Sustainability, our journey so far

Sustainability, our journey so far

By Mischa van Kesteren, sustainability officer at OCF

Where to Start?

Just over a year ago I took on the role of sustainability officer and was given the task of ‘making OCF more sustainable’. Where to start? OCF has a long track record in helping our customers be more energy efficient when it comes to their HPC infrastructure but what could we do from within to make our workplace more sustainable?

Many SMEs are tasked with the same nebulous task but what’s clear to us all is that we must put a strategy in place for a more sustainable future. There are many ways we can encourage a low carbon transition and as we enter a new year then it’s a good time to re-evaluate our choices and start ingraining sustainability into our everyday actions to cut emissions and make a real difference to the planet.

The first steps

In the initial stages, it’s quite simple to pick some low hanging fruit for quick wins. We started with a statement from our managing director outlining how OCF takes its environmental impact seriously and is devoting time and resources to improving it. This began with, for example, implementing recycling at our office, encouraging employees to use public transport, and even including public transport directions on our website. I also wanted to move us to a renewable energy supplier but discovered we were locked into our current supplier on a 5-year contract – an early lesson in making sure that everyone is on board with the sustainable agenda.

The pandemic has also shown us that travel isn’t always necessary, and that video conferencing is just as effective. So, although we are all keen to arrange in person meetings to claw back the ‘norm’, we must evaluate if it is really needed and then make the decision to use public transport when we can. It’s worth considering developing a travel policy too, to show commitment and help staff to understand how they should travel.

Linking to business objectives

After that, we needed to embed sustainability into our core objectives. The SME Climate Commitment, a government initiative that aims to mainstream climate action in the SME business community and build resilient businesses for the future, is a perfect example of this. The commitment is to halve emissions by 2030 and to become net zero by 2050 or sooner. This required us signing up, setting a baseline, and creating a plan to reduce emissions against that baseline.

We also implemented a ‘sustainability check’ on all decisions at board level, to ensure that as well as traditional constraints such as time, cost and expertise, the sustainability of a decision was also considered.

Going that one step further

As well as looking at ourselves, we also want to make a larger impact where we can. We understand that we are a cog in the larger HPC industry, with far more emissions coming from the manufacturing of HPC equipment and the running of HPC installations. But that doesn’t mean we can’t impact the supply chain and end users.

Tier 1 suppliers have their sustainability policies assessed, particularly in line with The Paris Agreement that OCF has also committed to. So, we are still pushing the boundaries where we can to ensure our service meets or even rivals the bigger players. We now ask suppliers and partners what sustainability measures they have in place to check they are in line with our goals.

To support our customers in operating more sustainably we incorporate new technologies in our solutions to enable our customers to run them as efficiently as possible, i.e., on chip water cooling and enable Energy Aware Scheduling, and we also present at events and feature in media articles to show the industry how to run HPC in a more sustainable manner.

The future

We’ve succeeded at making sustainability a real consideration for the business through creating a baseline, tracking metrics, and setting targets to achieve. By understanding the size of our footprint, we can reduce it. Setting targets lets us take responsibility for our impact, and then reporting against it, keeps us focused and on track to deliver on our commitment.

The next step is to hit those targets. I’m delighted to share that we’re on track, aided by the pandemic, year on year emissions are down 84%. Do I expect that level of reduction to be maintainable, no, but I think it shows that drastic reductions can be achieved and hopefully it will encourage others in the industry to reduce their emissions too for a brighter future.