HPE Living Progress News: Introducing Lara Birkes

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HPE Living Progress News: Introducing Lara Birkes

HPE’s new Vice President, Living Progress and Chief Sustainability Officer, shares her vision and a few surprises
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.@HPE_LivingProg introduces new VP of #LivingProgress & Chief #Sustainability Officer @LaraBirkes http://bit.ly/1s7rypj

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Monday, May 23, 2016 - 7:55am

You bring a rich array of experience collaborating with international organizations, governments and businesses to help advance sustainable development. What top insights from that experience do you plan to bring to your role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise?

In short, collaboration. Engaging a host of stakeholders is an incredibly powerful tool and working across these institutions reinforced as much.

The adage “Go fast, go alone. Go far, go together.” supports my experience. I find solutions are stronger when co-created and that has never been truer than in sustainability—an inherently cross-cutting discipline. 

Proactively identifying the strategic links between businesses, international organizations, the public sector and civil society is crucial to impact. As are the synergies inside a large company. 

In turn it’s an opportunity to reimagine how policies are developed in concert between the public and private sectors. 

The World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, held earlier this year, focused on 10 big challenges that need to be addressed through public and private sector collaboration. One of those challenges is centered on the rapid rise of the Fourth Industrial revolution—what HPE calls the Idea Economy—in which technology is transforming our world at an unprecedented pace. What do you think are the greatest opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)? 

Disruption, innovation and digital transformation define the 4IR. They also describe the new engines of our global economy. 

For HPE this is an opportunity to leverage technology as an enabler of sustainability, illustrating the unique potential of the industry to bring about impact at scale. 

It’s a scenario in which 1 + 1 equals 3, and is exemplified when efficiencies are optimized due to big data. One exciting example can be seen in our partnership with DS Virgin Racing, a premier team in Formula E, the world’s first all-electric racing series. As the team’s official IT partner, HPE delivers big data analytics to power strategic race decisions and improved car performance in near real-time. 

What are the obstacles technology leaders like HPE will need to solve? 

Every challenge is an opportunity, and this is a great time for (the new) HPE to harness the potential of technology to cut across sectors to bring greater efficiency to third parties and our customers. 

We need to help translate the amorphous notion of big data by developing tools for driving sustainable innovation. This means turning activities into data by not only collecting information, but also analyzing it and extrapolating conclusions. One of many applications is providing these insights to decision-makers to better inform their perspectives. 

What role do governments and NGOs play?

The challenges society faces today are too interdependent to solve alone, so multi-stakeholder collaboration must be deployed to develop durable solutions. 

This means working in concert with the public sector and civil society alike. Where business joins innovation with swift execution, government must marry regulation and policy to ensure systemic impact. The public sector is key to enabling the diffusion of technology. 

Through Living Progress, Hewlett Packard Enterprise is focused on uniting people, ideas and technology to solve the world’s toughest challenges. Fast-forward to 2020. What is the biggest challenge you hope we will have addressed as a society in advancing Living Progress? 

One of the drivers of HPE’s IDEA Economy includes leveraging the power of big data. By interpreting relevant figures it is possible to drive action across all areas of sustainability, from the environmental to the human and economic. 

HPE’s work with BlaBlaCar supports the sharing economy, for example. The world's leading long distance ridesharing service, BlaBlaCar connects drivers with empty seats to people travelling the same way. BlaBlaCar increased customer loyalty and improved the effectiveness of its marketing campaigns by analyzing its big data with HP Vertica. 

And HPE Earth Insights, our partnership with Conservation International, uses big data to provide scientists with an early warning system for threatened species, generating near-real time analytics that enable powerful analysis about species trends and tropical forest health. 

By 2020 the progressive leadership roles HPE takes on sustainability will place us at the forefront of our industry, moving ideas to action. 

Describe your first month on the job—what has delighted you the most? What has surprised you the most? What do you hope the next six months will bring? 

I am delighted to be working with such a passionate, talented and professional team. It’s a privilege to have such capable and driven colleagues, and I can see through their work ethic why Living Progress retains such an important part of our corporate legacy. 

Karaoke with the boss surprised me most! In the next six months I’ll need to improve my impromptu singing skills. . . but more to the point, I look forward to collaborating with colleagues as we craft a strategy that engrains HPEs’ innovative ethos with sustainability impact. 

You are in a unique position—coming into a brand new, multinational company that has a nearly 80-year history of sustainability and citizenship leadership. Not many people can say that. What opportunities does that present for you as HPE’s new Chief Sustainability Officer? What challenges? What excites you the most about this role? 

This is an exciting role on so many levels—an excellent opportunity for our team to accelerate sustainability through innovative uses of technology, to become leaders in framing this interface as a new company, and to engage our passionate employee base in ways that bridge the digital divide and contribute to a more inclusive economy. 

What makes you feel most professionally fulfilled? What about personally? 

Collaborating with colleagues, exchanging ideas, working to bring about change and realizing the full potential of teamwork—these are a few key attributes. 

On a personal note, experiencing travel to a new location, meeting different people, engaging conversation with friends, outside adventures, learning a new skill. 

Describe your perfect weekend. 

A weekend in the mountains skiing, hiking or climbing with friends, family and my golden retriever! 

What books are on your nightstand right now? 

My books are in transit from Geneva . . . so currently a combination of magazines ranging from the New Yorker to Outside magazine. A guide to the Bay Area is likely there too! 

Normally though, books range from fiction to current events and various outdoor explorations. 

Who inspires you the most, and why? 

Many people. But Amelia Earhart initially springs to mind. As an aviation pioneer, she was ahead of her time. Unconventional, bold. She had a dream which she vigorously pursued. Convention did not hold her back and she distinguished herself as a result. 

I’ve always liked her philosophy, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” 

Whose LinkedIn or Twitter posts do you always read, and why? 

Naturally, HPE Living Progress @HPE_LivingProg

Also pieces from Fast Company (@FastCompany), Wired (@Wired) and Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) for less conventional perspectives on current affairs and climate. 

Richard Branson (@richardbranson), my former boss, offers a fresh outlook on business and its role in society. IDEO (@IDEOorg) draws on an innovative crowd sourcing angle to policy challenges. 

And the World Economic Forum (@wef), We Mean Business (@WMBtweets) and GreenBiz (@GreenBiz) all highlight important risks, trends and opportunities at the intersection of business and sustainability.

Living Progress News is a quarterly digital publication that spotlights stories about people, ideas and technology uniting to solve the world's toughest challenges. Click here to see more and subscribe.

Keywords: Business & Trade | Corporate Social Responsibility | Diversity & Human Resources | Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) | Lara Birkes | Living Progress | Women In Business