Susanna Kass: The Climate Pioneer Striving to Create a Carbon-Free Future in the AI era

Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders to Follow in 2024

Susanna Kass, a Co-Founder and BOD of InfraPrime, a net zero startup based in Switzerland, also serves as a Data Center Advisor for Carbon Neutrality on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Programme. In this role, she represents the UN Sustainable Development team by engaging private sector leadership, academic researchers, and public institutions to jointly promote sustainable energy within the international Data Center industry. She is a force to be reckoned with within the clean energy and sustainable data center space. Her unwavering commitment to and achievements of 3.8 Gigawatts of clean energy projects across 17 countries are expediting the transition to clean energy infrastructure in the Data Center and ICT sector. Kass is an Energy Fellow, a Board member of Graduate Management Board (GMB) Women’s Circle, and a lecturer at Stanford University, Cornell University Energy System Institute (CESI) and the National University of Singapore. She works with the researchers at the ​IPCC, Sustainability Institute at Cornell, Columbia University, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the Doerr School of Sustainability Stanford University. She is one of the researchers for The Clean Energy for Biden, with a focus to provide scientific-based evidence for the United States to revamp its carbon neutral infrastructure and support the enactment of international climate agreements.

Currently, she is an Operating Partner for Digital Gravity Infrastructure Partners, focusing on investments for The Future of Data Centers in the AI era. She is passionate about designing and investing in the Future of Data Centers builds in the AI era to achieve Corporate Carbon Neutrality goals. Consequently, the data center sector will exemplify UN SDG goals and ignite a transformation that will make a positive impact for a carbon-free economy future.

In her long and decorated career, Susanna has consistently demonstrated unparalleled results in creating a carbon-free economy future. Her creativity, expertise, and achievements have solidified her reputation around the world as a clean energy strategist in cloud computing. Susanna Kass is ​a serial entrepreneur and an AI scientist, she is currently discovering AI technology to accelerate performance, energy efficiency, and sustainability.

In the data center world, action revolves around energy — power is critical to operations, and it is key to her efforts to improve the sector’s environmental footprint. As a sector, data centers are engaged in a just transition from fossil fuel dependence to the clean energy economy. The adoption of renewable energy and energy storage is based on a breakthrough economic transformation within the energy industry, which can fulfill its promise to power the next generation of net zero data centers with affordable, clean energy.

The hyperscale providers are pioneers on the renewable energy front. Over the past three decades, they have established a track record of driving the procurement of gigawatt-scale renewable energy projects. She worked with hyperscale cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Meta, Equinix, and Apple to lead with renewable energy power purchase procurement and clean energy data center projects in over 17 countries.

She is an inventor to lead Absolute Zero design, which serves as the most ambitious target set for the data center industry to date. While a data center often relies on the use of offsets with renewable energy power purchase procurement and/or use of on-premise clean energy generation with storage (grid is not green 24/7), Absolute Zero is achieved by eliminating carbon emissions from data center operations and physically removing the greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. With Absolute Zero, no release of GHG emissions into the atmosphere can be physically verified. (Absolute Zero is a necessary term; because there are no scenarios where there are no unavoidable emissions, “Zero” cannot be used.)  Data centers can remove emissions through carbon removal processes during operation and in the supply chain to become carbon neutral; when the data center removes more emissions than it emits, it is called carbon negative.

Her aim is to accelerate time-to-market advantage for new data center builds in the AI era with Absolute Zero (zero carbon, emission, water, waste, dirty fuel) designs. The Future of Data Centers uses clean energy to power mission critical businesses and access to clean heat that is regenerated from data center heat waste. When old data centers are decommissioned, there will be no environmental impact on landfills.

Susanna feels rewarded in leading clean energy to power the digital infrastructure in a carbon free economy. As a result of her strategies, millions of tons of emissions have been alleviated to date, as the data center sector continues global growth.

She has received numerous prestigious industry awards and accolades with distinction, which recognize her efforts and initiatives to address climate change in a male-dominated IT and energy world. She leads the list of the Top 10 Sustainability Leaders in the Global World of Data Centers. In addition, she is listed among the Top 10 Women in Data Center and Top 10 Data Center Influencers to Follow on LinkedIn. She has been featured in the Top 50 Climate Change Leaders for five consecutive years. Notably, Data Center Dynamics bestowed upon Susanna its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in the Global Data Center Industry,

In a world dominated by profit-and-share-price-driven leaders, she is a new breed of authentic leaders who champion clean energy. Her zeal to transform a new generation of companies that will focus on people and the planet over profit is setting an example for those who will follow. Susanna is also known to promote young talents, as the co-founder and Chair for Broad group Talent in Tech Initiative. She has mentored over 900 STEM youths. According to Alberto Ravagni, Co-Founder of InfraPrime, Susanna inspires everyone around her – her community, followers, students, customers, and a whole industry to focus every action into generating positive impact.”

The Journey of an Independent Thinker

Susanna was born in Hong Kong when it was still a dependent territory of the United Kingdom. Her ancestors had fled to Hong Kong in hopes of starting a new life. As a child, she was captivated by the idea of living in this snow globe iconic city. But life had a different plan for her.

She grew up with two elder brothers, Lawrence and David. “We were baptized at birth by a Catholic priest and shared a happy childhood in minimal living conditions,” she reveals. “Our family’s daily meal was one shared dish, and my parents never missed telling us a bedtime story.” Susanna’s love for education and aspiration to be a lifelong learner stems from the sacrifices and lessons imparted by her parents.

In Hong Kong, she attended Maryknoll Convent School, where she learned English. Susanna says that an Irish nun, Sister Philippe, helped her family advance to a better quality of life. She recognized her talent and arranged for her secondary schooling at a Catholic all-girls boarding school in the UK, where she worked hard to excel in a foreign country and graduated early with honors. As she had moved alone and lived far from her family, Susanna spent a significant amount of time in the boarding school’s library, reading almost every book. “I traveled to the imaginary worlds depicted by the authors,” she says. Susanna moved to the U.S. when she received a scholarship to study at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace in California, from which she graduated.

Susanna graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU), earning dual degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence-Natural Language Processing and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing. She holds an MBA degree from Pepperdine University and an advanced Executive Graduate School of Business (GSB) degree from Stanford University. Susanna was decorated with distinction from each of her alma maters; as an Energy Fellow, by serving as a Board member at the Graduate Management Board (GMB) Women’s Circle at Stanford University, and by receiving a Distinguished MBA Alumnae Award from Pepperdine University and the First Presidential Entrepreneur Award from SDSU.

Now, when she looks back on her boarding school days, she sees the quiet time as a gift. She used it to hone herself into the person she is today – an independent thinker who is self-reliant and a lifelong learner with a strong faith.

With a clear vision and unwavering perseverance, Susanna challenged every stereotypical notion and fought all odds to become the successful businesswoman that she is today. She started as a computer programmer and software analyst at Digital Equipment Corporation. Today, she has more than 33 years of experience in the IT data center industry and is an influential clean energy strategist, AI scientist and entrepreneur. Her previous titles include COO, eBay International Operations, General Manager for HP Asia Pacific Network Services Organization, Corporate Director and Vice President at Sun Microsystems of Data Center Business Global Operations, Head of Innovation, NextEra Energy Resources, and Executive Vice President, Innovation and Sustainability Operations, Baselayer. Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” sums up her journey. She says, “You need to make choices. There is an eloquence in the purity of our enthusiasm. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great fortune. Constraints and rejections are not here to stop us; they are put in our lives with the purpose of training us to be more mindful thinkers and reach our own potential in finding solutions to our problems.”

About InfraPrime and Its People

“As co-founders, our primary focus is on aligning our values with those around us, whether for people, the planet, our environment, or the profit and growth of cloud in the digital transformation era, working toward a clean energy future,” Susanna says.

Soon after the establishment of InfraPrime, the European Union selected InfraPrime as part of the industry consortium to lead the conceptual design of the Clean Energy Standard of Eco Edge Prime Power (E2P2) to accelerate a carbon-free future for EU27. Susanna explains that standards help scale global growth and create a level playing field. Clean energy standards promote sustainability for developed and developing countries.

InfraPrime is known to lead innovatively in net zero designs for data centers. It has garnered a positive reputation in the industry because of its value disciplines, customer centricity, innovation, and operating efficiency – a relentless drive toward impactful results for clients, providing faster time to market and high value to achieve the Carbon Neutrality goals.

“We experience joy when we know the design, the build, the operation, and the maintenance of the data centers is working for our clients,” Susanna says. InfraPrime collaborates with its clients to perform better and achieve growth in a sustainable future. “Focus is our filter; our time is not used to work on a longer list of shiny objects,” Susanna points out. “We use our time and expertise to solve real business problems and the gaps and challenges that organizations and cloud providers cannot do themselves. Therein lies the value of InfraPrime – to address key market opportunities efficiently, to produce impact results, and to collaborate with our clients in our projects.”

Act as Climate Pioneers and a Clean Energy Strategist Trailblazer

Susanna believes that CxOs should act as climate pioneers, guiding innovation and sustainability in their enterprises. She is a pioneer in every sense of the word. Collaborating with her clients, she uses design thinking methodology to future-proof their clean energy transition. She ensures the effective use of resources, such as power, water, and materials, for data centers, and adheres to Net Zero design goals to deliver results to reduce carbon, reuse emissions, regenerate waste, replenish water, and eliminate the use of dirty fuel. Susanna adheres to an evidence-based framework for her strategic planning, leveraging good scientific and data-driven processes. Additionally, she taps into technology. She says, “AI is a powerful technology that has disrupted human-led digital transformation and must have socially responsible governance for humanity.”

Susanna is transparent in her communication with all stakeholders. By integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) metrics, she strives to deliver impactful results and thorough analyses for the CxO at Global 1000 enterprises in their corporate reporting that governs social benefits and yield profitable returns for sustainable growth on a global scale.

Susanna is actively involved in taking climate change measures to conserve environmental resources. Susanna operates in a trusted robust network with like-minded problem solvers. She believes that people learn from and collaborate with each other to build clean energy-powered cloud and AI data centers.

What Is Success?

Like most influential leaders, Susanna also has a distinctive definition of success. She does not associate it with a feeling of instant self-gratification. For her, success means creating one’s own focus and achieving a designed outcome that one has set.

Susanna feels successful when she knows she has made a difference, worked hard, learned from setbacks, and used her time effectively to reach her own potential by using knowledge, skills, and experience. Every step that Susanna takes is to ensure that others benefit from her work, get inspired, and join her in traveling together on the same journey.

The journey involves cognitive dissonance by facing one’s own fears, avoiding binary thinking, accepting rejections, and incorporating critical rethinking to keep going when it becomes hard to do so. “The realization that we tried and have achieved great outcomes to serve others in our lifetime makes all the difference,” Susanna says. She believes in inspiring others to strive toward a carbon free economy and future. The quote by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” encapsulates her approach.

Authentic Message for Emerging Leaders

Susanna firmly believes that the impact of a carbon-free economy is important for future generations, and current leaders must pave the way. The mainstream adoption of an idea is the success criterion for innovation, she says. She also tells them to be kind to themselves, use time wisely, be purposeful, and have a legacy, as life is very short. Susanna encourages emerging leaders to live a fulfilling life in their everyday living.

As a luminary global trailblazer, Susanna points out, “The cleanest data center is not powered by wind, solar, hydro, or nuclear energy. It is the one we don’t need to build. With each data center we build in the AI era, we pave the way for the current generation for a carbon free economy that allows the next generation to make their own choices.”