22 Sep 2023
by Emma Dennard

Breadth, openness and vision: The keys to innovation in UK sustainability

Guest blog from Emma Dennard, VP for Northern Europe at OVHcloud. Part of techUK's #SuperchargeUKTech Week 2023.

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One of the most fundamental parts of supercharging the UK's leadership in technology and innovation is sustainability. Answering the technology needs of today is crucial, but we must also ensure that we don't harm the world of tomorrow in doing so.

This challenge requires significant innovation in and of itself, not to mention strong support and collaboration between the government, UK businesses and other organisations across the country. There have already been a number of steps taken in turning our nation into a sustainability champion, but it's important to keep these priorities at the heart of every decision we make, rather than considering them as an after-thought.

Indeed, the UK is in a unique position to contribute to innovation in the sustainability sphere – and we’re already in motion. Today, our country generates 22% of global offshore wind power, for example, second only to China. However, to tackle sustainability issues effectively across the board we need to shift our mindsets and start a new pace of change.

Being open about sustainability and carbon emissions is not an easy process. If we’re to build a sustainable future, we need both an honest, solid foundation and a radical commitment to transparency.

This isn’t just about having clarity on our carbon footprint, it’s about understanding the commercial benefits of sustainability so that we can encourage businesses to adopt sustainable principles. It’s about remembering that power efficiency means lower bills, that equipment re-use means purchase avoidance. It’s about understanding that (according to the Cloud Industry Forum) 38% of organisations would reject a seller with a poor, or no, ESG strategy.

Changing Behaviours

As I see it, we need two kinds of innovation in sustainability to truly drive the UK forward as a leader.

First and foremost, we need to innovate in our organisations to change how we work, how we measure, and how we conduct business. For example:

  • Accurate measurement: It is currently mandatory for large companies (250 employees and above, £36m turnover, £18m balance sheet) to report on Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions, but declaring Scope 3 is discretionary. However, Scope 3 emissions tend to be the lion’s share – for example, at OVHcloud, Scope 3 represents 55% of our total emissions. While measuring them is difficult, avoiding them is missing the greater part of the iceberg. Furthermore, unless we get better at measuring and declaring emissions, we can’t possibly hope to survey the battlefield properly and respond effectively.
  • Avoid, Recycle, Re-use: Recycling and re-using is good; preventing material use entirely is better. It’s all very well putting recycling bins in offices, but if we can avoid building new offices and premises entirely, we can reduce impact even more. For example, constructing a new residential building can create between 16 and 78 tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of flying a full aircraft to Paris and back. By re-fitting old buildings, re-using secondhand parts and having a comprehensive recycling strategy, we can fight the carbon crisis even more efficiently.

Supporting the Future

Secondly, we need to support innovative startups to tackle the really trickly problems. For example, for us, server motherboards are tough: they’re a mix of plastic, metal, resin and other bits and pieces. We’re working with a startup called TerraNova, which has figured out a way of taking them apart and recycling them. Similarly, we work with another, Umains, to help recycle packing foam from the components we buy. In some ways, this is paying it forward – when we were a startup and invented our own form of server watercooling to improve the efficiency of our datacentres, we also had a supportive ecosystem around us.

We also need public agreements so that we have something to aim for, like the Climate Neutral Datacentre Pact, which we’re part of. It’s also critical for organisations to set their own aspirations, agreeing when they will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, or commit to low-carbon energy usage. We’re fortunate that our power usage in the UK is relatively green – in 2020, 43% of our power came from renewable sources, putting us at the forefront of sustainable innovation.

Setting targets shouldn’t be seen as a rod for our own back. Instead, it’s like setting a fitness target – if you tell your friends and family that you’re doing couch to 5k, you’re much more likely to do it than if you try it solo. Community is incredibly important when it comes to innovation, and by collaborating and working together, we can achieve far more than we could dream of individually.

The UK has an incredible amount of potential to set the stage when it comes to innovation within sustainability, but it’s only by being open, honest and collaborating with other businesses at home and abroad that we can really lead the way.

Supercharging Innovation Week 2023

techUK members explored the emerging and transformative technologies at the heart of UK research and innovation. This week was designed to investigate how to leverage the UK's strengths and push forward the application and commercialisation of these technologies, highlighting best practice from academia, industry and Government that is enabling success. You can catch up via the link below.

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techUK – Unleashing UK Tech and Innovation 


The UK is home to emerging technologies that have the power to revolutionise entire industries. From quantum to semiconductors; from gaming to the New Space Economy, they all have the unique opportunity to help prepare for what comes next.

techUK members lead the development of these technologies. Together we are working with Government and other stakeholders to address tech innovation priorities and build an innovation ecosystem that will benefit people, society, economy and the planet - and unleash the UK as a global leader in tech and innovation.

For more information, or to get in touch, please visit our Innovation Hub and click ‘contact us’. 

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Emma Dennard

Emma Dennard

VP for Northern Europe, OVH Cloud