Climate 21

A Chat With Capgemini's Global Head Of Sustainability Dr James Robey

October 20, 2021 Tom Raftery / James Robey Season 1 Episode 45
Climate 21
A Chat With Capgemini's Global Head Of Sustainability Dr James Robey
Show Notes Transcript

With a workforce of almost 300,000, Capgemini is one of the world's largest global IT Services and consulting companies.

Curious to know what their sustainability story is, I reached out to Capgemini's Global Head of Sustainability Dr. James Robey and invited him to come on the podcast.

We had a great conversation about how Capgemini are becoming more sustainable, how they are helping their clients with their sustainability journey, and where we need to go from here. I learned loads as always, and I hope you do too.

If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to leave me a voice message over on my SpeakPipe page, head on over to the Climate 21 Podcast Forum, or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Sustainability solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/sustainability, and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!

Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Dr James Robey:

And I suppose it was that thinking that drove us a few years ago now to start thinking about how can we actually embed sustainability into the work we're doing with our clients. And as a result of that, we actually set a target around helping our clients save tons of carbon, recognizing that from a materiality perspective, that's the biggest opportunity if you like in absolute sums of carbon.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the climate 21 podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices and climate emissions reductions. And I'm your host, global Vice President for SAP. Tom Raftery. Climate 21 is the name of an initiative by SAP to allow our customers calculate, report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In this climate 21 podcast, I will showcase best practices and thought leadership by SAP, by our customers, by our partners and by our competitors if their game in climate emissions reductions. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, with SAP and with me on the podcast today I have my special guest, James. James, would you like to introduce yourself?

Dr James Robey:

Thanks, Tom. So Hi, everyone. My name is James Robey, I lead the environmental sustainability agenda for Capgemini. For those who may not have come across us before, we were about 300,000 people across 50 countries providing a range of management consulting IT services and engineering services for our clients.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and what has that got to do with sustainability? I mean, we're on the climate 21 podcast where we talk about climate, typically we try to highlight successful climate emissions reduction stories and strategies. How are Capgemini helping there?

Dr James Robey:

So I suppose there's two dimensions to that, Tom, I mean, there's a, there's a sort of responsible business dimension to that, you know, as a large organization, we all have responsibilities to do the right things in terms of addressing challenges such as climate change, social issues, and so on, and so on. And also recognizing that the nature of our business and working with our clients day in day out on their transformation problems, there's a huge opportunity to work with clients with their sustainability challenges.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. So I mean, we have a very similar attitude in SAP because you know, our carbon footprint is in the scheme of things negligible. We're a company of 100,000 people, and our carbon footprint is a round, I won't give last year's figure because it's well over 250,000 tonnes last year. But that's not, that's not normal. Nigeria wasn't normal. 2020 was far from normal. previous years, it was around the 300,000. Mark, I'm dropping 10 to 15% year on year. So you know, in the scheme of things pretty small compared to, as you alluded to, compared to some of our customers. So yes, it's important that we are an exemplar. But we are also hoping to be are we we think we are an enabler for our customers to reduce their emissions. And I think that's what you meant when you said that as well as Is that correct?

Dr James Robey:

Absolutely. I mean, it's a similar story. I mean, depending on what we include, and what we exclude. Before COVID, we were around about half a million tonnes a year, clearly last year was was 70 75% down on that figure. But But even that, even half a million tonnes a year now that's probably looking at some of our manufacturing, or some of our clients, you know, you're talking about clients with carbon footprints, 100 150, maybe even 200 times that. And I suppose it was that thinking that drove us a few years ago now to start thinking about, how can we actually embed sustainability into the work we're doing with our clients, and as a result of that, we actually set a target around helping our clients save tons of carbon, recognizing that, you know, from a materiality perspective, that's the biggest opportunity, if you like, in absolute sums of carbon, but to build on what you've said, Tom, you know, recognizing that, you know, we still have a responsibility as a business, you know, half a million times is still a not, you know, is a significant amount. And we have a, an obligation and a responsibility to drive that down. And we'd like yourself, we've been driving that down, year on year through a combination of efficiency and data centers, efficiency in offices, and a very big focus on the business travel and collaboration. Okay.

Tom Raftery:

And can you talk to some of the strategies you're working on with clients to help them reduce their emissions?

Dr James Robey:

Sure. So again, from from our perspective, I mean, as I said, we alluded before, I sometimes sort of talk about climate changes, just another change problem, but just with very Much in inverted commas, there is probably the biggest change problem that we have ever seen in terms of the modern era of humanity. And therefore, you know, my my strong conviction. And as strong conviction is, you know, over the next 10/15/20 years, virtually every business on the planet is going to have to radically redesign itself. If you look at the scale of the challenge of the Paris Agreement, that sort of having carbon footprints globally across the next 10 years, and then taking that down to a net zero business, and net zero position globally, by mid century, that is enormous and enormous level of change. In fact, just before the last cop, cop 25, in Madrid, we published a report called the Sustainable Business revolution. And I think you know, that word revolution is quite, it's quite pivotal to just recognizing that, you know, incremental change is not going to get, it's not going to get us where we where we need to be. So with that in mind, what we've what we've done is we've looked at, we built a sustainability framework, which is all about starting to identify touch points for working with clients, our first, our first specific offer around sustainable sustainability around sustainable it was launched just before the before the summer break up. Recently, a couple of weeks ago, we launched our net zero strategy offer. And there's a series of offers coming out over the next couple of months. And this is recognizing, you know, is that is that point, we says, How do you apply that transformation, that transformation insight, and that transformation delivery to our clients, organizations? And a sense, you can think about it in different levels. And one of the ways we often talk to our clients is that it is different levels of the business. So at the heart, you might say, How can we look at the the it function of a client, you know, what can you do in terms of rationalizing that it reducing that footprint, could be virtualization could be migration of services to the cloud, there's a whole range of things that you can do in that space. Important, but for most organizations, actually, that's probably the starting point, that's probably the smallest impact the far larger impact cause when you say, How can I apply it to your wider operations? How can we use it to actually drive up the efficiency of your logistics drive down the amount of energy you're using in your in your operations. So that's sort of the next layer, that sustainable operations layer. And then the final layer is a is a is the next layer out, which is always the customer of the customer. So how can you apply technology services for a client to help them help their clients make the sustainable decisions, and then you can start to see the application, especially in some of our business to consumer clients, where they may have potentially millions or 10s of millions of customers, if they can all make a difference, which is driving down carbon. So then you have an ever increasing ability to drive a wider impact.

Tom Raftery:

One of the things that I've mentioned on this podcast a couple of times, is the fact that the EU passed the law in June of this year, mandating all 27 countries to reduce their emissions 55% by 2030, unders talks of putting a carbon border tax in place as well. I mean, to give context to that kind of number, because in abstract, it's very hard to know what 55% means. It's against our 1990 baseline. And so far, we've reduced it about 24%, which means in the next eight years, because it's now just a little over eight years to 2030. We've got to reduce it another 31%. That's enormous. I mean, I don't know how we would do it. Well, I can put out some some ideas, probably. But, you know, I don't think people are aware of the scale of the challenge that that presents.

Dr James Robey:

And I think you're absolutely right, I think, you know, I think that the level of of literacy in terms of in terms of carbon in terms of sustainability is quite low. And I was talking to one European environment, an ex European Environment Minister a couple of years ago, and they were talking about how they've been trying to engage their population on sustainability. And in the end, they decided that it would be far more effective to talk about pollution, and the impact that pollution has on people's health, because you can you can look out the window and on a summer's day and see that the smog, whereas actually it's far harder to start a conversation around around carbon. In fact, one of the things we're doing at Capgemini at the moment is we have a global engagement campaign running in the in the run up to the cop 26 conference coming up and called climate circles. And the idea is we're getting leaders together with groups of about 10 people to spend an hour to take an hour out of their day and have a conversation about climate change. And we've effectively got a couple of topics. One is about how do you how are we going to make this roadmap to net zero? What does net zero really mean? And how, how can we make that transformation? And the second circle is about innovation and technology? And how can we apply that to solving sustainability challenges. And I think the real driver there is just getting more and more people talking about climate change, trying to engage trying to understand, because I think that's the first thing, that's that's the starting point. And the more people who understand the size of the challenge, then potentially, the more acceptance we're going to have about the transformation journey that we all need to go on,

Tom Raftery:

what are some of the best practices that you've seen put forward by some of your clients.

Dr James Robey:

So I think there's a range of best practices that we see, interestingly, if I talk about something, which is sort of To start with, to some something, which is very, I guess, close to the heart of our industry, the professional services industry, the biggest impact of Capgemini is and I believe SAP footprint prior to COVID was was business travel. And, you know, it's, it's really interesting in terms of, you know, having been engaging with our clients on travel for a number of years. Now, this all sits in a context where, you know, very few of us have been able to travel for the last 18 months. And so therefore, we haven't seen that the travel that we have previously. But it was it was really interesting, having built a number of calculators and dashboards, where we can actually show our clients the carbon associated with delivering their projects, right? Most of our most of our top tier clients have their own carbon reduction, their own netzero journeys that they're on, and therefore actually being able to have that conversation and say, do you know what the typical way we would deliver this project with a typical, you know, consultant travel, which would be involved would be x 100 times? And, you know, here's an alternative, here's a different delivery model. And that, you know, even before COVID, there were quite a number of our clients who were saying, actually, we get that let's look at how we can redesign the delivery model, you know, do we need everybody on site every day? No, we don't, recognizing that there are still certain meeting certain situations where that face to face interaction is still needed, it's still very valid. And I think for for me, and a lot of the delivery teams, the transition that we have coming out of COVID is going to be quite fundamental. You know, we've we've effectively been delivering with 90 plus percent less travel over the last 18 months, a lot has been achieved. But we do recognize that that travel will start to go up and probably is starting to go up already. But it's getting the right balance so that we don't see it shoot back to the levels prior to prior to COVID.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, yeah. And somebody that's always intrigued me, and I don't know if there's any studies on this, and probably should be given what's happened is last year and a half, but it's the whole working from home thing. And how, how does that affect an organization's carbon footprint, because Sure, employees are not commuting to the office every day. So you've reduced carbon footprint, but you got to think if everyone is working from their own individual buildings, their own homes, the carbon footprint associated with that has to be higher than if they were all in a single office block.

Dr James Robey:

He was spot on. And we've been doing some research around that over the over the past four or five months. And one of the things we did last year, when we when we set our new ambitions as a business was to increase the scope of what we were including within our carbon footprint. So we've brought commuting within the scope of our carbon targets, and we're looking at making working at home effectively a component of community. So and of course, it's it's, it's harder in lots of different ways. This is travel is is is trackable, I mean, it's not without its complexities. And you know, for us, we were probably pulling together 10 million data items a year when you consider every flight, every train journey, every car journey every hotel night, and so on. But typically, people pay for that, and they want to claim it back. So you have a source of data, whether it's your travel agent, or whether it's your expensive system, you have a source of that data. In virtually all countries, people don't get paid to commute. If earlier this year, we ran a commuting survey, over 40,000 people globally completed our commuting survey survey, giving us a snapshot of how they were commuting at the moment, but commuting before COVID so that's the first challenge is around data. The second challenge is is a lot it's a very practical challenge as well in terms of how do you work out the impact of somebody's home. So if you you know if I take a couple of extremes if you if you're if you live in a massive old House on your own, and you have an efficient heating, then clearly, you will be more assuming you live relatively close to the office, it's probably going to be more effective for you to be in the office using a sort of central heating system for 1000 people equally, if you're in a, if you're in modern house, you know, a long way from the office using minimal heating, then you're probably better off working at home. And then even when you've got somebody working at home, you know, whether they've got the the heating, and we think about that for a European perspective, but in some parts of the world is, is air conditioning, rather than heating driving the power draw, then it comes down to what how's that house being used? I mean, if you're living with, you know, if you've got an extended family, and you're living with elderly relatives, that heating or air conditioning may be running anyway. So we're currently working through some there's one or two methodologies emerging out there. And we were adapting those to try and get to the position where we can come up with sort of a an authentic, credible view of of working at home. I'm hoping in the next couple of months, we might actually have some numbers we can, we can publish, but it is looking at the moment that individuals working at home has a model a modest reduction effect in carbon, okay, when taken in the round, if that makes sense.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, no, sure. I mean, it has to be massively complicated. I mean, to your point, I'm officially working out of the sap Madrid office, but I live in Seville, which is 530 kilometers from the office and my my home, I have a five kilowatt solar array on the roof. It's far more carbon light, I guess is probably the expression for me to not commute that 530 kilometers and work from home, using the solar power on the roof. But yeah, no, it's it's it's it's very complex, because you've got that whole spectrum that you talked about there. Yeah, no, I totally get it. How? Looking? Looking ahead. I mean, we've caught 26 coming up in a couple of weeks now. How are Capgemini? approaching cop? 26? Are you taking a position? Are you attending? What what do you what are you guys doing around that?

Dr James Robey:

So yeah, as you say, cop 26 is now very close on the horizon. In terms of our involvement, we are once again sponsoring the world Climate Summit, which is one of the key business conferences that are running in Glasgow alongside the government negotiations. And we feel it's it's it's important to be doing so it's important to be pushing that debate forward in terms of the role of business, I think it's encouraging that as we look back over the last few cops, businesses being more and more represented, I think that's critical, because when you just look at the raw data, I mean, I think if I remember rightly, you know, the largest 100 organizations on the planet largest 100 companies are accounting for about 70% of global emissions. And so I think the other thing which, which we just need to recognize with the copies, you know, just where we are in the journey, I mean, if you look at the Paris Agreement, you look at that, you know that that pathway to midcentury. Essentially, the requirement is a 7.6% reduction in carbon year on year from 2023 to 2030. And if we just take stock of where we are in that journey, well, last year with with all of the COVID lock downs with all the disruption that COVID caused globally, we saw carbon emissions dip probably around about 7%. So, you know, little ticking the box, we almost achieved our first year carbon reduction because of COVID. Now, clearly, COVID was a devastating way to do that. And nobody would have said that was a good way to drive down your down global carbon emissions. But it does give a sense of the scale of the challenge. Now, we haven't got the you know, we won't have the exact figures for a while yet. But it does look like that in 2021, we're going to see about a 5% upturn in carbon, as we've started to see that the economy gradually sort of unlocking. So if you if you then sort of add the mass up, and you say, well, where should we be at the end of this year? We should have been somewhere around 15% down? And where will we end up? We'll we'll probably end up about 2% down. So effectively, we're two years into the 10 year journey. And we're now at 13 13%, behind the Paris trajectory. So I think it's you know, just recognizing the scale of that challenge there puts the focus on on the whole corporate Glasgow and the real need for, you know, really solid outcomes, really solid agreements, if we are going to, you know, if we are going to make a have a serious chance of getting those types of carts. And I think from my perspective, you know, I would think that, you know, business is fantastic at solving problems creatively. The absolutely critical bit is the frame. The rules of the game have to be set for businesses and it feels to me the Wonder To come out of coffees is very much that framework from government setting the boundaries for which businesses to operate within, and then let businesses deliver those deliver that deliver that transformation and that transition.

Tom Raftery:

Are you optimistic for it?

Dr James Robey:

I think you have to remain hopefully optimistic that we'll get to the outcome we need. You know, clearly the, the scale of the challenges is, is enormous. But the last 18 months have been quite remarkable. I mean, I think, you know, come March last year, when we were just entering into all the lockdowns and everybody have been sent to work at home. And I'm sure I wasn't alone in the sustainability community going, what's going to happen next is that going to knock sustainability off the agenda. And what's been really encouraging over the last 12 months or so is absolutely COVID has almost been a wake up call for the need for organizations to be sustainable. And just looking at, you know, the number of organizations that have raised their ambitions over the last 12 months, the number of new commitments, you know, the number of companies that have signed up to one and a half degree carbon reduction pathways, you've got to be optimistic that, you know, businesses is genuinely getting behind some of these core challenges. So where to post cop, where to post cop? Well, from a from a business perspective, you know, we have our netzero ambitions as organization, we have a clear roadmap for the next five to 10 years in terms of driving down emissions through energy and through travel. And at the same time, we have a clear roadmap in terms of fully integrating sustainability into the work that we're doing with our clients. So I think from from, from my perspective, you know, it's, it's, it's full speed ahead in terms of continuing the journey that we've been on as a business for Well, I've been, I've been helping drive the agenda now for about 15 years. So it's, it's really pushed continuing to push that agenda forward, continuing with to deliver on the programs that we already have in place. But I also think from from a sustainability practitioner perspective, the other challenge we always have is keeping an eye on the road 18 months ahead, and continuing to try to anticipate where you know, where the requirements will be going, where the expectations of stakeholders will be going, where potentially some of the planetary limits will be, will be pushing us in 12 to 18 months time. So So for me, that's the that's very much the agenda alongside, you know, capitalizing on all of the focus around cop 26 capitalizing on the fact that, you know, climate and carbon is becoming a much more spoken about agenda item. So that's for me, if you like that's the next few months of the challenge. So

Tom Raftery:

James, what, what led you into sustainability? Why is sustainability important to you? What was your journey?

Dr James Robey:

Yeah, so I probably had a realization, probably somewhere around 2005 2006, I started reading around some of the mega trends that are going on from a global perspective. So whether that's things like global demographics, or resource global resources, or water or, or any other type of, and then sort of the other the literature around climate change, I very quickly came to the conclusion that actually, sustainability is ultimately going to completely change the business landscape. And that's what, that's what really prompted me to, first of all, engage with the executive of Capgemini, and start having conversations and start building, building an executive coalition behind the need to respond to sustainability and climate change. Incidentally, it also led me to really question the ways the stand that he was being taught in business schools, which also took me down a parallel track where I actually ended up getting a doctorate with Henley business school and looking at the, if you like the business case for sustainability, and that enabled me to continue engaging with MBA students over the last decade, really challenging them on their journey, because Because ultimately, sustainability will impact them and their journeys over the next 20 years quite profoundly.

Tom Raftery:

Very good. James, we're coming towards the end of the podcast. Now, is there any question that I have not asked you that you wish I had, or any topic we've not addressed? That you think it's important for people to think about?

Dr James Robey:

No, I think I mean, I think we've we've covered most things. I mean, I think the probably the most the probably the critical thing, which is front of mind at the moment is, is just recognizing the scale of the challenge. And I think also recognizing that, you know, from a technology perspective, the technology industry is in a bit of a unique position. We have a sort of hidden secret in terms of just how much energy we use. I mean, I think the, if we were if it's a tech sector was a was a country, we'd be the third largest user in terms of electricity. So I think there's a recognition that just how much energy is going into tech, but also recognizing just the opportunity Is that come from technology in terms of making the rest of the system that much more efficient, if there's, if there's one thing that perhaps gives me quite a lot of hope is, is just how inefficient the system is at the moment. And recognizing, you know, when you when you actually unpack what you're trying to do, you often find that the the wastage level is is not five or 10%. But the wastage level is 60 or 70%. And therefore, that opportunity for, you know, tenfold step change efficiency is is possible and it is real. So I think, you know, probably, you know, what's been interesting, you know, what's what's really interesting is when you look at the role of technology, and clearly technology in itself isn't going to be the silver bullet out of climate change, we absolutely need to address the the overall holistic challenges, but I think it's a it's a really critical time for the for the tech sector, to really step up, acknowledge its responsibility and deliver the solutions that we that we need.

Tom Raftery:

Very good. Very good. James has been really interesting. If people wish to know more about yourself, or about Capgemini, or any of the topics we discussed in the podcast today. Where would you have me direct them?

Dr James Robey:

S o two things for Capgemini just google Capgemini sustainability, take a look at our sustainability reports or the work we're doing with clients. And in terms of myself probably easiest just to track me down on LinkedIn. James Robey

Tom Raftery:

I will have a link to your, your LinkedIn profile in the show notes so people can find you easily there. Great. James has been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Dr James Robey:

Thanks Tom.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about climate 21, feel free to drop me an email to Tom raftery@sap.com or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you'd like to show please don't forget to subscribe to it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.