3 New Ways Workday Is Taking Action Against Climate Change

Erik Hansen, senior director, environmental sustainability, shares our commitment to a zero carbon footprint, committing to 1.5℃ science-based target, and investing $1million in carbon removal projects.

Erik Hansen February 02, 2021
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At Workday, we’re committed to creating a sustainable future, together. While we’re proud of the work we’ve done so far to mitigate our environmental impacts by achieving net-zero carbon emissions and 100% renewable electricity in 2020, we know we still have more work to do to protect the planet and its people. As we move into 2021, I’m reflecting on what we’ve collectively experienced as a global society. 

Looking at the COVID-19 pandemic through a sustainability lens, I think it gives our world a small window into what the peak of the climate crisis could look like if we don’t collectively take action against climate change. Living through COVID-19, this past year has only magnified the already existing inequalities faced by many in our world and exacerbated these widening gaps in our global society. Millions of people face one or more of these situations: the loss of a job due to the pandemic, lack of access to adequate healthcare, living conditions that make it difficult to protect themselves against the virus, and underlying medical conditions. All told, this demonstrates how the pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on low-income households and communities of color. The looming climate crisis is positioned to have an even greater impact on vulnerable communities—which I dive into a bit more later in this article—with only a small window of time left until irreversible damage is done. Unless we collectively take action. 

We’re big believers in the notion that organizations like Workday not only have the ability and resources to impact positive change; it’s also the right thing to do. That’s why I’m humbled to share our next generation of ambitious sustainability commitments.

Committing to a 1.5 Degrees Celsius Science-Based Target

Workday has committed to set science-based emissions reduction targets—across the entire value chain—that are consistent with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5℃), above pre-industrial levels. According to scientists, the next decade will be more critical than ever to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to help flatten the climate curve to limit the worst impacts of climate change. By pledging to support the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), we’re aligning Workday’s sustainability journey to the transition to a zero carbon future. 

Why 1.5℃? We’re on the brink of irreversible climate change, which not only impacts our natural world, but our global economy and society—including every single person who lives on this planet. In order to truly achieve a net-zero future by 2050, collectively, we must keep global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. 

Our reduction targets will not only include our direct operations but also our entire value chain. This builds on our work to date engaging with our data center providers, as well as our collaborative efforts with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance Future of Internet Power, to source renewable electricity and reduce emissions across the data center industry. 

We know that pledging to keep global warming to 1.5℃ is certainly the most ambitious of science-based targets to take on. But, we deeply believe this lofty (yet achievable) commitment is the type of action companies need to take to truly positively impact our environment. 

Looking at the COVID-19 pandemic through a sustainability lens, I think it gives our world a small window into what the peak of the climate crisis could look like if we don’t collectively take action against climate change.

Mitigating Our Historical Emissions

While setting a science-based target is a bold commitment for the future, we know we need to continue doing more right now to achieve a zero carbon future. That’s why, as of today, we’ve also mitigated Workday’s entire carbon legacy (covering all our operational emissions before we reached our net-zero target in 2020) through the purchase of high-quality, third-party verified emission reductions, or carbon offsets. This means that Workday’s lifetime net carbon footprint is now zero, making us one of the first major companies to reach this milestone. 

Years listed above represent fiscal years rather than calendar years

 

We’re selective in purchasing high-quality carbon offset projects that not only have environmental benefits, but also have a social impact. To give one example, we support a carbon offset project in Guatemala that helps distribute water filters and stoves to communities who need it—vital given the high incidence of waterborne disease and chronic malnutrition there. 

On top of delivering emissions reductions to help take action against climate change, this project also promotes health and well-being by removing 99% of pathogens from drinking water, and reduces the use for firewood and the indoor pollution it creates. The stoves are also more affordable to low-income households, saving the average family around $35 USD per year. We’re passionate about supporting projects that have a social impact, from local workforce development to health and wellbeing to climate justice and equity

Investing in New Carbon Removal Strategies 

We know it’s not enough to just offset our carbon emissions, so we have invested in a new strategy: carbon removal. In an effort to remove and sequester carbon, we’re supporting a $1 million investment to scale up two natural climate solution projects focused on mangrove reforestation in Mexico and Kenya.

Why mangroves? Mangroves can sequester up to four times more carbon than terrestrial forests by biomass. These projects are working to become registered with emerging methodologies such as the innovative new blue carbon methodology under Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), and are special to us for a number of reasons I’ll explain in more detail below. But, bottom line, blue carbon methods are extremely promising, but extremely underfunded. 

First, it’s important to understand that coastal wetlands (including mangroves) cover less than 2% of total ocean area, but almost 50% of total carbon is stored in ocean sediments. Natural climate solutions, including blue carbon activities, currently receive just 3% of total climate investment globally. This is in spite of having the potential to deliver a third of the total emissions reductions needed by 2030 to keep global warming below 2℃. This lack of financial support has been a barrier to bringing blue carbon conservation and restoration activities to scale. Our investment provides carbon finance as a catalyst to scale up carbon removal projects like this that can help improve water quality, fisheries, and build coastal resilience to withstand hurricanes and floods.

On top of the environmental benefits, these projects also help provide jobs to the local community. In Mexico, 30 full-time employees and hundreds of seasonal workers will plant over 250,000 mangrove seedlings, creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

In order to limit global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels, it’s critically important we remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Coupled with successful (and significant) emissions reductions, carbon removal projects serve as necessary solutions on the journey to achieve long-term decarbonization. We recognize that some of our emissions will be very difficult to reduce by 2050, and this is why we are supporting these mangrove restoration carbon removal projects—experts estimate these projects will be able to remove the carbon equivalent of Workday’s historical net emissions to date.

This means that Workday’s lifetime net carbon footprint is now zero, making Workday one of the first major companies to reach this milestone.

Looking Ahead to a Brighter Future 

Workday is committed to a more just and equitable world. Guided by our core values and the movement to create opportunity for all, we clearly see the inextricable link between social justice and environmental sustainability. Communities of color are often the first and worst impacted by pollution and climate disasters, while being least responsible for the causes. Researchers connect this exposure to health complications like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease. As I mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic gave us a peek into what we can anticipate in a climate crisis. If we don’t take action, we could see the worst of the pandemic amplified, from limited or no access to critical household resources in low-income communities to lack of access to healthcare. And one fact remains true in both crises: communities of color have been and will be disproportionately impacted. As a global society, we need to do what we can not only for our planet, but for environmental justice and climate equity, too. 

But with concerted efforts from all of us to flatten the climate curve, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to mitigate the impacts of climate change for future generations in every corner of the world. As I look to the year ahead, I know it’s not going to be easy, and there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure a safer, healthier future. But I’m energized by the opportunities ahead of all of us. Together, we can create a brighter and greener future for all. 

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