A Conversation with Two Sustainability Innovators: Switch and Kaiser Permanente

Smart Energy Decisions Erin Craig
Energy & Climate Consulting
Energy & Climate Consulting

In the photo (L to R): Erin Craig – 3Degrees, Ramé Hemstreet – Kaiser Permanente, Sam Castor – Switch

Earlier this month, I moderated a panel on Innovative Approaches to Pursuing Sustainability Goals at the Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Summit in Houston, TX.  Given the need for urgent action on climate change, I was encouraged by the presence of so many corporate leaders in the energy space, many of whom were there to receive awards for their forward-thinking initiatives in energy, sustainability, and facility management.  

The guests on the panel were from Switch and Kaiser, two companies that highlight the different paths organizations may pursue to achieve their sustainability goals. Sam Castor, EVP of Policy & Deputy General Counsel for Switch, and Ramé Hemstreet, VP of Operations, National Facilities Services and Chief Energy Officer for Kaiser Permanente, were at the event because their respective companies were being recognized for their superior sustainability efforts. Switch and Kaiser Permanente’s initiatives offer two strong examples of how companies are approaching their goals to become carbon neutral.


Growth of the internet of absolutely everything has created an unprecedented demand for data centers. In fact, researchers believe the internet will consume 20% of the world’s power by 2025; managing the environmental footprint associated with these data centers is no small feat. Switch shared insights about how they are creating a sustainable technology ecosystem through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable power, and storage solutions.

Long before it was fashionable to be green, Switch recognized efficiency innovation was key to internet sustainability. Switch was the first multi-tenant colocation operator in the world to receive all A grades in sustainability from Greenpeace in their 2017 Clicking Clean Report. The company now has over 600 patented and patent pending claims to technologies supporting this purpose. Switch was also the first data center provider to be 100% renewably powered by local, purpose-built renewable projects. Today, Switch designs, builds, and operates some of the world’s most efficient and sustainable data centers.

Switch received a Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Award for their widely acclaimed energy efficiency program, which uses a suite of energy-efficient technologies that evolve with each new data center. In 2017, Switch implemented their technologies in Grand Rapids, MI. The “Switch Pyramid” is their first retrofit and includes hot and cold aisle containment to isolate server heat and concentrate server densities, as well as other key features that significantly reduce the facility’s power use and energy footprint. Additionally, Switch’s facilities in Northern Nevada include technologies designed for cold weather efficiency, and those in Michigan include new accommodations for humidity and wind.

As impressive as these energy efficiency efforts are, Switch’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop there. As Sam shared with us, the company is making significant progress with its innovative Gigawatt 1 initiative in Nevada, which will be the single largest solar portfolio project in the United States and produce some of the lowest priced solar power in the world. Switch has a goal of being carbon neutral by next year. Data runs the planet and Switch wants to ensure that it does not ruin the planet.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare system and has a corporate sustainability goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.  The company recognizes that one of the most effective ways to protect the health of the more than 68 million people in the communities it serves is by ensuring healthy environmental conditions. By investing in renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral, Kaiser Permanente is helping to prevent climate-related illness for people worldwide.

In September 2018, the company executed a virtual power purchase agreement for 181 MW of clean energy, enabling the construction of utility scale solar and wind farms and one of the country’s largest battery energy storage systems. In conjunction with earlier VPPAs and on-site solar generation, this solar plus wind plus battery project is the largest of its kind in North America and will provide enough clean, renewable energy to achieve 100% renewable electricity for all of Kaiser Permanente’s 36 hospitals and 400 medical office buildings in California.  

The project’s large battery energy storage system is paired with solar in California and wind in nearby Arizona, demonstrating the degree to which the company is proactively deploying new technologies to help operationalize a combination which makes the promise of a multi-faceted, highly-renewable grid one step closer to reality. This unique project is a great example of the kind of visionary thinking that’s critical to help to accelerate technology adoption and bring new renewable energy onto the grid.

Next up for Kaiser Permanente? Ramé shared that they’re tackling their scope 1 emissions (direct greenhouse gas emissions that occur from sources owned by the company) and are interested in investing in the creation of new emission reduction projects that generate carbon offsets and catalyze industry change.

At 3Degrees, we work with organizations who are at all stages of their sustainability journey. It’s always especially inspiring to partner with companies like Switch and Kaiser Permanente who are setting such a strong example of sustainability and renewable energy leadership.

Listen to Erin Craig and speakers from Switch, Comcast, and Kaiser Permanente discuss the innovative approaches they’ve used to procure renewable energy in this CDP hosted webinar.