Environment Variables
Fact Check: Ola Fagerström and Microsoft's Surface Emissions Estimator
April 26, 2023
In this episode, we have a very special guest for an episode of Fact Check on Environmental Variables, Ola Fagerström from Microsoft Surface joins host Asim Hussain to talk about his work on the Microsoft Surface Emissions Estimator - an important tool that helps measure the carbon footprint of the device. Ola talks about how difficult it was to take into account everything from materials used, to manufacturing, to packaging, and even end-of-life disposal to give an accurate estimate of the emissions produced by each device; and how these principles can be applied to other areas of green software development.
In this episode, we have a very special guest for an episode of Fact Check on Environmental Variables, Ola Fagerström from Microsoft Surface joins host Asim Hussain to talk about his work on the Microsoft's Surface Emissions Estimator - an important tool that helps measure the carbon footprint of the device. Ola talks about how difficult it was to take into account everything from materials used, to manufacturing, to packaging, and even end-of-life disposal to give an accurate estimate of the emissions produced by each device; and how these principles can be applied to other areas of green software development.  

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Transcription Below:
Ola Fagerström: When is the first company going to start to say, we only allow eight tabs open? Because if you start to have, I'm just making numbers up, 16 tabs, you might run to your boss and say, Hey, I need a device with the 32 gigs of memory because my memory is constantly filled. Yeah, sorry. We put a policy that you can only have eight tabs open because that will save on the memory, and therefore we can buy cheaper or devices that are actually greener.

Asim Hussain: Hello, and welcome to Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we discuss the latest news and events surrounding green software. On our show, you can expect candid conversations with top experts in their field who have a passion for how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of software.

I'm your host, Asim Hussain.

So welcome to Environment Variables, where we bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. I'm your host, Asim Hussain. In this episode, we have a very special guest for an episode of Fact check on Environment Variables from Microsoft Surface. We have technology specialist Ola Fagerström.

Ola Fagerström: Hi there, Asim. What a nice, uh, way to get introduced as a special guest and.

Asim Hussain: Probably worse ways of being introduced isn't there? Not so special guest anyway. Ola, like it's great to have you on the show. Obviously we were colleagues at Microsoft, we're both circling kind of the sustainability space. I'm not at Microsoft anymore. So to give our listeners some context, could you please introduce yourself?

Ola Fagerström: Yes, I'm Ola Fagerström. I'm based and live in the fantastic country of Sweden, where probably some of you listeners have heard of a small girl called Greta. Which is also helping, pushing the environment forward and doing a lot of stuff. So part of, I can say part of that inspiration, but I've been with Microsoft for in, oh, what is it this week?

11 years.

Asim Hussain: Oh wow.

Ola Fagerström: So quite some time I've been with the devices and Surface family for the last, what is it? Eight, nine years since we launched Surface Pro Free back in the market. Way back in the days. So, uh, that is sort of my day-to-day job and then working with sustainability almost on a daily basis to make sure that we can.

Help and tell our customers what we actually do, and I report back to our dear engineers what they have to do better

Asim Hussain: Ah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. That

Ola Fagerström: as well. Sit sitting a little bit that in between of, uh, explaining difficult things to people on the simple way on one end and the other way around as well.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, and you have to explain the sustainability difficult things and even more difficult. So thank you for that. Yes, we've really great to have you on the podcast to talk about your work. So to just explain how this works to our listeners, this is a type of episode which we call Fact Check. It's slightly different from our typical Environment Variables or this week in Green Software TWiGS episodes.

We're first going to ask you a few questions about your background and experience in the world of sustainable software, on the world of sustainability, and then we're going to do a bit of a deep dive into your work with Microsoft and the Microsoft Surface Emissions Estimator, and then we'll just see where that takes us.

Ola Fagerström: Sounds like a good plan, I think. Yeah.

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Um, just a, before we dive in, it's just a reminder for everybody that everything we talk about will be linked in the show notes below this episode. So here's my first question. Can you tell me more about your background and how you became a device sustainability specialist at Microsoft?

Ola Fagerström: Yeah, so one of the things, as I said previously, coming from a region or a country where sustainability has always been on top of mind. Of our customers, people living here, it's been a, a constant topping, bringing back to our dear friends, sitting on the other side of the pond to ask them to do more. And then at one point in time, then you realize as well, okay, if they can't provide you with everything, then you actually have to start to dig in yourself.

And help to do more as well. That is creating the thing that didn't actually exist. And that started quite some time ago, years and years back.

Asim Hussain: So that's cuz like you're in the surface space and imagine you're getting asked a lot of questions. Is that I bet

Ola Fagerström: Absolutely. And going back 4, 5, 6 years ago, bringing that back to maybe a market where sustainability was not the top of the agenda. That was in many cases, yeah, but we have some legal information you can find online. We can send you a PDF and things like that. But that was not so much maybe what my, my customers and I wanted to know when we started to think about those things.

Asim Hussain: Yes. And that's really good. I think Anne Currie, who, who's one of the co-hosts of podcasts, talks about this quite often, which is if you are a customer of an organization, asks questions cuz that's what gives Ola and people like Ola kind of the imperative to do this work that we're describing here right now. So just before we really dig into kind of the service missions estimates, I know you mentioned that you live in a country where sustainability is a key, a very important thing. But would you say there was a particular moment or turning point in your career where you decided to focus on sustainability?

Ola Fagerström: I think one of those key things when I really felt like, okay. Even though I think this is important now I know that the company feel that this is important. And one of those key things was of course, when Microsoft in 2020 went out and said that we are going to be carbon negative, we are going to be zero waste, we are going to be water positive.

All of those things. One of the fine lines in the announcement said as well, that one of our focus things is around our product and devices. And I was like, don't really know all about that. Let's see what's behind that.

Asim Hussain: Yeah. I love that answer because I've said this before and I, cause I was at the same company at the same time, and when the leader of a company comes out publicly and makes a statement, it gives freedom to the people working inside that organization to then follow through on those actions. Cause then when you're having meetings, you can just say to people Sachin, he said it on stage, so you know, you better have this conversation with me and let's talk it through.

Whereas prior to that public announcement, that kind of conversation is more difficult, isn't it?

Ola Fagerström: And, and the interesting in this, and then we'll probably discuss this a bit further on as well, if you are listening as a, as a customer and you have a company that has said something publicly, in most cases, the one who has signed off on that is in many cases the board of directors or the CEO. So you can quite easily start to hold them accountable to that.

Okay. But you said this. We have set up this call. You and your dear friend at the table has actually signed up from this, so how are we going to do it?

Asim Hussain: Yes. That's the wonderful thing, about making a public commitment. Whether it's telling all of your friends, you're gonna quit smoking, or whether it's a public sustainability commitment, there's a certain amount of peer pressure to keeping you honorable. So let's dig into the work that you've been doing.

Firstly, can you give us a quick overview of what the Microsoft Surface Emissions Estimator is? And you know what it does? Am I saying it right as well? Is that the official title?

Ola Fagerström: Yeah. Yeah, it's a very long word. And of course we have legal friends that's making sure that we use exactly the right wording. So therefore, it's not the calculator, it's an estimator and things like that. At,

Asim Hussain: Mm. Mm-hmm.

Ola Fagerström: so it very much came from that announcement that we said that we are going to be as a company, carbon negative. When you start to dig into the details of that, you are also saying, see for example, that we are publishing what we call from our side an Eco report. So you can see, okay, what is the estimated impact from purchasing, a, surface Pro Nine, let's say. Those are public things. That's a PDF that you can find online, but then it quickly starts to come and you start to nerd, as I did around those things because in all of those PDFs, there are some fine lines saying, oh, the numbers in this PDF comes with the fixed assumptions of whatever it might be.

In our case, it says that the numbers in this case is based on the assumption that device is used in the US for example, for four and a half years.

Asim Hussain: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ola Fagerström: Brilliant. If you're a customer that's using it for four and a half year in the US but if you start to think, yeah, but I'm a UK customer and I'm going to use that device for two years, is that really accurate for me then that number? So I start to then to dive into, okay. But we probably can calculate that in a much more granular and much more accurate way for all those customers who don't fit that four and a half year.

Asim Hussain: Hmm.

Ola Fagerström: The surface emission estimate is all about to make sure that you can understand what is the footprint from me with the assumptions that I say in the tool versus assumptions that someone has made for me.

Asim Hussain: Hmm. Okay, so you're just trying, so you, you, I dunno if it's this, if it's just the Swedish way of saying it, but you called it a eco. Is it LCA report you're describing before?

Ola Fagerström: Yeah, so in that, in that eco profile, you then see that the numbers are then based on what we call an LCA calculation or a life cycle calculation. If you don't know what an LCA is, basically you collect all the information that you have about the product that you intend to manufacture, and you can do some estimation of what is, for example, the environmental impact from producing that.

Asim Hussain: Because effectively what an LCA sounds like, an Eco Report is just another, or a summarized version perhaps, of what an LCA form sounds like. Maybe something that's formalized for devices. It perhaps is, it sounds like. Yeah.

Ola Fagerström: And you can find those eco reports for any given product. It's basically an LCA is not something specifically to the pc. It's done in the car industry and it's been done for a very long time. But we are on the path of where that data becomes super crucial for customers to understand.

Asim Hussain: Because, okay, I see. So like for with a typical LCA report, what you're doing is you're just basic, effectively just writing a PDF because the technology has not moved on since 1994 about the ability to disseminate knowledge to other human beings. Just the PDF is the pinnacle of data dissemination in the sustainability arena.

But the challenge with the PDF with something digital is you have to make a ton of assumptions like what you just made because it is just a static bit of data. So like, how would I write a static bit of data? About the carbon emissions of my laptop. You have to make a ton of assumptions. You have to assume what my user profile is.

How much do I use it? Where am I? How long am I gonna keep it for? But that's all statically written down in a PDF. From what I'm hearing, from what you're saying is the estimator like a dynamic LCA, where you can put your real values in and it gives you your real estimated values back out.

Ola Fagerström: Yeah. Cause what we have done now in the estimator is basically we have taken that LCA and broken it apart because in a normal LCA then, or in the output from that, you say, okay, how much in this case, carbon emission is associated with the production of that device. How much comes from transporting it to the location where it's going to be used?

How much carbon emission is going to come from using that device in the PC, and that's how much electricity is that going to use in the location where you might be. And then the last one comes from the end of life treatment. So what we do in this case is that we say that use the production part be because that's very static.

But then the transportation part is dynamic because we know, for example, then by our own logistics, what does it take to ship a device from our factory to maybe a central warehouse? To a central warehouse to the end location where the customer might be? The other thing as well is that. The energy grid in the UK might be very different from the grid in Sweden or in India or somewhere else.

So we need to start to think of how much energy or how much CO2 is associated with, for example, one of use in the UK versus Sweden versus India. So that's what we also then bring into the tool to show that, okay, how much energy is that device actually going to use? And then we have. Done some clever stuff in it as well, where we actually start to show actual usage or telemetry data in that to make it even more granular.

Asim Hussain: I believe the estimators designed a, probably a, and you tell me if I'm wrong, obviously tell me if I'm wrong, but for organizations that perhaps would buy a rather large amount of surface devices and manage like a fleet of devices, and so then typically if I was in that organization prior to the estimator, all I would've ever been able to do is take the LCA report.

I've bought 10,000 services. Multiply, whatever that number report by 10,000, and that's just my carbon emissions. Now I can then put in some real values. And you mentioned transportation, so I presume what you can, one of the things you can say is 1000 of those machines were delivered to our France offices in France, 1000 in Germany, 2000 in Singapore, or something like that.

So the estimator sounds like that's one of the variables it takes into account. So also sounds, from what you said, it also takes into account grid intensity of electricity to also take that variable into account. Are there any other variables, like what other variables 

Ola Fagerström: can I factor in?

Yeah, so you can also say for how many years I'm going to use it. So you can say, I'm going to use it for two years, or three or four years instead to take that into account as well. Okay. How long are you going to use that energy in that location? But the cool stuff in the tool as well. Like we said, we're going to link to the tool so you can look it up yourself.

Is that on the used part? We actually have two bars in there that shows. One, how much energy is that device using according to the Energy Star standard? Because all the devices say that, oh, we are rubber stamp. We meet energy star standards. But what people don't realize, and I have to share a little bit of a, a hard moment when I did my digging out about this tool, is that when you are reading the formula that Energy Star is using, To measure the amount of energy a device, tablet, or phone is using, they are saying in the formula, okay, you as a manufacturer has to measure how much energy is that device using and the grand prize for you Asim, if you know the answer to this, how much energy is your device using when it's in, in off mode?

Asim Hussain: Ah,

Ola Fagerström: When it's in what they call sleep mode and what they call as long idle and short idle, but what are we missing in this calculation?

Asim Hussain: Uh oh. Well, it's idles. It just sounds like effectively off states, isn't it? So it's just like idles, sleep, off. Not actual. Also perhaps as a mirror of what I am actually like when I'm in front of my computer, which is fairly idle and sleepy, but doesn't really like factor in like as sometimes on a rare occasion I'm also quite active.

So it sounds like it's not taking that into consideration.

Ola Fagerström: So the funny is that when you explain that to people and say that, imagine that you would go out to the garage and look for that new car, and then they would have in the fine print and say, oh, by the way, the amount of fuel this car is going to use, it's measured by you parked a car in the parking lot, you put in the key in the ignition.

You turn the key and let the engine run for a little while or for a little while longer, but you don't leave the parking lot.

Asim Hussain: Right.

Ola Fagerström: And I was like, yeah, but that can't be right. I must be missing something in their calculation. So I asked one of our engineers that's doing the Energy Star certification, ask them.

Is it really right that Energy Stars actually don't calculate for actual usage? He said yeah, there's a small formula for it, but you have to think of where does Energy Star come from that was created to make sure that you lower the energy usage from refrigerators,

Asim Hussain: Uh,

Ola Fagerström: that, air conditions, which has a very fixed on and off or idle, but they don't actually take into calculation the actual usage of a tablet or a pc.

Asim Hussain: interesting.

Ola Fagerström: So when you start to think of, oh, we have a energy saving goal in our company, great. As a starting point that you ask for energy star certified devices. Of course, I'm not arguing by that. But it won't take you to your energy reduction goals because you need to start to measure actual usage. So what you will see in the tool is one bar saying, this is the amount of energy that energy stars are requiring to meet Energy star certification.

Then we have a green bar saying, this is the amount of energy that we see collected from devices being used out in the field. For example, the Surface Laptop studio that might be used for CAD work and stuff like that. Of course, it's going to use a lot more energy than just to log into windows and don't do anything.

It's like measuring the amount of fuel a car with a turbo is using based on that you're just parked is on the parking lot. Of course, the turbo is never kicking in. If you're just standing there and looking at technician.

Asim Hussain: So, cause I imagine what people perhaps have done in the past with the absence of an LCA, maybe with one is take the energy star, I'm sure energy star as well as giving you A, B, C, D, E, F, or whatever it is. It's probably giving you an energy consumption per minute or something like that. And if you were just to use that and multiply it by the number of minutes you're using it, but it would not reflect cuz that's effectively saying like that's how much energy your compute would use if it was idle.

What you are reporting in the estimator is actual usage. Isn't that a bit, I'm sure like that bar is so far high than the energy star bar, isn't it just a pretty depressing like thing to look at all the time?

Ola Fagerström: No, actually, it's interesting because in some cases that bar might be higher. In some cases it's actually lower because some cases we also see that the device is used as intended. For example, the Surface Go, which is more sort of an iPad format. People might use it, just log in, check their emails, not doing anything more, so the energy usage will be actually lower than what we see when we did the testing.

So this is also then seeing and giving the customer the deep insight because again, the nerding part of this, and this is the fun part of listening to podcasts, that you always learn stuff. When you are reading those eco profiles from the other large manufacturers, the sort of little fine line saying in there, the use of this device is calculated according to the Energy Star standard.

So that means that, oh, we say that you're going to use 15 kilos of co2. Okay. But that's just based on that me logging into windows and not doing anything. So what we now do in the tool is actually using that telemetry data to saying that a hundred surface pro nines are going to use, I'm just making up numbers now, 900 kilowatt hours.

Asim Hussain: So just want to clarify one quick point before we dig into this. So is that information available kind of per customer, or is this something that you're aggregating up and just making available yourself? Or, if I'm a customer and I'm using the emissions estimator, and I've got 10,000 machines, would you tell me the average consumption across all my machines?

Ola Fagerström: No, it won't be across your machines, but it's across the sort of Windows estate. But it's based on that specific skew and product. So it's for a Surface Pro 9 i5, whatever it might be, coming from the data reported back to Windows and Microsoft.

Asim Hussain: So this actually could be quite useful information for a lot of people out there in the world. Like they could actually go to this and then see, forget energy star. You've effectively got a real world model of usage, real human UX, user experience of devices and energy consumption that goes there.


Ola Fagerström: So, of course inside of today, that's only a long green bar saying this is the energy usage. Then we have to start to think of what you are doing on your daily, which is making sure that the software that runs in that green bar, Because then we can start to slice that up and say, oh, what is, for example, Edge using as part of that, or whatever kind of software I'm running on that device.

Asim Hussain: Can you reveal? Cause I've, I think I've heard data from various sources. I don't think I've heard anything official from a Microsoft perspective, uh, or just stay quiet if it's true. But is it true that browsing or browsers take up, is it 60 or 70% of the energy consumption on most kind of laptop devices?

Is that something that is too far away from what you think is true?

Ola Fagerström: I think the interesting in that question is that if you look at what we have done in Edge, where we now can start to put the tabs into green mode, which is actually quite interesting because then you can start to measure those things as well to see, okay, how much are we actually saving by using that kind of green mode or whatever kind of green or energy saving that you have put in your software.

And then start to think of how are we collaborating in that sense with the OS that device is running on.

Asim Hussain: That was the feature of Edge that dragged me onto Edge was that that was, it was both useful from a sustainability perspective and also just from a human perspective. Cuz I'm one of those people that just opens a ton of tabs and it's just way more performing.

Ola Fagerström: Yes to nerd on that a little bit. It's kind of interesting as well when we start to talk about in this world to make sure that we save on the environment. So when is the first company going to start to say, we only allow eight tabs open?

Because if you start to have, I'm just making numbers up, 16 tabs, you might run to your boss and say, Hey, I need a device with the 32 gigs of memory because my memory is constantly filled.

Yeah, sorry. We put a policy that you can only have eight tabs open because that will save on the memory and therefore we can buy cheaper or devices that are actually greener.

Asim Hussain: That's a very interesting angle to take on this whole world. You're right, actually, yeah. You constantly install things on your computers. They slowly degrade over time. And then all you have to do is reinstall everything and start from scratch and everything's really fast again. So yeah, there's a slow degradation which forces you into action choosing tooling.

I think that's also another factor, like tooling should be,

Ola Fagerström: Absolutely. And. It leads me also sort into the discussion where another thing that people constantly talk about now as well is of course circularity in in, in those things as well. And where I, cuz I'm in a lot of discussions with customers and they often ask, well, yeah, but what kind of questions should I ask for the, yeah, probably the first question you should ask for, what is the residual value of the thing that I'm going to purchase?

Asim Hussain: When you say residual value, would you mind, would you mind kind of clarifying what you about residual

Ola Fagerström: Yeah, of course.

Asim Hussain: Yeah.

Ola Fagerström: Cause when you start to think of when you purchase something, you are probably then doing it with the intent of either using that thing until it falls apart and you're going to recycle it, or you're going to purchase something with the intent of, I'm going to use it for X amount of time and then resell it. We know for a fact something with no value at all will most likely just be thrown in the bin. Something with a high value will for sure be sold over and over again, regardless if it's a PC, a phone, or whatever it might be. And I often refer to this as well in calls and say, nobody would think of taking their three year old iPhone and throw it in the bin.

Everybody knows, Hey, I can just go on eBay and get $400 for it and it will definitely be sold again. Exactly the same thing we see with Surface. My daughter is still using my Surface Pro free that I got. What is it now? Eight years ago,

Asim Hussain: Yeah,

Ola Fagerström: a couple of weeks ago when we checked on eBay, that was still worth $150.

Compare that to something. Made of cheap plastic that nobody cares of, that would've been thrown away a long time ago.

Asim Hussain: It's a very interesting point as you remind you. Cause I, I got a, a electric car a couple of years ago and I leased it. And what was fascinating about that experience is that they, they still look arguably very expensive for a car. However, the thing that was fascinating about with the lease price was actually quite low.

Ola Fagerström: Yep.

Asim Hussain: after I've finished leasing it for two years, its value remains high so they can lease it for less, if that makes sense. If that math makes sense. Yeah.

Ola Fagerström: interesting to this is again that key question. When you purchase and you want to come into circularity, how are you going to enter that and how long are you going to use that? Whatever you buy until it falls apart and you're going to make sure that you repair it yourself. Or if you repair something, send it back to repair centers and things like that.

Or are you going to do, just as you said, making sure that working with the lease partner that's actually going to make sure that electric car's getting sold again and again?

Asim Hussain: That's very interesting. Yeah, I think the world is gonna have to move towards that secondary market model. And I think it's interesting cuz in the tech space, I would argue that four or five years ago, like it really mattered getting, I felt a very significant difference getting the latest model in my life.

I would argue these days, maybe I just don't do as much hardcore as I used to, but like for most of the work that I do, which is having a meeting, browsing, writing a document, like there's almost no difference. Now if I was to get a new machine in terms of any performance, like a machine that's like 4, 5, 6, 7 years ago, would do just as fine for me as a machine right now.

Which maybe indicates, and I used to this, the nature of devices is changing.

Ola Fagerström: And I think also when we start to think of the other thing that you used to work with it, which is of course Azure, back in the day at Microsoft. How much power do you need in your device versus how much can you actually start to use from somewhere else when you need it?

Asim Hussain: Hmm.

Ola Fagerström: Without your own organization need to, uh, purchase 10,000 servers and have to build all of those things where you today can then buy it from Windows 365, which powers next generation of windows.

So, do I need to buy a laptop with. I nine just because I'm making some CAD drawings for a couple months, or can I just buy that as a license when I need it for X amount of time?

Asim Hussain: The There are virtualized desktops as well. I think that's, that's kinda the thin client argument, isn't it? Like we could get away now, perhaps a lot. I think a lot of people will probably get away with very thin clients and then just a lot of the compute on the cloud and then that can be hopefully have greater efficiency, efficiencies of scale

Ola Fagerström: I think so, definitely too. And something that I'd like to point out, what is a little bit special with the tool or actually the methodology that Microsoft and the eSign team is actually using now? To do that LCA, which stands out as very much as the gold standards for everyone else, is that when you're doing that LCA, you can do it in two ways.

Either you can use a simplified tool, which is based on an either an algorithm or you can use a tool that then takes into account your own supply chain.

Asim Hussain: Oh.

Ola Fagerström: That means I've made this little simple analogy. So if you are listening to this and you've imagined in your head that you work in IT, and then our dear friends at the communication department comes to us and ask, Hey, you work in IT.

You can always help with everything. Hey, of course we do. We do it all the time. We are going to run a super expensive ad campaign. Okay. We need you to find a new picture supply for that. Okay. Also, I can do that. Okay, great. The only requirement we have is that it needs to be a picture of an orange and gray super sport bike.

Okay. I know exactly what I'm going to ask for. Shouldn't be a problem to find a new supplier for it. The first supply took them about 20 minutes to do the job, it only required one person. They used a simplified tool where you just put in a few keywords today, orange and gray, super sport bike, standing inside your studio.

Voila! You have a picture of an orange and gray bike. The tool that you used may not give you who took it because nobody took it. Can you see when it was taken? Probably not. Is it a hundred percent color accurate? Most likely not either. The other supplier, it took them three bloody months to do the same job.

They used a super expensive tool to do it. They used a super high resolution sensor. Came back with the most astonishing picture you can ever imagine. You're zooming to every screw. You can see who took it when it was taken a hundred percent color accurate. Could you compare those two? Of course. Cuz Hey, you just asked me to find a supplier of orange and gray bikes.

Could you really compare that? Probably not. So what most manufacturers today are using is a simplified tool because their catalog of devices is so large,

Asim Hussain: Right.

Ola Fagerström: so they put in a few keywords like. What is the size of my screen? What is the material that I might use? What is the thickness of the motherboard?

It takes about 20 minutes to half an hour. What it gives you is sort of a half blurry picture because it's not the display that you exactly are using or exactly that disk that you are using. What Microsoft has done very differently now is that we have gone out to our own supply chain. And collected exactly the measurement of what does it take to produce that specific screw that we use in a Surface Pro 9, if I just make something, or that specific motor board that is used in just that device, and that takes all the way from producing that raw material.

To getting it to the next supplier, to the next, to the next, to the next. So of course, that spreadsheet is, you know, thousands and thousands of rows of processes, and then we produce that life cycle for that specific skew using the bill of materials or the bomb for that specific device.

Asim Hussain: So I'd always assumed, actually that's how everybody does it. So what you are saying to me, that's how Microsoft does it. But if I'm another manufacturer, there are tools out there. I'm some sort of Web interface tools where I can just answer a series of questions roughly describing my head. I've got a head, I'm holding headphones right now.

It's these headphones that I've manufactured. And it will roughly generate cause it's gonna have, it's gonna be so averaged out now, isn't it? Yes. I've got a bit of metal. But what metal is in this? How much, you know, within 20 minutes it'll gimme a very rough report. But you are saying there is multiple levels of quality of LCA reports that are out there.

Is there some way, as a consumer I can know that this report was built using not, yeah.

Ola Fagerström: what you need to start to ask, especially if you are an organization and purchase something, the first key question then, okay. The data that you provide me, or this number that I saw in your eco profile or whatever it is that they call it, is that using what the nerd calls primary data means data collected from your own measurement and supply chain.

Secondary data might be data that is publicly available in some sort of database. What we could see when we did our own measurements, we could see, for example, that the assumption of how much energy was used when you, for example, molded out the chassis of a surface device, and we could pair that to the measurement from our actual supplier of it.

We saw that the energy usage was 20 times higher.

Asim Hussain: So you actually created this manually yourself or some other mechanism through in-house manufacturing. You created your own chassis or what case you said, and then you calculated that was in a controlled environment, so you calculated the energy you needed to do that. You went to your suppliers and then asked your supplier for the same information, and then number was 20 times less than your number, is that what you're saying?

Or the other way around?

Ola Fagerström: No. So what we did before was we used one of those industry available databases that said that if you are producing one kilo of aluminum into a CNC chas- chassis, you're most likely going to use this amount of energy. So we could say then, so don't hold me accountable for the numbers, I'm just making some up.

Let's say that to create 500 grams of surface chassis, you may be using 15 kilowatt hours of energy. But then when we actually compared that and went to the supplier who did that molding for us and ask, okay, how much energy are you using to create 500 grams of that chassis? And they said, oh, but that's 150 kilowatt hours that we use.

Asim Hussain: Oh, so suppliers were telling you like a greater amount than these existing kind of emission factor models.

Ola Fagerström: Exactly. Because when you start to look down to where those model comes from and the assumptions of that, in some cases, those models and assumptions might be 20 years old.

Asim Hussain: Wow, I suppose you are actually trying, cuz you're trying to model everything in the world. Everything that could possibly be modeled in a supply chain.

Ola Fagerström: The interesting to this is also what many people are not aware of. So inside Microsoft we have what's called the internal carbon fee. So all parts of Microsoft needs to pay a carbon fee depending on how much they add to the organization.

Asim Hussain: In terms of carbon emissions?

Ola Fagerström: Yeah so as taxpayer, we all know we want to have control of our numbers to make sure that we pay as little or, as much tax as we have to. Of course, to be able to do that, you need to have measurements from the people that you are purchasing things from.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, I know. I remember for the Microsoft announcement, that was one of the announcements was one of the pressures that Microsoft put on its suppliers was to provide that data. Which is one of the hidden aspects of that, but you had to dig a couple of layers deep into that announcement to get that. But yeah.

Ola Fagerström: And that, of course, then starts to play into account. Cause what we do then in the estimator is that then we are both showing very accurate numbers based on that specific skew that you are looking at. Which comes from the measurement of our own manufacturing and supply chain. And then couple that with measurements from the logistics and then we take measurements from actually using it device based on telemetry in the location and for the years that you're going to use it.

So when we start to compare that there is, okay, here we are providing you with a Hasselblad picture for you picture nerds out there, you know what it is and the image quality. Versus the simple picture that I got from Dall-E or using Bing Create. Very different in when it comes to quality and control of everything.

Asim Hussain: That sounds really fascinating. So you've got better numbers, you got more refined. Numbers more accurate, more precise numbers. How are these numbers being absorbed back into Microsoft in its sustainability? Are they being factored into the sustainability report and kind of Microsoft commitments or, yeah is this a separate measurement?

Ola Fagerström: So of course being able then to both model your supply chain, then you can start to take informed decisions when you are selecting what you want to do with your suppliers to make sure that you meet your sustainability goals. That could be things like, okay, which suppliers should we invest in to make sure that they have green energy?

Are there some suppliers that adds more carbon footprint to our devices than others? Where should we put our effort and investment? If you don't have that kind of measurement from your supply chain, then it's easy to say, oh, we are just going to go out and plant a couple of a hundred trees and hope that we are fine with that.

Okay, great for the planet. Maybe not so great. If you're going to meet your sustainability goals. Don't want to cackle down on people saying that we're planting trees, but or for them who plant trees. It's a good thing you do, but you need to start with the basics.

Asim Hussain: Yes, and I can see actually the drawbacks then of using those simplified models would be that every single manufacturer that uses that simplified tool to generate it, it would give you poor information for what to optimize for. Cuz if it's just an emission factor for thickness of motherboard rather than constituent, then that's just gonna apply pressure to have a thinner motherboard.

Because you're assuming a thinner motherboard. Cause that's the only variable there that you can tweak. Whereas the actual surface landscape that you wanna optimize for is very different. So that's a really fascinating insight. I think we've run, we're getting close, closer time. So just wanna ask one final question.

You know, what advice would you give to other companies or individuals looking to reduce their carbon footprint? Other people in similar roles that you perhaps in other companies.

Ola Fagerström: I really urge people to say or ask exactly what I said. Ask your supplier, how did they get to their number? Are they actually measuring that from their own supply chain? And I mean, that could be if you are just going to purchase a new office desk, find the eco profile for that office desk and ask that supplier.

Have you measured that from your own factory? Because it will tell you both how much they have actually invested in people like me and you to actually do this work and make sure that our customers can actually get that kind of data. Because if they even don't know, it'll just give you a rough idea about what it is.

Yeah. It tells you quite easily what it is.

Asim Hussain: Mm, very interesting. Yeah, ask them if it's primary or secondary data.

Ola Fagerström: Yeah. And again, if you are working at the company that has gone up and said, okay, we are going to meet this goal, and you are actually manufacturing something or writing code, or whatever it is, are you actually measuring that and how are you providing that to your customers? Because with the new laws coming in EU with CSRD and things like that, I was told in one meeting that organizations might need to report on a thousand data points when it comes to sustainability.

Asim Hussain: Good.

Ola Fagerström: That is the work that's coming just ahead of us.

Asim Hussain: Yes. Yeah. And so asking lots of questions and you have to ask the questions to get that data to be able to report, and

Ola Fagerström: And then also be able to say, no. Okay, dear customer, if you can't provide me all supply, if you can't provide me with that, I'm going to go to that other manufacturer and I have this other little analogy that I use. If you would go to the car or to the garage that we talked about car before, and you would say, okay, how far can I drive in this electric car?

And they would say, oh, oh, you can easily get a thousand miles on every charge. Brilliant. I would buy that car directly. And then you ask that little hard follow up question. By the way, have you tested that yourself? Oh, you know, no. No. That is based on that. It's an electric car and it's a sedan. Oh, so you haven't invested in testing that yourself?

No. That would be way too expensive and required way too much work for us. No. Maybe in the future we will do. That's the work that Microsoft has already done because we set up that work years back again. When we started to say, okay, we can't select you as a supplier if you can't provide me, and we will make sure that we can provide our customers so they can actually feel secure when they buy our products to understand what is the footprint of things.

Asim Hussain: Wonderful. Full. Yeah, great information, great insights from somebody like yourself who's been at the forefront into really calculating these numbers. And I can really see, and I, I knew you from before, but I can really see that doing this properly is really important to you and making sure that there's a truth to those numbers and a usefulness to those numbers.

So thank you very much. Ola, thank you so much for your time, for time today and spending time. And thank you so much for the work you've been doing at Microsoft.

Ola Fagerström: Thanks a lot for having me and fantastic to know. It out a little bit over over an hour as well.

Asim Hussain: There we go. So that's all for this episode of Environment Variables. All the resources for this episode are in the show description below, and you can visit podcast.greensoftware.foundation to listen to more episodes of Environment Variables. I would like to say huge thank you to Ola again for being on the podcast today.

Thank you for sharing your unique input to the world of sustainable software, and thanks again for coming on this show. 

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