Q&A: Workday’s Commitment to Renewable Energy and Reducing our Carbon Footprint

In April, Workday announced our goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2021 and reaffirmed our ongoing commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy. Just today, it was announced Workday has joined RE100, a group of influential global businesses committed to 100 percent renewable electricity. This brings the total number of committed companies to 65, demonstrating the momentum to usher in more sustainable approaches to energy production and consumption.

Corporate sustainability—and taking responsibility for our impact on the environment— is incredibly important to us at Workday. Erik Hansen, senior sustainability manager, is on my team and leads Workday’s efforts in this area. Read on to learn how we think about our role in addressing climate change.

Why have we made these commitments, Erik?  

Climate change is a critical issue that affects all of us. We are really encouraged that companies around the world have embraced the need to transition to a low-carbon economy following the COP 21 agreement in Paris late last year. We recognize that we have a part to play to protect our planet from the worst effects of climate change.

Why is it important for Workday and other global technology companies to aim for 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions?

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Erik Hansen

Our business involves people, software, office facilities, and data centers. It requires significant computing power to deliver cloud applications to our global customers, and that requires a lot of energy. It’s important for our company, and our industry, to continuously explore how we can reduce our carbon footprint resulting from energy use.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. data center electricity usage currently accounts for about 2.4 percent of total U.S. electricity demand and is on the rise. Even though Workday’s multi-tenant cloud architecture offers a lot of resource efficiency compared to the legacy software model of on-premise systems, we recognize our data center energy use will grow as our business grows. To support our industry’s transition, renewable energy will continue to be an important element of Workday’s sustainability strategy.

Our Pleasanton development center is being built to achieve LEED Platinum certification and generate solar power for up to one-third of its electricity usage.

How will Workday achieve net-zero carbon emissions?

Our strategy focuses on the following:

  • Avoid carbon-intensive activities. We will seek opportunities to choose less carbon-intensive options over ones that have a larger carbon footprint. For example, we can ask our Workmates to skip taking a flight to attend a brief meeting in person, and instead participate by video conference. We also consider the energy mix of a local grid and the resulting carbon emissions when we make selection decisions for new regional data centers.
  • Reduce through efficiency. We’ll focus on reducing the carbon intensity of our operations through high-impact efficiency measures in our office facilities and data centers. An example is our new Workday development center we are building in Pleasanton, which will be constructed to achieve LEED Platinum, the highest level of LEED certification. Another is our increased investments in virtualization and resource optimization technologies to drive higher utilization and power efficiency in our data centers.
  • Replace high-carbon energy sources with low-carbon sources. We will prioritize onsite renewable energy generation, such as solar where feasible, and purchase wind and solar power over electricity generated from fossil fuels for our global operations.
  • Offset emissions that can’t be eliminated. We will purchase high-quality carbon offsets for the emissions that we can’t reduce through the above steps.

Transparency around all of our efforts is very important to us, too. We have published our carbon footprint dating back to our 2010 baseline in our Global Impact Report and will continue to do so as we track our progress towards our 2021 goal.

Our multi-tenant cloud architecture already helps customers reduce business costs and carbon emissions, but we can do more.

How will Workday continue to use 100 percent renewable energy as the company grows globally?

We have been a 100 percent green power purchaser since 2008 and an EPA Green Power Partner since 2009. But we know there’s more we can do to accelerate our impact. That’s why we joined RE100, and in 2015 we signed on to the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles and became a member of the Business Renewables Center, both of which aim to help companies meet their renewable energy goals.

We’re committed to powering our global offices and data centers with renewable energy, including wind, solar, or geothermal sources, while looking for ways to increase renewable electricity on local electricity grids. For example, at our new Pleasanton development center we plan to use onsite solar energy to power up to one-third of the building’s projected daily electricity needs.

However, procuring renewable energy can be challenging at offices and data centers we lease rather than own. That’s why we are also researching strategic renewable energy investments such as virtual power purchase agreements that add clean energy to regional grids where we have operations.

Do these commitments have any impact on Workday’s customers?

Yes! The efficiency of our multi-tenant cloud architecture already helps our customers reduce business costs and carbon emissions, but these new commitments acknowledge that we plan to do more. And because our strategy to achieve these goals includes the carbon intensity of our data centers, our approach not only reduces our contribution to climate change—but by extension—our customers’ as well.