Environment Variables
Fact Check: Sara Bergman & Software Carbon Intensity
November 18, 2022
👉 https://www.stateof.greensoftware.org/podcast👈 Welcome to Fact Check on the Environment Variables podcast! Fact Check is a new segment where we take a deeper dive into the bigger questions in a one-to-one discussion with a special guest. Host Ismael Velasco, is joined by EV regular Sara Bergman, a senior software engineer at Microsoft, and an individual contributor to the Green Software Foundation’s Software Carbon Intensity project. They discuss Sara’s green software journey, the Software Carbon Intensity ISO standard, why it excludes carbon offsets, and fact checking what that tells us about offset-based green software claims, from Google to Blockchain.
👉 State of Green Software Survey - click this link to access! 👈

Welcome to Fact Check on the Environment Variables podcast! Fact Check is a new segment where we take a deeper dive into the bigger questions in a one-to-one discussion with a special guest. Host Ismael Velasco, is joined by EV regular Sara Bergman, a senior software engineer at Microsoft, and an individual contributor to the Green Software Foundation’s Software Carbon Intensity project. They discuss Sara’s green software journey, the Software Carbon Intensity ISO standard, why it excludes carbon offsets, and fact checking what that tells us about offset-based green software claims, from Google to Blockchain.


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Transcript Below:

Sara Bergman: It gives us the software practitioner a way of evaluating if a future change will be good or bad. If an older implemented change was good or bad, it allows us to find the biggest culprit. Sets us up for success in terms of being able to change our software. And I think that's what makes it important because it, it gives us leverage.

It gives us opportunity for room to move, I guess, to do something, to not just stand there and be like, okay, now what?

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.

Ismael Velasco: Hello and welcome to the first episode of Fact, check a new segment in Environment Variables. I am your host Ismael Velasco, and I am thrilled and inspired to be welcoming Sara Bergman to our home.

Sara Bergman: Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here and I'm very honored to be on this this first episode. So thank you so much for having me.

Ismael Velasco: It's great. And for our listeners, the format that we've had in the past for Environment Variables is where you have a host and several panelists, and you've been a regular. But this will be the first time that you're interviewed one on one as part of fact check. The goal of fact check is to do that, to dive more deeply into a subject with a wonderful expert and just have a good conversation and see where it takes us.

So I am excited to, to start, and before starting, I just wanted to ask a bit. About yourself. I understand that you sort of got into green software in university and just kind of never let it go, but I wanted to know why that happened. You must have chosen to study it. So how did you end up in, in software engineering and how didn't you end up in green software engineering?

Sara Bergman: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm really impressed by, by the, by the homework you've made here , so thanks for that. Yeah. So I. Usually say I slipped into software on like a banana peel in the school system in Sweden is such that after 10 years of school you get to select program for your upper, upper secondary diploma.

So you have three years where you can. Go a bit deeper into something. So you have the university preparational programs where you have the more geared towards profession such as carpent tea or hairdressing or, or things like that. And I wanted to do something that was preparatory for university, that was close to science and technology, and that was a special program that they had.

Like a third was computer science. And at the time I knew how to start a computer and I could play the. . That was about the extent of my knowledge. But I thought, and to this day, I can't explain this reasoning, but I was like, yeah, computers would probably be important. At some point I better learn. So that was my sole reason for choosing that program.

And then in the first class, I had to sort of raise my hand and ask, sorry, but what's a CPU? Because I've never heard a term and. Of course were a lot of men in this class, they all turned around like, who is this chick? What she like, does she know what she's done? I did not know what, what I had done at all.

But then this was a great program. The teachers was really great, and after that it was sort of love at first sight once I got into programming and started taking more of those courses and I, I really loved the mindset of how you think about building software and. It's so creative. People don't think it's creative.

It's like the best kept secret of our industry is the creativity. So then after that I chose a, an engineering programming in university, which was geared towards engineering. And yeah, that's where, where, where it led to green software engineering, because we actually. In order to be allowed to graduate with this specific title, you had to take at least one course, which involved sustainable practices.

So I was forced to do something at least. And then I wanted, I took a course called Green itm.

Ismael Velasco: And did you have a previous connection to nature? I heard in one of your talks when you were giving examples and you were making a really great point, you were saying how we make all these efforts to green our domestic lives? And then we get to work and kind of lose our sense of control and forget all about it.

And you said, you know, we'll walk instead of take the car and I can't remember what other thing you mentioned, but then you said, you know, we will reuse the skis we give children instead of using new skis. And I just thought that is a Swedish vignette. I certainly didn't have to make those choices in Mexico growing up, and I just wondered whether that from the sounds.

You were exposed to nature you did grow up with presumably Skiing would be my guess.

Sara Bergman: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, I was very much raised into sort of nature close living. My parents competed in orienteering, which is where you run in Themeforest with a map and you find checkpoints. My dad was really successful when I was born, so I think I was at my first orienteering competition at three months of age.

So I've been

Ismael Velasco: Did you find your parents at the end?

Sara Bergman: I'm told my mom held onto me, but . But yes, no, I think that's fairly common for people both in, in Sweden where I'm from, and Norway where I live now, it's integrated into our culture in many ways. Same with skiing. You know, I live in Oslo now. I take my cross country skis on the subway, take the subway directly to the tracks, like with a bunch of other people, which.

When you tell people outside of nowhere, they are like amazed. But to me it's just very, very normal. And aside from that, my mom or we have a family farm. It's a very small scale, mostly forest farming. So yeah, it's, it's always felt like a responsibility to care for our planet and the legacy that we live behind to our children.

Cuz I am glad for the legacy that my great, great parents left me, which is divorced, which is now a big part of my heart.

Ismael Velasco: And I guess sort of that meant that you were predisposed that when you did that compulsory class. It, it made sense to you in not just in an intellectual way, but in a kind of spiritual, existential way. And the other thing that struck me is that I think. You mentioned how the creativity is the great secret of software engineering, and I was thinking when you were talking about your parents doing orienter, that actually software engineering and seeking green software paths is like orienteering, isn't it?

You have a few set of signposts here. You get recognize the landscape, but it's not a direct route. You don't have, you know, you know where you want to get. Roughly, it might not look anything like what you had on the map to start with. So, and you have to sort of be very agile and observant, et cetera. So I can see how growing up in all of those mindsets would have meant that when you landed in engineering, in software engineering and in green self, it particular, you would have resonated

Sara Bergman: And so that's a great comparison. I haven't thought about it. I will definitely steal it. That was great. Yeah. But I think I was also very naive, right? I, I imagine that if you wanna work in sustainability or make an effort, you need to like go into something that was very hands on, like you needed to be working directly with animal conservation.

Like that was my idea. So when I was. Taking this course, it was like, oh, I don't have to go outside my area or my expertise to do this. I can fight climate change in my own arena. And that was like eye opening and something that I'm very happy that I'm able to do because software is something I'm very passionate about.

So I'm glad I can combine those two passions.

Ismael Velasco: And at the same time, I heard your word fight for climate change in your arena and your career, and I think that's really interesting as well because it, it makes me think of you. A young girl asking what is a CPU? And not only had you chosen to go there, which is you know, pretty reckless to start with, but in an old male environment where asking a que a technical question as a girl positions you in a very gendered way, you were fearless and just went, sorry, what's a CPU?

And I get the feeling that then you got a job and you ended up working Microsoft and. You put your hand up again and it was like, yes, but what about the environment? How did that happen? Did you arrive sort of into your professional career and people were already talking about it and that space existed or did you arrive with that kind of passion, awaken you and thought it's nowhere here.

What do I do?

Sara Bergman: I think it was a combination for sure. One of the reasons I chose Microsoft is because they had at the time, and even more so now, a very clear position when it comes to climate. It's always been a pillar of Microsoft to first Carbon neutral and now this increased focus of being carbon negative, so, so that was definitely one of the reasons.

But I think also coming directly from university into a big corporation, there is a certain amount of time needed to find your feet navigating. A professional, what does it mean to go to work? You know, all those things. So it took a while before I figured out how I could marry the two. I used hackathons a lot in the start, which is something, uh, we have internally, which was great to sort of investigate this passion.

I've been so, so lucky to have the support of my managers and the mentors and other peers around me on this journey. And then I think it really took off after I saw Asim speak at March, build in 2020. It was like super early in the pandemic sitting at home and I was like, whoa, I wanna be like him. So again, I guess pretty fiercely.

I set up a one-to-one and was like, teach me your ways And uh, he was kind enough to accept and yeah, opened a lot of doors for me. So I do believe in maybe being a bit troublesome in like a good way. Make good trouble you. . I think that's, uh, that's I.

Ismael Velasco: Two interesting points there for me. One is the role of the hackathons and obviously the Green Silver Foundation just finished. Fantastically successful hackathon. We had such brilliant solutions that came up and 400 technologies mobilized into sometimes for the first time, thinking about carbon aware computing, which we will dive into very soon.

And I've often thought that part of the win, as it were, are the winners, right? You win your money, hopefully you take off with your idea a bit more. And then there's the next layer of winning, which is all of the projects that don't win the money but actually advance in some way. Their idea and some of those ideas are likely to go much further than the winners.

And vice versa. You just, you Canditt tell. And then there's a next layer, which is the judges and the companies and the observers being able to go, ha, I hadn't thought of that. We could do something like that, or, that's a good approach, or we should, instead of investigate this further. But finally, I. It's the live altering trajectories that there are people there who will have come to the hackathon.

You know, if you move forward 15 years, it might be a different life just because they went there. And so the fact that you had the initiative to go and the support to be able to do it as part of your work seems like a really powerful factor in your trajectory.

Sara Bergman: Yeah, indeed. They were truly a cataclyst and I also just wanna echo the sentiments you said about the, the hackathon, the gsf just closed. If people listening in haven't watched the recording or didn't attend the event. Please do the, the winners, like all the projects that were presented were, or the hacks that were presented were amazing.

I was blown away. So yeah, just do yourself a favor and go listen, go listening, cuz it's definitely a learning opportunity.

Ismael Velasco: Absolutely. Then the second element was this being troublesome in a good way at work and in. My last podcast actually, I reflected that people often think about big corporations as these monolithic things. They're good, they're bad, they're doing this, they're doing that. But really they're microsystems.

They're so big that they have all of us, and they have all of our motivations. And I will be very green in somewhere else of my life and then not green in others. And my weaknesses and my strengths will vary, as it were. And there's those set of competing interests inside myself that learn in the planet, that I learn in those organizations.

Microsoft recently released this sustainable design manifesto that I also highlighted in the last episode, and in it they speak about it only takes 3% of people to protest in order to achieve systemic change. And likewise, they say that it only takes a few troublemakers, as it were in tech, in your in a company to create systemic change.

And I wanted to ask you about those dynamics. So on the one hand, you have these positive tendencies in m. That are moving towards sustainability. And on the other hand you have, you know, tendencies that are perhaps not so, sort of mutually supportive of that and you're in the middle of, of this sort of navigating and you're one of that 3%.

How do you feel those two forces, as you were, the forces that drive sustainability and the forces that drive non-sustainable patterns of profit? How do they interact? As a whole and in your job as it were for yourself as a, as a technologist.

Sara Bergman: Yeah, absolutely, and and I agree with what you say. I firmly believe in those grassroot movements. If you have grassroot movement and leadership support, I think everything is possible. So if you have both that that is great. I think also what's been important to me is really try to understand people's motivation.

Like obviously I am very interested in sustainability to me, , that's gonna be the most important thing. It is not for everyone. Some people, they will care more about cost. Other people will care more about PR or security, or they have something else that's their cornerstone or corner value, which they will prioritize higher.

That doesn't make them bad people. So you have to think if you're one of those people who. Are emotionally invested in sustainability. For example, if you're gonna argue with everyone to disagree with you, your, your energy's gonna run out really quickly. So my personal mindset is to try and think that everyone is on a different place in their journey, and what I can do is give information based on which level they are right now.

Maybe they're not at all open to this idea. Maybe I can sell them on energy efficiency instead because they are also interested.

Ismael Velasco: Performance.

Sara Bergman: electricity bill. Exactly. Performance. Or I can talk about hardware efficiency because they work in asset management and they don't wanna throw out working hardware either, because that's their core motivation.

So I think that's a cornerstone. Trying to not think of people as your opponent, but you are not yet allies and you know, put on the charm or whatever it is you need to, even if they're never gonna align fully on. your vision. Maybe you can find areas where you overlap and you can be analyzed there and, and that can be super valuable.

So that's something that I try to, to work with a lot. I think also being here in Norway, we are have a more, it's not a flat organizational structure. It's still very. Hierarchical, but socially it's flatter. It's the threshold for interacting with someone who's my managers, manager, managers, whatever, is pretty low for me.

Whereas in other countries and other cultures, that can be quite a big step. I also think I have a benefit just based on the culture I live in. I'm working.

Ismael Velasco: That's really, really interesting and, and I guess one of the reflections I've had in the past is that change scales. When you can align altruism and self-interest, if, if you can put those things together, you can make them coincide. If something that you are motivated by also makes a difference to the world, then the chances of adoption and behavior change are much greater and you've.

Some of those patterns, for example. And in that sense, I've been in sustainability since I was a young man, so for, you know, 30 years, I'm now, you know, 20 years old. So time is, doesn't op operate the way it should, obviously. But having experienced this sort of, The work on sustainability in very different domains.

I find that in software, we are in a very unique place, in a unique position in almost every other arena. Advocating for sustainability is. Implies painful change. It's advocating against self-interest in some area or other, whereas in technology, mostly what makes software sustainable and green also makes it sellable and and cheap.

It's not universal, but it is mostly the case and if you create a piece of software that is sustainable, it's gonna be a piece of software that is fast, that is very well designed for usability that doesn't have a lot of data transmissions, that that is cheaper to run. So in terms of that alignment that you were saying, it is much easier in our industry than it is in most other industries.

And the other element is that that makes our, our industry unique in our ability to make a difference, is that everything we do is designed for scale. It is very, very, very rare that you. Somebody will hire you to build a piece of software that five people will use, right. It has to be at least a few hundred, generally a few thousand, and in your case, billions every month. our ability to have an outsize impact with a small tweak is, is gigantic. And I wanted to ask you about your experience of that trajectory. Where have you. What interventions have you made in your software that you are proud of, that you feel this, you know, took out a 10th of a gram of CO2 every hour for a billion people, or, you know, anything like that?

Sara Bergman: Yeah, absolutely. And then here I have to thread carefully, uh, because of NDAs, but, but something that I'm also passionate about is performance. So whatever I can align those things, whatever I can find an efficiency improvement that doesn't impact user experience maybe at all, or maybe even to the better.

That's gonna dry down CPU and also emissions. Like that's where I feel truly, truly happy and having those opportunities are, depending on where you are in your software life cycle, they will be more rare or there will be more frequent. If you have a piece of software that's very new, you have a lot of opportunity to to decide how things do.

And if you come in with this mindset from the. You can already set up your, your products for a more sustainable way of operating. Now, on the other hand, if you have a very mature software or legacy software, then you get to think about the problem in a whole different type of way. And I had the opportunity to work on both.

And I think they both come with interesting challenges. And for the more mature software, then you might also have to start working with partners and look outside the scope of your own little bubble and see how do. Interact with these piece of software, how can we change that? How can we, maybe there's a software that we know is going to go away, how can we speed that up or, or work with those kind of changes?

So yeah, there's definitely been opportunities, I'm afraid, I can't say specific things I've done.

Ismael Velasco: I think those design principles as it were, Sharing are are very important and they remind me of a specific example that Microsoft has shared widely very recently, which was that it made PC upgrades. Carbon aware and that's amazing. They, and it was announced. I love the fact, it's like I have mixed feelings about it, but at the same time, overall I love it.

I think the fact that the announcement was not tagged sustainability, it was mainstream. It was, this is what we've done in Windows 11, this is our new functionalities. And then at the end they said, and now whenever you charge your. Computer and where it goes to sleep. We've made some tweaks that will make it more carbon efficient and we will now schedule the upgrades for the times where your electricity is green if we've got information that we need from your device.

And that means is an example I imagine of those kinds of very mature technologies that involved a huge amount of partnership discussion and then that landed subtly, but hugely.

Sara Bergman: Exactly. Yeah, I think that's a great example. Another favorite of mine is the sleeping tabs and Edge, where I guess I'm like mo most, um, people in software. I keep way too many tabs. I don't know why. I am a hoarder. I collect tabs. So I'm very happy that the ones I don't use are put to sleep, so they don't have to waste CPU.

And I can still, you know, feel good about my 80 tabs

Ismael Velasco: Yes, I, that mean it has been a game changer to me. I, I use an extension called Tap Suspender because it's sort of more granular, but the idea, my CPU, the fact that my computer runs when I have literally. 500 tabs open. is remarkable. And I know that I'm not killing the planet and I still have my 500 tabs open.

So yeah. And also there's energy saver mode as well. I think that's come out recently in edge. So there's some really good work. And this leads me to another question. So what I see is that we are. That Microsoft is implementing the kind of carbon aware approaches that the Hackathon was all about, and it is seeking to improve efficiency but also diminish its CO2 emissions.

And I suppose a question for me is, where do these metrics live? How could we mainstream, I suppose those metrics. At a granular level where all of the software that we develop comes with a CO2 measure, and I know that in this context you have been really doing pioneering work with the Green Software Foundation around the software carbon intensity specification.

So I wanted to ask you a bit more about how that came about and how you came to be involved in.

Sara Bergman: Yeah, absolutely. So the SCI specification is by the. Working group in the gsf. We started meeting really early after the foundation was started. I'm not sure it's the first, but it was, it was up and running those weekly meetings really early since it aligned with things that I had been doing in my work.

I was asked if I wanted to join, and of course I did, and that's was sort of the start of it. Those weekly meetings have. So much fun, like getting to learn from people who are also software practitioner, but at other companies have other types of experiences. They have other length of experiences come from different backgrounds.

It's been, it's been so great to have those perspective and to learn from those people and to be able to hopefully give something back to this group as well. And I am so incredibly. Of the work that we did both with the, with the Alpha version, which I was very much involved in the now the Viv one version where I had to step away for little bit cuz of other work things.

But that we released now before COP 27. So yeah, I think, I think that was sort of how I ended up.

Ismael Velasco: And what is it? What is this specification and why does it?

Sara Bergman: The SCI is a methodology for calculating the rate of carbon emissions for a software system, and the goal is that you as a software practitioner, no matter, your role, should be able to take informed choices to improve your software so that you reduce or avoid the creation of emissions. So it's a score.

It's not really like a total, it's more a score where a lower number is better and a higher number is worse. But reaching zero is impossible, and it is important because it is biased towards action. It gives us a software practitioner, a way of evaluating if a future change will be good or bad. If an over implemented change was good or.

It allows us to find the biggest culprits. It sets us up for success in terms of being able to change our software, and I think that's what makes it important because it, it gives us leverage. It gives us opportunity for room to move, I guess, to do something, to not just stand there and like, okay, now what?

Ismael Velasco: And do I understand correctly that the way the silver carbon intensity specification measures or gets that. Is three kind of main components. One being how much electricity your software is consuming, so how many kilowatts per hour, and then how that electricity translates into carbon emissions. So that could vary if the grid is dirty or clean at a particular time.

But in general, it would be if one kilo. Our sort of produces 10 grams of co2, then your score would be that plus an estimate for the kind of the carbon that goes from your machine, the embodied carbon. And that would be everything from when it was manufactured to when it's been used to, when it's being disposed of or other, just when it's been manufactured and when it's been disposed of.

Right. Not necessarily the usage time.

Sara Bergman: Unless the usage time includes hardware updates, I suppose then, then you could consider including those as well. But yes. Yeah, you got it completely right. Those are the the three main components that we depend on, and I think when people hear this, they're like, oh, I thought of. It be much harder. , and people expect this to be like a magic formula, which will solve our problem, but really, it, it's quite logical when you start thinking about it.

And of course there are more nuances to it if you, if you read a full specification, you can get into all those details. But yeah, in essence, it's those three core components.

Ismael Velasco: So I want to get into some more of those details, partly because my thought is the opposite. Like, that sounds really complicated. it like I agree. The very, the concept is very simple and that's powerful, right? It's you use electricity, the electricity produces co2. And you have information on the, on what it goes to create the device you're using.

So you add it all up. There you go. So I have a number of questions around that. There are kind of two approaches that I can see that I've seen being used. One is a kind of proxy approach, life cycle inventory. So you may not be able to know exactly, I don't know right now how much electricity. My computer is consuming.

I generally don't know because I don't have a smart meter telling me. So I would probably guess by looking at how much a model of computer like mine consumes electricity using software like this for the hour that we're talking. And that would be my estimate for the electricity. Is that how you see it being used, or do you see it being used by an actual measurement of electricity?

Sara Bergman: So the specification can be useful in two broad. We have to remember that the. Is meant to be used for all software. I think sometimes we can tend to think that software is only something that runs in the cloud in a cloud provider, but that's really not all the software that we have in the world, and we want the s e to be for any software, no matter if you run on an FPGA in like an embedded system or you run on an end user device or you.

are the load balancer inside the cloud provider. We want this to be able to be used for, for every scenario, and thus it's gonna be slightly different and it's gonna be very context specific. So maybe that's where the, the slightly complicated part comes in. But for the two different ways you can, you can either measure it directly and that's very accessible to some, especially if you have a cloud provider that measures it's for you.

Or if you have your own data center and you run everything on premise. you, then it can be fairly easy. The other example is if you calculate it and you use kind of a benchmark, if you, for example, have an application that's, you have a very small service side, the majority of everything is done client side.

It's not really realistic for you to send back energy metrics for every single app on every single device at all time, just so that you can know. Will likely be a lot less green than just doing some experimentation on your side than try to find some kind of average behavior or usual or typical behavior and measure that.

So you can either measure directly or you can do a calculation and both are fine. It, it comes down to what kind of actions you wanna take and where your biggest culprits are. The most important thing is to look system-wide though, and not try to optimize a micro component that potentially have negative.

System wide consequences.

Ismael Velasco: In a sense that brings us to the why. There are two kinds of measurement and one. You measure for, as it were, the truth of the thing. So if you're an academic, you want to get as precise, accurate measurements because that's what you actually care of. And then there is measurement that you use for evaluation that you use for decision making guidance.

And the SCI is primarily focused on the later. And so the idea is not so much Did you catch the exact microgram? Correct. And is, if I run the exercise again, will the curve be identical? But it's more a question, if I understand you correctly of is the curve going up or is it going down? And if it's going up, is it coming from this area of my system or that area of my system?

And if it's coming from that area of my system has take making this decision, brought the curve. That's what really matters rather than, yes, but did it br bring it down by two or by five grams, for example? Would that be fair?

Sara Bergman: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's fair. I think once again, it's those, those actions that we really want to help enable, of course. And get down to the absolute gram that's good for you. But in the end, the important thing is that you find this to be a tool that is useful for your scenario. And of course if you compare, if you compares to evaluate some kind of change, it's of course important to keep the baseline the same drug just for otherwise it's not very scientifically stable, I guess you could say.

Ismael Velasco: One more question around this is how flexible, I guess, is the framework? So this makes me think of some other metrics that are out there and they actually follow the same approach. So when I think of in the Web space, the. Great Tim Frick multi bytes sort of created together with other really key players.

The Green, Web Foundation does whole grain digital and methodology for measuring the carbon impact of websites in particular. And this has gained traction and it's been used by libraries and bys, sort of browser extensions. And they too work through electricity, co2, and embodied carbon. They create a kind of proxy for their use case where they use data as the proxy for electricity.

So they go, if we've had this many gigabytes of data downloaded, this probably equates to this much electricity. And that's how we get that first part of the se. And then the co2, and this was the question, I guess the calculation of how a set number of electricity translates into CO2 or how, for example, what percentage to add to calculate for embodied emissions does the s e prescribe specific calculations?

Or is it flexible enough for you to say, as long as you are doing this three steps in an evidence based way, we are not too bothered as to whether you are using gigabytes or uh, gigabytes or not, or whether you're using one inventory or another for your emissions.

Sara Bergman: It is quite flexible in that sense. It comes down to the reporting. And how you do that. You may also choose not to report on it and solely use it for your own sake as a, as a tool in your own team or your own business group. I think what's important to know is that if you just take data transfer, for example, it only gives you one lever.

That means the only thing I can do. Is to decrease the amount of data sent over the network. That is not a bad thing, that is a good thing, but it doesn't really give you a full detailed picture. So if you also have the exact grid data, so the exact carbon intensity consumed at the exact point. When you wanna use your software, which you, there are several APIs which provide this data.

If you have this data, then you can also consider other levers such as, maybe I can time shift, potentially I can location shift. I can take other carbon aware actions that not only make my software greener, but through the use of renewable and green energy sources Over time, I'm also helping to shift the energy providers to incentivize greener and renewable energy producing.

That gives me two levers. Two levers is objectively better than one, I would suppose. And same with the embedded carbon. You can use a static number, which I understand that this methodology does more or less, or like a, a percentage based, which is a simplification, right? It gives you one less lever that you can.

Use. So the c I really want to encourage granular data use because it gives you more option, it gives you more insights, it paints the full picture. So really the more granular data you can get, the better. But sometimes you do have to make scientific guesses or reasonable estimations, and yeah, then maybe that's what you have to do in this situation.

But really the more granular you can get, the better.

Ismael Velasco: Would I be correct that all of those approaches would be still consistent with the SCI language? So to be fair, by the way, to the, to the Mighty Methodology, they do add different formulas. For specific emissions. So they do sort of take into account carbon intensity and they say, when you don't know it, use this.

But if you know it, actually use the precise one. But that's a good example. You might not know it. So in a situation where you don't have all that information, would you still be able to call your metric software Carbon intensity? So in the case of someone using. Not the great data they're using. This is the average global grid.

This is a time, this is theater. So you've got all the same components as INS E, but you have a thin surface layer with very few levers because of necessity. In that situation, would the final score be ans e score, or does it require a minimum amount of layers before it can be called?

Sara Bergman: It's a good question. We want this to be easy to use and to inspire action if it does. We are very happy. If you read the full specification, there are some data considerations, some fallbacks, for example, I do believe we recommend hourly or minute granularity on the carbon intensity, but if you can't get that, we suggest annual at the annual basis instead.

Most countries, it doesn't change super fast. Of course, with energy crisis in Europe here, it's been changing very rapidly in the past few months. That isn't the normal scenario though, so, so yes, I do think. To the full specification to get maybe some tips and tricks, how you can do this in the best way, but again, more in any insight is better than no insights.

Ismael Velasco: So that's fantastic because it seems to me from hearing you that really what the software Carbon Intensity Specification is doing is creating a common language. It's a statement of faith. It's like, if we do this, we can talk about it together. Let's talk about it together. The ISO is a kind of stamp of approval that says, when we talk about this, let's talk about it this way.

Is that correct? Can you tell us a bit more about the, the why you sought iso that and, and sort of where we are in that, in that process, and why does it.

Sara Bergman: Yeah, sure. So if we remember the, the mission of the Green Software Foundation, it is to build a trusted ecosystem of people, standards, tooling, and best practices for creating and building green software. And I think trust is such a key word here, especially when you think about standards and certifications and iso.

It is a very trusted way across many industries for sharing methodologies, for sharing standards, and I think it's a quite natural step that if trust is something that is a core value to us, then not only do we want people to not trust us, but also use ISO as a vehicle for. Conveying this trust and for, for conveying this to a broader set of the industry.

But really to my knowledge, we are just in the, the beginning of the ISO journey and we have every ambition to, to do it. We are not there just yet. So yeah, I'm not sure how much else I can say on this topic that would be interesting and useful to people, but personally I'm very excited for it. I think it would really lend that broad.

Industry wide awareness, hopefully at least to, to the standard.

Ismael Velasco: And one of the things you mentioned was the aspiration to make. A trusted standard and how that is, that word trust is so key in the Green, Software, Foundation mission, isn't it? It all, particularly in this arena, and particularly when it comes to metrics, the sci is very clear in that it is focusing on elimination of emissions, not offsetting of emissions.

And obviously this really matters because if you're eliminating them, you are actually greening the planet. There is no ambiguity, right? It's gone if you are offsetting them. There are, there may be more questions, so I wanted to ask you, first of all, what is the difference between elimination and offset, and why did the s e standard choose to go with.

Sara Bergman: Yes. So in an ideal world, elimination and offsetting would be the same. We are not in an ideal world wherein we don't have perfect technology, so they are not the same. If you eliminate something, it means you never emitted it. It stays in the ground, doesn't. Go up in the atmosphere. However, if you offset, there are several different ways of doing that.

The ones most talked about is forestation. So you plant trees, which in itself is great. It's good for biodiversity as well. It's good for oxygen that we breed, but are a number of problems around this. There has been reports of projects where treats were planted, for example, and then later they were deforested anyway.

There are also other studies that should suggest that there isn't enough space to plant the amount of trees we would need to offset all of the emissions considering the rate emissions are growing at. So there are. Bunch of questions there. Same with something that more talked about recently as the carbon captures.

It's like a giant vacuum that sort of sucks carbon directly outta the atmosphere. There are very few functioning examples of this and they are extremely costly and it is betting our future on a technology which isn't really mature enough to hold up to this promise. I mean, hopefully it will be, but I think it's a dangerous bet.

So why is it, why have we excluded it in the sci? Well, firstly, because of there are some controversy. See, and secondly, if you include offset, it doesn't help you or inspire you to take actions to reduce your impact. It just tells you how much you should pay, and that's not really what we are trying to do.

We're trying to help you reduce your impact and then offset to sort of complicates the pictures. It doesn't help you to change your software.

Ismael Velasco: So that's exciting because it basically adds trust, right? It makes me trust the E more because I know that it is doing what it says it's doing, and it's measuring what it says it's measuring. One of the other problems with offsetting is that where the offsetting happens is not where the pollution happens most often.

Sometimes it is, but generally speaking, you may be greening in Kenya and polluting in tanza. And that's great for Kenya and it's great for the planet, but it's not great for Tanzania. And whatever impacts that you're having are are not just global, but they're also local, et cetera. And of course there's a lot of criticism around greenwashing and around claiming of sets that aren't happening or verification and quality.

Sometimes if you plant the wrong trees, you are actually damaging rather. Healing the atmosphere, et cetera. But I suppose that the question that arises, so that's the bit that excites me about it. The bit that arises for me is that the way the planet is currently measuring its progress toward environmental survival, at least, is net zero.

And the concept of net versus growth is precisely the difference, right? Between direct emissions and emissions that you're offsetting. So the growth emissions would be how much pollution my software is creating, and the net ones would be how much emissions my software is creating after I paid other people to green some part of the world.

And if I've paid enough people to green enough that it's the same as what I've produced. Then I've arrived at net zero, even if my growth is a lot bigger. So I suppose my question here is how visible will s c I be if what people are looking at is the net zero effect? If people are not considering gross emissions particularly, you're able to go, my company is now net serious carbon neutral.

Yes. What incentive? I said, where will there be, or how do you see a measure of gross emissions like the se, making it onto the commitments, making it on the frameworks, making it onto the goals and measurements, for example, in Microsoft as an example, but the same for everyone else.

Sara Bergman: This is a very deep issue, I think, and it points to something that's. Way deeper than just the Green, Software, Foundation and us. And I think there's a, a lack of what really Net zero means. It means reducing as much as possible and only offset the rest. But some say the rest is like 10%. Others say it's like as close to zero as possible.

It's not really. A clear global consensus on the exact amount of CO2 we would not have to admit. So that is, I think, a global problem. Same that my understanding is that carbon neutral isn't necessarily the same. You could essentially pay to be carbon neutral because you could then offset everything where it's necessary.

It's really about reducing the majority in almost all and only offsetting the rest. The s e can really be a good tool here because we're all about reductions, so if you wanna reduce, which you will need to reach net zero, then the s e I is hopefully a great tool that will help you get there, or at least get you a lot closer.

Ismael Velasco: And that's a really powerful point. It reminds me of all of your discussion about working in Microsoft and my discussion of Microsoft being a microcosm of the world, that actually there is no technical solution to climate change. That it begins with values that people have to actually care. That if people don't care, it doesn't matter how you paint it, what you measure, what you call it, things are just gonna keep getting worse until people care.

And that in that sense, the sci is one more tool in that conversation, one more tool in sort of helping the people who care have an argument and have a vehicle. For expressing that institutionally. So you may have executives who care, but they don't have the vehicle to put that metric there. And if they say, okay, I am going to, I really do care.

And many and many more people are caring because the world is getting harder and harder. So in that respect, it sounds to me like the scis both, it's a tool for change in the present and potentially it's betting on a future that. He's betting in a future that says, what we actually want to do is these submissions, and now we're ready for this.

So if people are principled about this and not just expedient, it's not just about getting as far as you can to hit your targets and move on, then the SE puts on the map something potentially really impactful at that level. And I suppose along those lines, how do you see the. Of the SE standard happening?

Has it started? Are people using it? I've seen a paper on academia, on machine learning and se, I've seen a few bits and bolts, but what is the state of play now? I know it's only just been formally launched, like at the Carbonized software. One incredible event. Just that, I don't know, was it a week ago? But yes.

Where do you see adoption going? How do you see this taking?

Sara Bergman: It is definitely people using it, people implementing it. We have seen several case studies in the standards working group, so yeah, it is definitely starting and, and I think it will be sort of an avalanche situation. I think, again, going back to something that we talked about earlier is a. Think we're likely to see a grassroot adoption and leadership adoption, and then they will sort of meet in the middle.

I think there are teams who, for or, or business groups or startups or whatever, it's like small groups who can use this and are probably using it right now. Maybe they're not reporting on it, maybe they're not publishing work about it, but they use it as a tool for them internally because it helps them, they don't feel the need to, to write research about it or to publish anything.

they just needed us another tool. And then I hope that we will see more companies being really proudly using it than really using it as a PR metric, I guess, and to, to sort of marry the grassroot movement with the, with the leadership movement. So I don't know when that would happen. I am hoping. It will be soon-ish, but I think it's also, it's gonna be very different for different types of companies.

I think cloud providers, Microsoft and other cloud providers are in a, in a bit of a special situation because our business is software, but other also run software in our data centers and that makes it a bit special from other types of software companies. So I'm not sure cloud providers, if that be Azure, if that be Google will be the first.

I think they were the first, like Microsoft. Closely followed by Google and Amazon or AWS to have really bold strategies that they communicate broadly in terms of who will first publish their sci. I'm not sure the cloud writers will be first. I think they might be smaller. I think there's a huge movement in the open source community.

Maybe they will be first to sort of really go big on this. I don't know. I'm, I'm excited to see regard.

Ismael Velasco: And do you see the E being something that is usable? At the national and global level. So what I'm thinking is that people are measuring how much CO2 emissions is Norway meeting in Sweden and Mexico and Britain, and at the moment they just count electricity, I guess, and I C T, and they don't count any anything else.

They don't have the embodied carbon or stuff like that. Generally speaking, could you see regulators, governments being able to. Use the SCI in environmental indicators at scale in that sense. Is that something that you could see being possible or useful or not really? It's more at the business level, at the operational.

Sara Bergman: It is a very interesting question and it also points to the fact that software is kind of a global citizen. We shift our workloads, well, there are some regulations of course, but otherwise people shift workloads kind of freely, and I think if, I think that's also the crux of it then like why the European Union are.

Typically a front runner in these kinds of questions because they have a broad set of countries behind them where I think if one country said we're gonna start reporting on any software that's run in our company or in our country, would that then incentivize people to shift workloads to their country or incentivize them to shift out that country and would that mean something positive for opportunities for labor, et cetera, et cetera.

I don't know. I don't think it's impossible, but I'm not sure it's the primary use case. At least in the near future.

Ismael Velasco: That makes sense and it's a very great insight how it has to happen at sort of in. Rather than individual. I suspect it's gonna be the same with the bigger companies. It has to. Once you've got a few, then there is an incentive. If you are the first, it might not be, et cetera. You need the pioneers, don't you, at all of the

Sara Bergman: It's always scary to be the first. Yeah.

Ismael Velasco: and thinking along those lines.

I want to finish by asking you to imagine Sara Bergman in 2042. She's such a fantastic engineer that she has cracked time travel. You've been working on all of this now for all of these years. You are your wiser self. You've seen it all. You've been there, and now you've cracked carbon efficient time travel, but it only lasts one or two minutes, and then you transported back and it's anchored to you.

You can't just go anywhere, so you basically get a one minute chat with yourself. So you come back from 2042 and you talk to yourself, what did you think you'd be saying to yourself?

Sara Bergman: Well, an excellent question. I really hope I will be saying you did the right thing at the right time. I'm really hoping I won't say it was too little too. That would just break my heart. So I hope that, I hope there is some encouraging words. Yeah, I hope that's it. And just probably there will be some comment about work life balance up in there if I know my future self, you know?

But I don't think, I'm not the kind of person who would give spoilers away. I wouldn't say like, go do this. No. It's the journey to figuring out that's important thing. So just probably something like, go in this direction, talk to these people. You're on the right path, I think.

Ismael Velasco: Honestly, I find it so beautiful. It just hit my heart. I said, I hope. I hope I would say to myself, you did the right thing at the right time and not it was too little, too late. That is profound and beautiful, and I think it's a question we can leave our listeners with. Are you doing the right thing at the right time or too little, too late?

And what a way to live your life. So thank you so much, Sara, for a beautiful, insightful, deep and fun conversation. I wanted to ask if people want to follow you, and they will after hearing this, where should they find you?

Sara Bergman: You can, at least for now, still find me on Twitter. Not sure how that would be possible. I dunno if that's some dark foreshadowing, but so far I'm still on Twitter. Come find me.

Ismael Velasco: Thank you so much for helping us launch our first episode of Fact Check and helping us fact checking software, carbon intensity, helping us fact check offsets versus real emission cuts, and helping us fact check the future. So thank you very, very much and good luck in your adventure.

Sara Bergman: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a joy.

Asim Hussain: Hey everyone. Thanks for listening. Just a reminder to follow Environment Variables on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please do leave a rating and review if you like what we're doing. It helps other people discover the show, and of course, we want more listeners.

To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, please visit Green Software Foundation. Thanks again and see you in the next episode.