Security SaaS provider Zscaler has announced that it has achieved carbon neutral status for 2022 and has set a new goal to reach net zero emissions by 2025. But Zscaler does not publish a link to the emissions and carbon accounting data underlying this claim along with the announcement, nor make the data available on its website.
This announcement builds on that given in late 2021, that Zscaler had reached 100% renewable energy across its global offices and data centres. It is clear that Zscaler is keen to telegraph sustainable cloud credentials which makes sense in a market where potential customers are seeking to polish their own scope 3 credentials and thus becoming far more enquiring about supply chain sustainability.
"As we continue focusing on supporting our customers, it is important that we make a positive impact on our planet," said Jay Chaudhry, CEO, Chairman, and Founder of Zscaler. "Zscaler partners with IT Leaders to modernise their operations through a Zero Trust security approach that eliminates the need for on-premises security appliances, resulting in decreased IT waste and reduced energy usage - all while working towards our common carbon reduction objectives."
Zscaler specifies that carbon neutrality for the calendar year 2022 has been obtained by combining renewable energy credits (RECs) and carbon offset purchases, matching its projected electricity consumption and carbon emissions, respectively. Zscaler also works with an external third-party on a verified carbon inventory methodology and quantifying total emissions.
The company has addressed Scope 2 emissions by "updating its datacentre selection process to incorporate renewable energy usage criteria." Zscaler goes on to state that it purchases RECs that support local wind and solar projects. Scope 1 and broader Scope 3 emissions from offices, business travel, and procurement along with customer and public cloud usage, are offset through permanent and additional carbon credits from third-party verified projects.
Further details required
These statements pose some questions. How much of its own energy does Zscaler generate via renewables? Exactly what type of RECs are bridging the gap? There is considerable variability in the type and quality of RECs and there are no global standards of certification. Computing contacted Zscaler to ask for clarification on these points and received the following answer:
"Reaching 100% renewable energy powering our offices and 150+ data centres is a result of action taken by our data centre providers and RECs purchased by Zscaler. Across the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange, about 75% of energy used is renewable and directly procured by data centre providers. Some of our larger providers have entered into virtual power purchasing agreements. To reach 100% renewable, Zscaler addresses the balance of non-renewable energy use through the purchase of RECs supporting local solar and wind projects. We are choosing this approach because as a secure service edge provider, our footprint is not concentrated in any one location, but spread out across many global locations.
"Our customers have access to a comprehensive dashboard which includes the amount of traffic at specific data centres and associated renewable energy directly procured by those providers. Additionally, customers have the ability to choose the specific data centres to process their traffic.
"Carbon offsets are used to match emissions from other sources, including Scope 1 emissions for offices, and Scope 3 emissions covering business travel and procurement as well as customer and public cloud usage."
On that last point, Zscaler also provided the verification for its GHG inventory for 2021, which does clarify the extent of Scope 3 inclusion. The verification states that 7 categories are excluded including employee commuting, waste generated in operations and fuel and energy related activities (not included in Scope 2.) Some basic carbon accounting is included so location based and market based Scope 2 emissions are shown but there is no detail of Scope 3 offsetting.
The question of the third party verifying the carbon projects for which carbon credits have been claimed also remains. There are multiple carbon offsetting standards, and they vary considerably in the stringency of their criteria for avoidance and permanence. The most widely used is Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) but you could also choose Gold Standard, for example, which does not certify REDD+ carbon credits which are given for avoided deforestation but are a particularly controversial type of carbon credit.
Carbon neutrality isn't enough
Zscaler acknowledges that, like the rest of the technology sector, it needs to do more:
"We recognize that carbon neutral is not the end goal, and that deeper reductions and optimizations are vital to reaching net zero. Over the years, our cloud platform optimizations have led to a 12x increase in throughput per unit of compute, which has both operational and environmental benefits. To reach our goal to be net zero by 2025, we will continue to use data to evaluate our operations to track drivers for emissions. We also know that deeper engagement with suppliers is necessary. As we identified customer usage of our cloud as the largest source of emissions, continuing to seek and work with our data center providers on increasing efficiency and renewable energy usage is a priority. We will address the remaining balance of our greenhouse gas footprint from Scopes 1 and 3 by continuing to refine our procurement processes and policies as we forge the way to net zero by 2025."
Zscaler could add to this list of commitments one to make its emissions and carbon accounting data, as well as key sustainability data pertaining to water, waste etc. available within publicly available ESG reporting in line with other cloud vendors. Even if this data is buried away at the end of a glossy report (and it usually is) it helps prospective customers seeking to examine the impact of the services they subscribe to if they can access it easily.