“Kyle is an instrumental member of CyrusOne’s ongoing sustainability mission,’ said Eric Schwartz, Chief Executive Officer of CyrusOne. “He has demonstrated through his work and other accomplishments that he is a leader in the sustainability space of our company and is an integral part of a talented team spearheading our industry-leading water sustainability program and our goal of reaching carbon neutrality. Excellence in sustainability requires continuous improvement and we look to Kyle and the broader CyrusOne team to drive innovation in this space for our customers.”
Take us through a typical workday. What are a few of your ongoing responsibilities?
As Forrest Gump might suggest, each day is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you might get. Most of my time is focused on facilitating conversations around environmental sustainability topics. For example, we have a cross-functional team that has been meeting monthly for several years now that we call our Sustainability Working Group. Why did we call it a “working” group rather than a “steering” one? Because this is the team that not only reports progress on ESG-related activities and plans future actions, but actually executes those same initiatives. They are a critical factor in our success.
A different day might find a handful of us sequestered in a conference room full of whiteboards casting our gaze out five, ten, or even twenty years ahead in an attempt to anticipate where the puck is headed. The long-term vision is another critical success factor in this discipline.
What are some of the biggest challenges your company/organization will be tackling in 2023 and beyond?
Probably our biggest challenge will be meeting our Climate Neutral by 2030 pledge while upholding our commitment to reducing water use in vulnerable regions. In the data center industry, our environmental impacts aren’t that complicated. Our biggest impact is the electricity we use – and we really use a lot of it! Becoming climate neutral will require replacing all that electricity – which we used to get from the grid – with renewable alternatives.
We use electricity for two major purposes: to power customers’ servers in our data halls and to keep that equipment cool. Often data centers evaporate water for cooling in order to save electricity. This would help us toward our climate-neutral goal, but it would consume a huge amount of water. We don’t want to substitute one environmental impact for another, so we are dedicated to meeting this goal without adding to our water consumption. In fact, we want to decrease our water use in places where water is scarce. This constraint will add to the difficulty of our climate-neutral goal, but we think water is such an important issue that we’re willing to make that commitment.
How can a company develop its ESG Strategy to optimize organizational resilience?
Resilience comes from looking to the future as you develop your ESG program and letting that inform decisions today. Instead of evaluating a building’s flood risk based on current flood maps, look for predictions of future flood risk. On top of simply complying with today’s regulations, research what future regulations might be coming and how they might affect your business.
We take a holistic view of sustainability and look for ways that we can reduce negative environmental or social impacts and improve resilience at the same time. Climate change is an important example – you need to understand how your company is vulnerable and figure out how to address that. For example, many data centers consume large amounts of water for evaporative cooling, but as the climate changes water will be harder to come by in many places. So we need to reduce water use or eliminate evaporative cooling altogether before water scarcity becomes a problem that affects our resilience.
You also have to keep track of policy changes that might be coming. If you use a lot of electricity, as we do, there’s an incentive to switch to renewable sources for environmental reasons. But lowering your carbon emissions can also protect you from the risk of future carbon taxes or increases in existing taxes, so renewable electricity also increases resilience.
For inspiration, look at what your competitors, customers, suppliers, and well-respected companies in any industry report about their ESG programs and see which of their ideas can work for your business. And work with your operations team to understand where you can improve environmental performance and operational resilience at the same time.
What was a successful project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share? Do you have any tips that would help colleagues at other companies who are contemplating similar projects?
We recently upgraded the landscaping at our Allen, Texas data center to support biodiversity. This was such a fun project because it’s completely outside our normal expertise as a tech company. But what we learned is that you don’t need to be an expert in something to make progress. We studied resources like the Pollinator Partnership and NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program in order to understand what we needed to do to improve the habitat – like being sure to include food, shelter, and water sources for the species we wanted to support. Once we had an idea of what we wanted to do, we talked to our landscapers and they were able to put together a list of native plants that met our requirements.
After that, when most of the plantings at our nearby Carrollton data center were killed off in a winter storm, we were able to use what we learned designing our Allen habitat to replace Carrollton’s landscaping with something better – since it had to be replaced anyway, it might as well further our biodiversity goals. For facilities that aren’t in North Texas, we’ll have to work with landscapers and nonprofits to develop new plant lists, but we can use the overall ideas from our pilot project to guide future upgrades and create a repeatable process.
What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What challenges will the industry face and what technologies or organizational changes will overcome them?
We see four emerging areas of focus within sustainability in the data center sector: climate, water, biodiversity, and circular economy. Climate impact is the area that gets the most headlines, but we feel water is the bigger long-term risk for our business, and are planning accordingly.
Biodiversity is an interesting challenge because all tangible assets have some sort of physical footprint, so how do you function as a business and either minimize that impact or even improve biodiversity within that footprint? We’ve done a few fun projects related to this with much more to come.
Circular economy principles will continue to be an area of focus as well. For us, this includes green buildings, alternate building materials, and recycling, among other things. Low- or zero-carbon alternatives to steel and concrete are going to be critical for infrastructure firms going forward.
Tell us about a favorite hobby, passion or book you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you and your work.
I’ll give two examples here. I read Bill Gates’ book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster which provided a really nice overview of emerging technologies to help combat climate change. It’s easy to have a myopic focus when you are exposed to industry-specific issues all day, every day, and it is helpful to be able to step away from that to consider things more holistically.
Health and Safety are also aspects of my responsibilities at CyrusOne. I’ve always taken pride in practicing what I preach on this front, and an important part of this is health and wellness. I continue to enjoy various exercise regimes that have included everything from martial arts to CrossFit, really anything that provides high intensity activity. I’ve also been chipping away at developing healthier eating habits which includes basic things such as eating fewer processed foods, less sugar, and more high-quality proteins. I’ve found this really helps bring out the best version of myself.
Connect with Kyle and the rest of his Team at CyrusOne
The Environment+Energy Leader Honoree program is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break the trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. Meet the Honorees… is an ongoing series that will feature one E+E Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.