For today’s global leaders in sustainability, many began their careers when the movement was still in its infancy, and a long way from the board room.
Thomas Blood, the CS Sustainability Leader for EMEA at AWS, began his career in the 1980s studying climate and environmental science, and economic development. “I wanted to connect the human element and environmental science, but in the eighties there wasn't any work in that, and it wasn’t really a career path, so I found my way into it instead,” he says.
Over the next three decades he worked across different sectors, including software, data centres, as well as at startups and the public sector, before joining AWS as an enterprise strategist. His journey in the company has allowed his career experience in technology and his personal passion for sustainability to combine, providing him with the opportunity to help customers using AWS and the cloud to realise their sustainability ideas and ambitions.
The emergence of sustainability as a critical business focus has evolved rapidly in the last decade, and from his position, Blood has seen that change first-hand in the last five years. “It became a topic that the CEOs cared about and all of a sudden it became a top 10 issue. It has become a boardroom conversation to say, ‘what's our responsibility? How can we help? What can we do differently?’ And that is just such a game changer.”
Low barrier entry for SMEs
AWS has millions of customers all over the world, from the largest multinational corporations, to SMEs and ambitious startups. It prides itself as being the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud, from globally based data centres. When it comes to the cloud helping to instigate progress and nourish exciting new ideas, Blood believes AWS’ offering allows not just achieving success for business, but allowing them to accelerate it. “You don't have to invest in hardware and infrastructure, you're just running the systems you need, and then you turn them off when you're done,” he explains. “This is a beautiful way to get in. It's a low barrier to entry for small businesses, for instance, they can start a new business idea very quickly.”
He explains that in the early days of Amazon, it was a challenge to replicate areas of the business outside of North America, but with the cloud companies can benefit from the same state-of-the-art infrastructure wherever they are in the world. “You can actually just spin up services in other places and do what you do back home so you can have a global reach all of a sudden,” he continues. “Those are the kinds of things that prompt our customers to come to AWS and for us to have such success in the marketplace.”
For a man with a genuine personal passion for sustainability, he finds himself helping to lead a sector that can make tangible differences to the world, whilst also evolving into an inspiring global industry. “There are some estimates that believe that sustainability could be a US$12tn business on its own. So there's this beautiful convergence of a great need in the world and technology being able to address some of that need,” he says. “I think we can make a big change in how we do things, still thrive, still be profitable, still have a growing economy and solve these environmental problems.”
With so many sustainability strategies in play AWS is making sure they play their own part in the wider discussion with ambitious top-line sustainability targets. Amazon is committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 as part of The Climate Pledge, which is a whole decade ahead of the Paris Agreement. As part of their climate pledge, Amazon is on a path to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, which is five years ahead of the initial 2030 target. AWS is also making progress in meeting its commitment to be water positive by 2030, focusing on efficiency across all aspects of their infrastructure, and reducing waste.
How scale brings responsibility
With AWS providing the backbone for cloud-based technology all over the world, Blood finds real excitement in seeing the company’s fingerprints on compelling new innovations. “It literally happens multiple times a week that I see something new and interesting where people are doing unexpected things,” he says.
With customers of all sizes across the globe, there is the responsibility of scale for AWS to help to be part of the solution. That responsibility is something both the company and Blood take seriously, as it is now part of their 16 leadership principles, and a new one has been added recently to reflect the importance of AWS’ role in global sustainability. “The leadership principle is that success and scale brings broad responsibility, which means we have a role to play and we acknowledge that at our scale means we have an opportunity to help solve some of these global problems,” explains Blood.
The question of scale is only part of the wider leadership strategy, as the focus on the customer is so integral to every aspect of the business. “Customer obsession drives everything to such an extent that, in some of our senior offices for executive meetings,
we have an empty chair in the room representing the person that's not there, which is the customer,” he says.
With the sound of sustainability issues reverberating around boardrooms, Blood is adamant the customer should always be properly listened to. He feels the views of customers around the world are now aligning, and they are all demanding action on environmental issues.
“Customers are very clearly telling us – especially in Europe, but also increasingly in Asia and North America – that they care about the environment and about sustainability,” he adds. “So we want to do what's good for our customers. We will do what we can to meet that need and meet that demand.”
How the cloud meets sustainability
It is the scale that AWS operates at, which is where Blood feels they are able to make the most impact, they help businesses around the world accelerate their sustainability progress through their cloud services. The parallel between the cloud and sustainability may not be immediately obvious, but he thinks they are inextricably linked, because of how technology can remove so many limitations and blockers to progress. “Sustainability is a global challenge and we have to solve it at scale,” he says. “That's the first parallel. AWS is global. We're trying to solve global challenges.”
He also believes the reverse is also true, as many of the best solutions can be on a much smaller scale. “We always solve things locally, right? What's the local specific issue that we can double click on and help? So AWS is always looking at the customer and local environment. Sustainability is a local issue. How do we deal with air quality in London? How do we deal with water in Cape Town?”
Blood is also conscious that customers are both AWS’ greatest critic and inspiration for improvement and change. He refers to the Jeff Bezos quote of how customers are always ‘beautifully dissatisfied’, and how that can motivate them to drive a better experience and fuel consistent improvement in everything they set out to do. “This is actually part of our ethos to say we want to improve everything all the time, especially when customers are dissatisfied with whatever it is they have, because they always want more or better or cheaper,” he says. “We want to help them get that, as it is the fuel of how we operate. It's this constant improvement and there's lots more we can do and there's new things we can invent.”
The cloud accelerating sustainability
In dealing with so many partners and customers, Thomas Blood has used that as inspiration for co-writing a book called ‘Reaching Cloud Velocity’ alongside Jonathan Allen. With AWS powering world-wide companies in their cloud transformation, the work has helped explore the lessons they have learned in that time. Writing it has allowed them to bring their own unique experience - combined with that of hundreds of customers that they have worked with around the globe - to create a book of lessons, knowledge, and advice that leaders can use to grow their progress. It is a part of how Blood feels he can help influence others in accelerating sustainability through the AWS cloud.
With the global discussion moving from the instigation of sustainability strategies, to that of increasing their impact and pushing to achieve greater results, the mindset at AWS is one of how the cloud can help to accelerate that progress into the future. Blood feels that the cloud plays a seismic role in that acceleration, as it gives customers and partners the chance to scale their successful ideas quickly to maximise their impact. “We've defined what we need to do now, we need to take action. So how do we accelerate all those efforts that are already underway? We have great opportunities with technologies that already exist. How do we amplify them?”
From a personal perspective, he speaks passionately about knowing the influence AWS can have in solving problems from a sustainability perspective, and using cutting edge technology to achieve it. He says it is one of the main reasons he came to AWS, as he saw the potential to help companies all over the world solve real world problems that cost money, can create new jobs, and deal with environmental issues. “What we're trying to do is to remove the friction in the system and democratise access to technology,” he adds. “Think of how high performance computing or machine learning used to be unaffordable. It is affordable in the cloud. We can remove the obstacles that get in the way of success, and also enable people to think bigger than they normally would.”
With AWS’ technology allowing their customers to accelerate and amplify their strategies, Blood is genuinely excited about exactly what the future holds, and how the cloud can help people achieve remarkable things. “I love this question of what would you do if you had no constraints? It changes your thinking. If I have no constraints, and I just look at what's theoretically possible, not even theoretically just what do I want to accomplish?” he says
“I write it down and then I look for ways to make it happen. It may not be possible to do all the ideas that I have, but by asking the right question, I can try things that I wouldn't ordinarily try. It's enabling people to create the future we all need. That's what I'm looking for and that's why I came to AWS.”
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