Profiling leaders in climate action: Matthew Eaton, VMware

matthew eaton headshot

Matthew Eaton is the Senior Manager for Responsible Sourcing at VMware, a leading provider of multi-cloud services for all apps, enabling digital innovation with enterprise control. At the heart of everything VMware does lies the responsibility and the opportunity to build a sustainable, equitable, and more secure future for all.

Tell us about your career path.

I’ve worked in three completely different industries, approaches, and supply chains in my career so far. I graduated from college just as the economy was slowing down in the mid-2000s and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, or what was most important, how I would be able to move out of my mom’s house. I got a job on the supply chain team at an aerospace and defense company through a family connection, and unexpectedly I really liked it! I worked in many different parts of the company before transitioning to the strategic sourcing team for a ski company, and now I’m in the technology industry. When I started at VMware, I was a sourcing manager, overseeing all strategic consulting spend, supporting sales go-to-market, finance operations, and a few other areas. I’m now a Senior Manager for Responsible Sourcing, focusing on driving Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) into our supply chain.

What are you most proud of in your work?

In June 2020, I led a meeting on the importance of allyship, both because it was Pride Month and in reaction to the social and racial unrest happening around the country. It was a very vulnerable moment for me, but also really a breakthrough experience.

This spurred a conversation with my boss and helped me recognize that I wanted my role to be more directly tied to impacting people and the planet. That was the genesis for what is now the program that I lead. Our mission is to drive responsible sourcing practices that prioritize sustainability, equity and trust and support VMware’s commitments to the planet and all its inhabitants. This new role would never have come about if I hadn’t been fully authentic in those conversations and spoken up about leveraging our dollars to drive change.

How does climate factor into your role?

Before I transitioned into this role, we didn’t have programs that prioritized suppliers with diversity, accessibility, or climate initiatives. Our Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) team was asking our suppliers to disclose their emissions to us through CDP Supply Chain, but there was very little traction with suppliers responding.

I launched our Responsible Sourcing program, which centralized all supplier-facing ESG requests, and because suppliers already have relationships with the sourcing team, we were able to improve the response rate. And I think this is the main key to success when engaging suppliers because I was very well positioned to have discussions with suppliers about our commitment to climate because I’m already talking to them about their future business with us, which they’re always interested in expanding. I tell suppliers that to continue to work with VMware in the long term, we need them to be aligned with our corporate values and with the public commitments we’re making about being net zero and reducing the emissions in our supply chain.

What advice do you have for others who want to drive change within their companies?

Don’t be afraid to not be an expert. I’m a supply chain expert, not a sustainability expert. I’ve educated myself as time has gone on and now can fluently speak sustainability, but I don’t let a lack of experience stand in my way of helping us move forward on sustainability and climate work. If you’re confident about what you need to see from your suppliers, they will get on board.

Also, choose to lead with carrots and not sticks. We focus on educating our suppliers so they can understand why we are invested in this, and we start with the business value for them, and follow with other sustainability 101 topics, while highlighting increasing global regulation. While this work is very important for the planet, we also recognize that this work is very important to prepare VMware’s business for the future.

What value does a climate program bring to VMware?

Reducing emissions has a direct return on investment (ROI) for any organization with a net zero goal. For all the carbon you’re reducing, you don’t need to buy offsets for later. Avoiding that cost can result in significant savings, especially for a large company like VMware which has about 90% of our emissions coming from our supply chain. If we invest anywhere for net-zero, it should be in this area!

VMware has set science-based targets, and one of those targets is that we will engage suppliers on climate action so that 75% of our 3rd party spend will be with suppliers who have set their own science-based targets by 2025. We expect to see a significant reduction in emissions in our purchased goods and services, which is the basis of our ROI calculation. Given the increasing cost of carbon, this is hard-dollar cost avoidance – something that procurement teams can get very excited about. The program pays for itself, but companies need to start acting on this now, as suppliers can’t change their behavior overnight.

Given the increasing cost of carbon, this is hard-dollar cost avoidance – something that procurement teams can get very excited about.

Matthew Eaton

What keeps you optimistic about the future?

When I talk to a supplier about our sustainability targets, it’s often the first conversation they’ve had about corporate climate action. They frequently lack the understanding that they have emissions and a role to play. I hear all the time, “we don’t manufacture anything, we’re just a service organization, so we don’t have emissions.” After some education, it’s amazing to see the light go on in their heads and hear them commit to learning more and acting on climate. A few months later, when I watch a supplier hire someone to focus on sustainability or send a commitment letter to the Science Based Targets initiative, it is so exciting!

Where do you go to learn more about climate or hear the latest?

I enjoyed the book Green to Gold about leveraging the dollars within a supply chain. GreenBiz is my primary source of education about corporate climate action more broadly. I’m also currently enrolled in a graduate program to get a Masters in Sustainability Leadership at The University of Cambridge. I would also recommend the Sustainable Procurement Pledge for anyone who’s just getting started in this space.

For more information about this program, check out https://www.vmware.com/company/responsible-sourcing.html

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