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Capgemini EVP Sol Salinas Proposes Opportunities for Government Agencies to Achieve Climate Impacts With Technology

Sol Salinas brings 30 years of experience in corporate sustainability and digital transformation to his role as a global executive vice president at Capgemini. He previously managed the energy efficiency, carbon and sustainability department at a major government contractor and established and ran the global small infrastructure and smart cities practice at another.

On the public sector side, Salinas spent almost a decade and a half at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he helped found the ENERGY STAR program and was assistant office director at the EPA’s Office of International Affairs.

Salinas currently serves as the sustainability lead for Capgemini’s American arm and is the international lead of the organization’s priority accounts. He oversees work across five sustainability priorities for Capgemini’s clients, which include net zero strategy and new business models; sustainable information technology, operations, products and services; in addition to the data for net zero strategy.

The executive recently engaged in a dialogue with GovCon Wire about his time in the EPA, as well as how to make information technology activities environmentally sound, the federal government applications of digital twins and more.

Sol, you started your sustainability career with the EPA Energy Star Program. Why this decades-long focus on sustainability and why focus on government agency impact?

I’m proud to have worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch the Energy Star Program over 30 years ago. I believed then, still believe now—and the results have proven—that government agencies, working in partnership with the sustainability industry, offer great opportunities to impact climate through programs that influence the decisions that we make every day. Energy Star demonstrates the success of a public-private partnership program to make significant climate impact.

In my years in government agencies and industry, I have come to discover that those in civil service and the agencies and departments they represent have a massive ability to influence the day-to-day decisions of their constituents across the U.S. and globally. I have worked with and continue to work with friends and colleagues in the public sector who are some of the most competent and committed professionals I’ve ever worked with and who care deeply about addressing our dire environmental challenges.

It’s a major part of my mission in my role at Capgemini to expand our collaborative efforts with our U.S. federal government counterparts. There is so much sustainability value to be unleashed for the greater good of the climate and the U.S. economy.

Digital twins are being used in multiple ways. What is a digital twin as it relates to sustainability and climate and how do you see digital twins creating a climate impact in government agencies?

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical systems that can model, simulate, monitor, analyze and constantly optimize the physical world. For example, imagine creating a digital model that shows you over time the impact of your procurement decisions on the climate in your country and the world.

We have multiple clients in the sustainability industry and in the public sector using digital twins to model various aspects of their product and service offerings and their internal operations as well. In the area of sustainability, digital twin technologies are being deployed to gauge and monetize hypothetical future climate change impacting supply chains, transportation grids, energy availability, infrastructure resilience and various other large capital projects that would otherwise require significant investment, without the scenario-modeling that digital twins provide.

In the federal government setting, policy makers and program leads are able to view — through a 3D digital twin model — the potential impacts that their specific program investment could have on their constituents. And the scenario modeling could apply to virtually every aspect of federal program impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy transition, grid modernization and electrification, flood zone designation, ground water contamination and even supply chain and transportation resilience.

You’ve mentioned the power of supply chain transformation for sustainability and climate, and green sourcing of clean materials. What are these and how do they impact the climate?

The U.S. federal government is very advanced in sustainable product procurement. To ensure that the procurement processes continue to reduce the impact on all the products and services we consume, an entirely new generation of new technologies and data processes is needed. For example, simple radio-frequency identification tagging that has historically provided traceability as an element in the assessment of sustainable lifecycle assessment of various products is quickly being replaced with exciting developments in blockchain-enabled digital attestation protocols that ensure the traceability of green materials. These new digital solutions provide similar levels of attestation accuracy but can deliver A&V assurance at a significant greater scale.

Specifically, in the sourcing of clean steel, clean concrete, clean glass and clean asphalt for large scale capital projects, it presents perfect examples of where these new digital technologies can be brought to bear.

Green IT is proliferating within organizations. What are the magnitudes of the impacts of green IT on the climate?

Sustainable IT is in many ways at the very heart of what we do at Capgemini. We no longer live in an analog world. Rather, every single aspect of how we live, work and play is touched by 5G and broadband-enabled technologies. Yet, as a global community we don’t appreciate the impacts that the global IT backbone that supports our daily lives has on climate change. IT now represents over eight percent of global CO2 emissions and this is growing quickly due to the rapid expansion of broadband applications. At the same time, very few users of these latest technologies, whether institutional users or individual consumers, have any idea of the GHG impacts that their technology-enabled devices represent. At Capgemini, we are committed to helping our clients and constituents understand the GHG implications of their IT-related behaviors and do everything they can to reduce them.

At Capgemini, we’re attempting to transform the way we all think about IT so that we can continue to benefit from the magic that digital technologies bring but do so at minimal impact to the environment. We are positively impacting GHG reductions through systemic energy optimization of all the equipment being used by our clients and their clients. As I like to say: “We look at every single IT aspect of an enterprise’s operations with GHG goggles on.”

According to a report launched by the Capgemini Research Institute in 2022, focused on why the public sector must prioritize sustainable IT, one percent of the world’s energy demand, still largely powered by fossil fuels, is used by IT and enterprise IT’s contribution to global CO2 emissions could grow from eight point four percent in 2020 to 20.5 percent in 2025.

Where do you see the most powerful opportunities to impact climate through action in our federal agencies?

Every single U.S. federal government employee could be considered an environmentalist. Whether you run a program, oversee IT support, support contract management, lead a branch, division, an office or whether you’re an undersecretary, a deputy secretary or an assistant administrator and certainly if you’re an agency or department head, you’ll most likely run into the opportunity to address our most dire environmental challenges. So, my question back to you is simple: “If not now, then when? If not here in the U.S. federal government, then where? If not YOU, then who exactly?”

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