Alumni Spotlight: Alum Erik Hansen Leads Sustainability at Workday

Photo of Eric Hanson

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t always mean starting your own business. To be a change agent in any organization requires the same sort of entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to build something new and see it through to creation.

Erik Hansen has become that “intrapreneur” for Workday, where he currently works as the leading (and the only) senior sustainability manager. He helps manage the carbon footprint of the growing cloud computing application company, from overseeing greenhouse gas inventory to procuring renewable energy to promoting employee engagement. Hansen is particularly concerned with the electricity required to run Workday’s large number of servers 24/7, 365 days a year, something that plagues many of Silicon Valley’s biggest players.

But unlike other, larger tech companies, Workday does not have a full-fledged sustainability team. Hansen is one-man army, and when he first joined Workday back in 2010, they didn’t have a single employee dedicated full-time to the cause.

Hansen, who graduated from Cal Poly in 2003 with a degree in business administration and a concentration in information systems, knew he was passionate about helping the environment. After earning an MBA with an emphasis in sustainable management from Presidio Graduate School, he worked in EY’s advisory services sector. When he made the move to Workday as an information security program manager, he wasn’t sure how to make the professional transition from IT auditing to sustainability without significant background in the area.

“I was working for the security department, but knew I wanted to do something in line with my passion and more altruistic in nature,” said Hansen. “So I decided to help create [Workday’s] first sustainability report on my nights and weekends as a volunteer.” Workday logo

Eventually, Hansen made the case to senior leadership that Workday needed to make a permanent commitment to sustainability. His enthusiasm and energy won over his colleagues, and they insisted that Hansen be the one to lead the change.

“The original plan was to hire someone to manage this to report to me. But our new Workday Foundation president came up to me and said ‘It sounds like you have a passion doing this. Don’t hire someone — do this as a full time career shift.’”

It’s been almost two years since Hansen fearlessly made that pitch and earned himself the title of senior sustainability manager. He says the experience of starting the sustainability team at Workday perfectly mirrored Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing culture.

“You get thrown in the deep end almost all of the time, without knowing what you’re doing. That’s how being a professional works. I wasn’t going to learn about this by reading a textbook. I was going to roll up my sleeves and make it happen.”

Today, he is paving the way for some of Workday’s biggest sustainability initiatives yet and setting an environmentally responsible standard that he hopes others in the tech world will follow. Just in time for Earth Day 2016, Hansen and Workday announced a bold set of sustainability goals, including reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2021. To achieve such a goal, the company plans to use LEED certification in its newly constructed development center in Pleasanton, Calif. and leverage virtualization and recourse optimization technologies in its data centers.

The company also pledges to continue using 100 percent renewable energy in its global operations, something it has done since 2008, that will include on-site solar and virtual power purchase agreements that offset energy from the grid.

Hansen knows Workday’s goals are bold, but he is optimistic about where his industry is headed and his role in leading it there.

“As a business community, we’re ready for this,” Hansen says. “We’re ready to move forward and address the elephant in the board room, which is global warming and climate change.”