What We Learned on Our Journey to Net-Zero Carbon Emissions at Workday

One year before our target date, we’ve achieved net-zero carbon emissions and are powering our business with 100 percent renewable electricity. Here are four powerful lessons we learned in the process.

Erik Hansen April 21, 2020
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“The Earth is what we all have in common.” 

This is one of my favorite quotes, from author and environmentalist Wendell Berry. With this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s proven to be more than just a saying. It’s served as a reminder of how we’re more connected than ever as a global community, and a reminder of what’s important. To me, it’s also a statement of purpose—and it’s served as “the why” behind the work we’re doing at Workday to help reduce our impact on the environment. 

In 2016, Workday announced its pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and power our business with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2021. We knew this was a bold and ambitious goal—and at times, a commitment that felt daunting. 

By the close of our 2020 fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, and one year before our targeted deadline, I’m proud to announce we met our goal. Workday runs on 100 percent renewable electricity (in addition to offering our customers a carbon-neutral cloud) and we’ve officially achieved net-zero carbon emissions across our offices, data centers, and business travel. To help illustrate our journey, take a look at this short video:

How We Achieved Net-Zero Carbon Emissions and 100% Renewable Electricity

 

When I think about how other organizations can reduce their environmental impact, here’s what I’ve learned from announcing our commitments in 2016 to where we are today. 

1. Avoiding carbon-intensive activities is a huge team effort, and one that requires strong support from employees. The first step of our strategy included choosing less carbon-intensive activities over those with a larger carbon footprint. For example, every September we host our Clean Air Commute Week to help employees opt for a carbon-reduced or carbon-free commute. We learned that articulating our sustainability goal (and its benefits) to our employees was a must-do—and it helped them understand the importance of avoiding certain carbon-intensive activities.

2. Reducing carbon intensity through efficiency requires strong partnerships with other teams. Strong cross-functional partnerships within your organization are instrumental to helping reduce emissions across every aspect of how you run your business. We’re lucky to have incredible real estate, finance, and facilities teams that aligned with our sustainability goals. Because of these relationships, we were able to reduce carbon intensity by more than one-third in our offices and data centers. Through encouraging a culture of low-carbon commuting for our employees and focusing on why commute choices matter, we were also able to reduce the emissions of the average employee’s commute by more than one-third, too.

Another successful step along our road to net-zero emissions was working collaboratively with different areas of the business to put an internal price on carbon. Essentially, we allocate carbon costs across each operational function—for example, our data centers or office buildings—which means they are responsible for their emissions. In the long haul, it creates a financial incentive to make better business decisions based on carbon impacts. We then use those carbon-use funds to invest in renewable energy and carbon offsets to help us meet our goals.

 

3. Creativity goes a long way when replacing high-carbon energy with low-carbon options. Think about ways to get creative to help tackle something as big as climate change. We knew our impact would be greater if we were able to collaborate with others, so when the opportunity to pitch in for the first-ever small aggregate clean energy deal with Bloomberg, Cox Enterprises, Gap Inc., and Salesforce presented itself, we jumped on it. This collaboration is relatively unique for this type of sustainability investment, and we’re grateful for partners that see value in working together towards a common goal. 

4. Investing in high-quality carbon offsets helps maximize your organization’s positive impact. Carbon offsets play a role in meeting climate goals for many organizations, but there are ways your organization can invest in offset projects that not only have environmental benefits, but social impacts, too. For example, we fund a water filtration project in Guatemala that helps provide local jobs in addition to providing clean water to families within the community, all while reducing harmful air pollution and carbon emissions. When your investments can benefit the planet and its people, it’s a win-win. 

With something as important as the health of our planet and its people on the line, it’s our collective responsibility to do our part to reduce our impact on the environment. As for our own sustainability journey at Workday, we know we still have an opportunity to do more. 

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and look forward to continuing to bring innovation to the forefront of our sustainability journey. To learn more about our carbon management strategy, check out our “2019 Workday Global Impact Report.”

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