Longtime SB Corporate Member, John Frey (@John_Frey), is a Sustainable Innovation Technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He applies his diverse set of degrees in Safety Engineering, Divinity, and Missional Leadership to help customers come up with technological solutions to solve complex challenges while reducing environmental impact.
We spoke with John recently to discuss the latest technology HPE is developing to address critical global issues, how faith influences his work, and why corporate partnerships are essential to leadership.
What project are you most excited about right now?
JF: For me, the most exciting work today is rethinking the kind of processing technologies we need to address critical global sustainability issues. We're evolving data processing in order to keep pace with the current speed of data generation. More data will be generated in the next two years than has been generated in the history of mankind.
The HPE project that tackles this problem is The Machine — memory-driven computing. One of the sustainability effects of this is greater energy efficiency. Increases in efficiency also allow companies, government and researchers to process a lot more data more quickly.
This work is exciting because the nature of technology is changing so dramatically and quickly. There is also so much potential for increased sustainability, especially when you look at it from a net-positive perspective. There’s an opportunity here to create much more positive social and environmental value relative to the technology’s manufacturing footprint. Simply put, it’s fun to create something new.
The work we’re doing with The Machine goes beyond HPE. Historically, we’ve understood that technological innovation is the result of collaboration. HPE Labs has been partnering with research institutions and other partners throughout this project. As with many things of this nature and scale, we didn't want it to be proprietary.
If it's a good idea from a societal perspective, the more open it is and others can leverage it, the better off HPE is. The Machine will unlock our ability to solve fundamental global challenges that we didn’t have the capability to solve before. This will create the horsepower needed to tackle these challenges and find solutions.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
JF: My work in sustainability began when HP was made up of a lot of vertical organizations, totaling about 47 different business units, each with their own sustainability team. In order to reach company-wide global sustainability goals, we needed to establish central sustainability initiatives that previously did not exist. I was brought in to manage the matrix of these different teams, bringing them together to collaborate and reach company goals.
Working in sustainability continues to be exciting because this field is constantly evolving. My current job didn’t exist when I started at HPE but was developed out of a clear business need. Every day I have a new challenge to help our customers succeed in creating sustainable technology solutions.
I’ve also recognized that the people most impacted around the world by poor sustainability practices are the folks who can least afford to be impacted. As sustainability professionals, what we do for a living really has a broad impact on world peace, environmental restoration and a whole lot of folks around the world. Knowing that what we’re doing impacts real people motivates me.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
JF: When I’m not at HPE, I’m a pastor at a church. I have a Masters in Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry. Some members know this, but this might surprise others! For me, this is a pretty natural fit. I like to describe myself as living at the intersection of sustainability and spirituality because both are very tightly connected.
Faith institutions are beginning to recognize the need to train faith leaders in sustainability. One of the things that I’m in the midst of at the moment is helping my seminary develop sustainability classes for pastors. Faith leaders don't tend to talk about sustainability a lot, partially because they were never taught to talk about it.
Before taking the call to ministry, I was doing a lot of other things to try to define my life at the time. In high school, I was on the road with a rock and roll band as the manager. I then began teaching emergency medicine, doing a lot of scuba diving and more. I eventually found myself working on Lilly Foundation projects for a number of years as a layperson, where I found the call to ministry.
Ever since then, ministry was the clear path forward for me. I let my paramedic license expire and pursued ministry organically. After about four years, I recognized that I needed to pursue this in a more formal way and pursued a Masters in Divinity on the side, earning the degree after about five years. Once I finished with that degree, I realized that I might as well keep up the momentum and get the doctorate.
If you had unlimited time and resources, what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members on?
JF: I would love to collaborate with members on accelerating cross-company work, particularly related to the Net Positive movement. HPE is a member of the Net Positive, which is doing a lot of great work. However, the group of companies involved is relatively small.
I want to explore how we can broaden this work across industry segments and how to speak in a meaningful and valid way about the outcomes beyond environmental benefits. We’ve tended to focus a lot on the environmental benefits that have come from the Net Positive Movement because we know how to quantify them. At this point, the social benefits are a little more challenging to quantify.
The conversation would be so much richer if we had 100 companies working on this, instead of just 15. With a larger group, we can really help companies demonstrate the positive benefit their work is creating. Ultimately, market opportunities are going to go to the companies that can demonstrate they generate more value than they consume.
Even though no one has unlimited time and resources, companies can still get together to work on this and make a lot of good headway.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
JF: At HPE, we believe that partnership is leadership. The challenges we're all collectively driving against can't be solved by any one company. For me, part of the way that we solve those challenges is to come together with like-minded companies and competitors. We want to understand what other companies are working on and how HPE can help. The larger the group, the greater the impact.
Part of what brings me to the SB Community is the willingness of everyone to collaborate, share best practices and solve problems together, particularly when answers to the problem don’t exist yet. Some of the work we’re trying to accomplish is really hard, and the pathway isn’t clear. But when we get together, we’re able to work together to discover the best path forward. That’s our commitment as a community.
For years, we’ve been measuring our impact in terms of carbon reduction or some other metric related to revenue generation. But this year, at SB’17 Detroit, we were asked to think about the actual outcome of this work on society. How does it enable the good life for everyone? In thinking like this, the connection between supply chain sustainability and social programs becomes clearer, and we are pushed to consider the social impact of operations all the way up and down the value chain.
What do you work on in your free time?
JF: I run triathlons for two charities. One is a global water charity and the other is Mercy Project, a charity in Ghana that rescues young children from slavery. They do this by teaching the community that enslaves them to find more sustainable ways to generate income so they don’t have to rely on job trafficking.
Between the various hats I wear, there’s not a lot of free time left over. But participating in these charitable triathlons lets me get some exercise and spend time with my wife. It makes for a better work life balance when I can go for a long run.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
JF: The idea I'd like to leave everyone with is that partnership is leadership. Let’s proactively look for opportunities to collaborate. HPE certainly raises our hand in this regard and is ready and willing to collaborate. Oftentimes, though, potential partners will hesitate to collaborate because they don’t think they’re ready yet.
However, when collaboration does take off, all parties involved find great success over time. We’re most powerful as a community when we collaborate, accomplishing more together than we could ever do individually.