Product, planet and people: CTO office drives sustainability stragegy at VMware | #WomenInTech

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In a groundbreaking move at VMware Inc., a subsidiary of Dell Technologies, the function of sustainability strategy is now part of the office of the Chief Technology Officer. What makes this move unique is that by using the technology department to drive sustainability throughout the organization, the three pillars of product, planet and people are the guiding forces behind everything the company creates.

“As [the company] thought about sustainability, they put this role in the office of the CTO because it’s about what is the legacy we create, not just in the industry, but for the world,” said Nicola Acutt (pictured), vice president of sustainability strategy, office of the chief technology officer, at VMware.

Rebecca Knight (@knightrm), co-host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE’s mobile live-streaming studio, interviewed Acutt during the Women Transforming Technology conference in Palo Alto, CA. They discussed sustainability and the benefits of “design thinking.” (*Disclosure below.)

This week theCUBE highlights Nicola Acutt in its Women in Tech feature.

While sustainability is not a new concept to VMware, the company is now taking a different approach. By reframing its strategy, the company begins by looking at the business and its role in the world. VMware’s mission statement on sustainability is “to leave ahead a better future — to put back more into the environment, society and the global economy than we take — and to inspire our employees, customers and partners to do the same. To us, the seemingly impossible is possible. And we work to prove it every day.”

Acutt spoke about the company’s new approach as being a collective impact. From the design of VMware’s Palo Alto campus – with its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications – to its work in philanthropy and fostering the community, the company is combining its efforts under one department.

A net positive impact

“Pulling and collecting elements of the work we are doing to this legacy is what I call net positive impact,” Acutt said.

In a green information technology study from the International Data Corp., VMware server virtualization products have collectively avoided 340 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent since 2003. The company claims that this is proportionate to avoiding emissions from powering 43 percent of U.S. households for one year.

The VMware Global Impact Report, “A Force for Good,” supported by third party research from PwC, outlines the company’s goals for 2020. The report covers reducing the environmental impact of the products VMware offers, the environmental policies within VMware to reduce its carbon footprint, the commitment to its customers and community, and the investment in a culture of inclusion and diversity.

“This piece of work really helped shift this perspective and our collective realization that yes, we can do all these great things from a social responsibility, environmental responsibility, in terms of how we run our business and how we treat our people and communities. But probably the most important and powerful impact that we can have is how we use our technology and the impact that we have on the lives we change as a result through our technology,” Acutt said about the report.

Acutt also spoke with Knight about “Design Thinking,” which she calls an iterative process that helps to frame a problem that needs a solution. The four key principles start with empathy, which is the radical questioning and challenging assumptions to see things from the perspective of others. Next, requires delving into the problem you are trying to solve. Then it is on to implementing/rapid prototyping and, lastly, testing solutions before you come to the outcome.

The biggest takeaway for Acutt is the idea of empathy, which she believes is a powerful mind shift that she applies across all areas of her role. For her, sustainability goes further than the real estate structure and turning off the lights.

“Empathy is trying to step into other peoples’ shoes and working with stakeholders across the business,” she explained.

It is also part of the way she leads a team, and empathy helps her see strengths and unique qualities in the group. Acutt’s advice for women in technology is to maintain an element of confidence, but when talking about a product or an idea, think about who the audience is and use empathy to design the message or presentation.

“Today is an opportunity. [At the event] there is this community that is growing, a community of women who are having an impact in technology. …This community of women [is] carrying the torch because our work is not done,” Acutt stated.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the Women Transforming Technology 2017 event(*Disclosure: TheCUBE is a media partner at the conference. Neither VMware Inc. nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE