includes tours of electronics recycling facilities for EMC product designers needing to learn “design for disassembly,” dematerialization during mechanical design, a 3-node model for product life cycle, DfE gates for all hardware, LCAs on EMC’s highest volume subsystem, and a cradle-to-gate LCA on one full system that included the high-volume subsystem.

DfE training at EMC is changing the engineers’ world views. Before the training, the Environmental Design Architect heard a group of engineers comparing the size of their pickups; afterward he heard them comparing what they’re doing to reduce their trucks’ emissions.

Changing World Views through Opportunities to Learn

Like me, Winkler enjoys guest lecturing at universities. She was inspired when MIT MBA students said at a sustainability summit, “This is a place not where we are taught, but where we learn.” At EMC, Winkler provides people with well-bounded opportunities and issues that allow them to learn for themselves.

If your tech company is looking for wars to design products that are both resource-efficient and competitive, visit the Technology Forecasters, Inc. page. 


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