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  • Bryan Tan

Sustainability Needs To Happen As A Community - Making The Cut With Simon Dale

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

We spoke to Simon Dale, Managing Director of Adobe, Southeast Asia & Korea on how their green initiatives are approached with their community through creative expressions.

Q: Hi Simon, welcome to Making the Cut. Thank you so much for being here, COP27 was just around the corner and I thought, this is really a good time to speak to you, to speak to Adobe about all the amazing things that you're doing in sustainability. So tell me a little bit about these initiatives.

So back in 2015 actually we followed science-based targets and committed to that. We've also committed to by 2030 that we'd have 100% renewable energy in all of our offices and cloud services.

By the end of this year, it will be about 75%, and that's to be carbon neutral so we wanted to be practical, within the organisation we have an operational focus like how do we make it real as well as processes that we can re-engineer along with people, skills, and training that we need to put into place. We've just got a new office about to open in San Jose and that's going to be a fully electric building with fully renewable energy end to end.

Adobe, even before I joined them, they're already very metric-oriented. Let's do something that's actually measurable rather than just talking about it and setting a goal that could move. Let's put a date, put a target and use some kind of measurable process to make sure.

Q: Tell me a little bit about either the challenges or also advantages as opposed to a company that has a physical product when it comes to going green.

Well, you have to remember that we used to have a physical product. Because we used to put our stuff on CDs, shrink wrap boxes, lots of wasted plastic and cardboard, send it out through a channel, lots of supply chain emissions, all this kind of stuff. This year is our 40th anniversary and that was the old way of doing software because the Internet didn't really exist.

Adobe was one of the first companies to move to this thing called the cloud. At the time, people were like, "What does that mean? Oh, good. They're going first. Let's see what happens." So I wasn't with Adobe then, but I was observing this from the outside and I used it as a bit of a poster child case study because they started to have positive effects.

So it was a technical change, which was let's use this web to talk to our customers directly, which today is kind of like, duh, but back then it was pretty groundbreaking and also a little bit of a business model change.

But the technical change was, let's stop delivering everything physically and allow people to download it because most places by then were getting enough bandwidth to do it. Putting more and more into really efficient data centres, you get that economy of scale.

Microsoft did a study that an efficient data centre can reduce PC storage by up to 98% so that's kind of the history of the story. Then the digitisation of stuff sort of starts to bleed into different areas.

So one of the things we're also well known for, of course, is PDF, boring old PDFs have been around for a very long time as well. But it was interesting during the pandemic, it's like “Oh, we can't use physical paper anymore. What do we do?” We got some great case studies with banks in the UK, NatWest, digitised a whole bunch of workflows and they've saved like a million gallons of water. Almost a billion pages of paper.

It's also improving the productivity of the business and making it more profitable and more sustainable as well. It's also reducing the admin and annoyance that all paper-based workflows tend to have.

Q: I know that you have some hard targets on your data centres and specific decisions that you make to choose these data centres, tell me about that as opposed to using something like local storage.

So we partner mostly for our data centre capacity, which I think we still have a little bit of legacy of our own assets around the world. But we tend to use hyper scales, like Microsoft and Amazon and we rely on them to do deep engineering. But we also agree with them as partners, this is how we want to consume your services and how compliant they need to be as partners to impact sustainability, be efficient and meet our goals.

But like I said, our hard target is by 2030, everything should be renewable energy and so that feeds into our choices as to what data centre, what service we use and whether it is compliant with those kinds of things.

Q: How do you still develop very powerful products for your customers, but at the same time, ensure that they are energy efficient?

These days we're doing artificial intelligence more, which requires a lot of heavy processing. A lot of our end users on Photoshop want to clean up their images or they want to take people out and put them somewhere else or objects out.

That used to be a painful process of zooming in, getting the mouse and clicking the lasso, but we automated that using our Sensei AI a couple of years ago. But just recently at our MAX conference, we showed how now you can take a picture and the AI will identify every object and automatically lasso it.

That productivity saving for individuals is super valued because if it's somebody's job to make the image ready for production, we probably just saved them hours of work. So we see the benefits of things like AI cascading into that. Once you can scale it, then there are opportunities to do a lot of reductions in various areas like that.

Q: It's so amazing that you have all these different products, a lot of your customers are from the creative industries, right? There are illustrators, photographers, filmmakers and all that, how do you involve them in some of your sustainability practices?

One of the key uses of Creative Cloud with everybody is telling a story and expressing themselves and we recently did a global survey of creatives.

Now about 25% of those creators do it to express themselves, some of them who are influencers try to make money from it and some people run a little business doing it for themselves and then a lot of people actually work for companies that need that creative output, right? So everybody's doing this story.

I did bring an example of something with me. One of our influencers out in Thailand makes these cute little images so here's my reusable water bottle, it's printed here. So we do collaborations like this to showcase their work and talk about the physical impact of things around the sustainable space.

Q: Obviously, this is an entire conversation on sustainability and efficiency. And of course, we're sitting in the BMW iX3. This is a fully electric vehicle and as we know, EVs are a big part of where we are now. It's also going to be a very big part of our future. Because Singapore just announced some harder emission targets for 2030, what do you think of our green plan so far?

So I jumped on the Singapore EV bandwagon in the very first EV trial in Singapore. I think it was maybe nine or ten years ago. So I worked at SAP and we took on one of the first EVs in the 40-car pilot program. We had a station charger put in a car park underneath the building in Maple Tree. So I believed in this for a very long time because it was my project.

I said, "You think we could do this?" And the CFO said yes. So off we did.

Q: Can you give me a little bit of an example of how your customers are using your products in a very sustainable way and maybe even relate it to the automotive industry?

I mentioned the paper-based world earlier. Let me give you a totally different angle and this is kind of leaning towards the Metaverse, this whole 3D world. So for some time, we had a capability that we acquired called Substance, and it came from the gaming industry.

What it did is that it specialised in textures, photorealistic textures, we took that and said, people, want to build 3D models and make them look like real-life photos so we evolved that.

I was with another automotive CMO just recently and he was telling me that because this EV race is accelerated, it's very difficult to get a model of a car to produce all of that marketing collateral to pre-sell the car and to create the demand. Because it's a long workflow and you need specialists, also it's quite costly. So he's like, with this digitisation and building 3D models, he could produce a model of this car that is unmistakably real in a photograph, but it's totally digital. I can make 20 different colours in 30 seconds, produce and get all my campaigns out.

I've actually fed that into the supply chains and it's saving all these materials. It's changing the way that they do business. And it's also meeting the demand of the business that there's more to be done and more models to be launched.

This kind of sums up content velocity in all businesses. Because of this digital acceleration, people want to talk to their customers. They want more and more content that's good and high quality so we're kind of meeting that demand with this 3D capability.

Q: You've covered so many areas, you talked about communities, you talked about your work processes. So what does sustainability mean to you, Simon?

So I have kids, I'm thinking of the future for them, not just for myself and my wife and family and it's definitely about having some kind of impact, right? By myself, I can have a little bit of impact and I can teach them to have a little bit of impact.

But throughout my career in software, I've been about scale, making things scale up and get adopted. So I actually do a little bit of work in the Venture Capital space and I've done it for about ten years. It was part of my job when I was at SAP and then became a bit of a hobby since. There's a recent VC that got set up in Singapore called Wave Maker Impact and it's been set up by some friends of mine, the same family of VCs that I work with and they just closed their first funding round and they're looking for 100 companies to remove 100 million tons of carbon each.

Just last week, they announced a partnership with Bill Gates and they're going to decarbonise rice farming. So they're doing all of this research and looking for startups, going through the rice farming supply chain to try and make it carbon neutral because it's such a massive industry in this part of the world.

The great thing is that they're headquartered here in Singapore and they're looking at the whole of Singapore. One of the sister funds invested in a company in Indonesia in fisheries, which is helping all of the small fish farmers become sustainable. So it's helping them to actually increase their yields, reduce the cost of fertiliser, keep their fish healthy and have access to better pricing.

Q: What advice do you have for people listening to this interview to do their part when it comes to our sustainability objectives?

I think one of the key things is that you need to believe in it and show that you believe in it to your community, your family and commit to it. I think there are some people who either sit on the fence or maybe you're still sceptical and we then don't get that herd movement that we need to really get the scale of impact from everybody because lots of individual impacts will add up to one large one.

But it needs to happen as a community and I think if we make more of a voice and express our opinions, more and more people will agree with it and then be influenced that way.

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