Environment Variables
The Week in Green Software: How Green is Your Cloud?
March 1, 2023
TWiGS returns this week with host Asim Hussain being joined by (now guest) Chris Adams. They talk about the environmental impact of the cloud and while some of the big cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, and Google Cloud, have introduced initiatives designed to increase the sustainability of individual data centres and reduce their overall carbon footprints, will it be enough to help reduce carbon emissions produced by cloud computing? They also cover Microsoft’s Surface Emissions Estimator and a recent paper surveying the factors that influence the emissions of machine learning.
TWiGS returns this week with host Asim Hussain being joined by (now guest) Chris Adams. They talk about the environmental impact of the cloud and while some of the big cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, and Google Cloud, have introduced initiatives designed to increase the sustainability of individual data centres and reduce their overall carbon footprints, will it be enough to help reduce carbon emissions produced by cloud computing? They also cover Microsoft’s Surface Emissions Estimator and a recent paper surveying the factors that influence the emissions of machine learning.

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Transcript Below:

Chris Adams:  The flip side of this, maybe the thing they're going for is saying if cloud carbon footprint is just ubiquitous like hoovering is, maybe that's the thing you would just say, well, you're just gonna ccf it, or cloud carbon footprint it.

Asim Hussain: Yeah.

Hello and welcome to Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we discussed 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. Welcome to another episode of  The Week in Green Software, where we bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. I am your host, Asim Hussain. In this episode, we have some exciting announcements from various organizations, and we're going to cover some interesting articles about the environmental impact of cloud and machine learning.

And finally, we're gonna share some opportunities for development for the world of Green software. But before we dive in, let me introduce my esteemed guest and colleague for this episode of Twigs. With us today, we have Chris Adams.

Chris Adams: Hi Asim. My name is Chris. For folks who've never heard of me before, I work as the one of the chairs of the policy working group at the Green Software Foundation. And I also work as the executive director of the Green Web Foundation, a small, non but fierce non-profit focused on reaching an entirely fossil free internet by 2030.

And I also work with the online community climateaction.tech, which is where I met Asim.

Asim Hussain: Oh, the climateaction.tech days.

Chris Adams: Yeah, that and OMG Climate as well actually.

Asim Hussain: Oh yeah. OMG Climate. I remember the OMG climate. You should start those again. Oh, have you started those again? Actually, I have interest. For the listeners, OMG Climate was a A A A conference, an on a conference that Chris was running.

Chris Adams: Yes, I can talk about this. We can segue into that gracefully in the podcast if you'd like. After we've covered some of the news. But this is something that we would like to do a bit more of, and I’ve got a fun story about why it's called OMG Climate and where some of that came from. So it's also open source.

So if you like the idea of onConferences around climate, then maybe we should leave a bit of time for that actually seen, because there are some kind of green software and digital sustainability related events in the coming months that are probably worth pointing people to. So that was me introduced

Asim Hussain:  And before we dive in, just a reminder that everything we talk about will be linked in the show notes below this episode. So I think Chris to kick off uh, news from the world of Green Software, Microsoft Company I used to work for. Microsoft has launched a new tool called the Surface Emissions Estimator that helps customers understand the carbon footprint of the devices purchased.

It is the surface device range of the purchases that are purchased. It uses a lifecycle assessment model to provide accurate estimates of carbon emissions, it also, I believe, helps you adjust those emissions based upon where you are, what you bought, where it's been delivered, and things like that.

Chris Adams: I thought this was pretty cool actually. See, have you had a, have you had a go with it yet at all? Because I don't own a surface thing myself, but I'm happy to talk about it cuz I think this is actually a field that probably has some quite far reaching implications on how people like work within, with gadgets and things at all.

So first of all, you, you shared this link before, so we've, you've seen how it. Basically, when you talk about talks about surface, it shows you like maybe a surface. Are they called laptops or tablets or is there another word for this kind of removable thing? They have?

Asim Hussain: just called surfaces. I don't know. I just think they're Microsoft Devices

Chris Adams: that's confusing.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, but I believe the whole range. Everything is, the tablet and the laptop, they're all called surfaces. Funnily enough, I do have a Windows machine. Now I'm at Intel, but while I was at Microsoft, I had a MacBook my whole journey.

So I, I missed out, I missed out on the whole, the . Yeah, I was almost called a heathen on my first day of, of, of my Microsoft training. But anyway, no, I actually haven't. Cause while I was there, Ola, who's the person behind? Ola Fagerstrom. Hope I pronounce it a second name. . I spoke to him about it and I think I saw early preview design sketches or what it looked like, but I actually haven't tried out the latest tool myself.

Chris Adams: Okay. I could talk a little bit about it cuz I gave it a go before this. And there are some previous, there's like prior art that is actually quite useful to know about. So one of the things it does basically is, let's assume if you were to buy a laptop or a gadget or if you're gonna use the Microsoft parlance a surface, for one of these, it basically shows you.

Where the emissions lie in the actual creation of this. Cause a lot of the time people might think about what bought a machine, but I now to be, need to be really careful about how I use it, for example, because I might assume that all the emissions are from this kind of use phase rather than the making phase.

And the key thing that you learn from it when you were to choose something. See whereabouts you are in the world, how many you might use. If you are like, say, a medium to small, actually, if you basically have, you're working in an organization that's purchased a number of these, it'll tell you what the likely environmental footprint of those is over a particular time.

And then if you held onto them for, say, six years, for example, or three years or four years, it'll show you. What the environmental footprint of that might be to own that and to have it for this time here. And this is quite useful because people didn't really think too much about the embedded emissions in electronics for quite a long time.

It's only in the last year and a half that it's really become much more of a kind of thing that people focus on. People have typically been looking at, say, the energy more than the actual purchasing parts. And, and it's a French company called BOA Vista, which has created, has been collating lots and lots of data from lots of companies about this.

It's a nonprofit. Yeah, and the thing that's interesting there is if you don't have a Microsoft Surface, but you think this is cool, they have similar tools so that you can basically. Pick maybe a Dell laptop or an Apple MacBook or something like that, and then it'll give you some numbers. But the thing that's been a problem has been that some companies have been somewhat reticent about sharing these numbers.

So as a result, people have been either they have to like make guesses or they are do not have particularly  useful guidance. So if there's a company sharing this stuff upfront in a kind of structured data fashion, which is necessary for this. And I assume they are sharing it as open data for everyone else to be using, surely Right.

Then that's, it's a good sign for you to see this and it helps you understand how useful it is to just hold onto a device for maybe a little bit longer and see how that might fit into some of your plans to basically reduce the emissions associated with the making part of running any kind of digital services.

Asim Hussain: I love the work of Bovis on there, and the latest version of the API, I was taking a look at. A day they've done wonders, BA based off of the, as you say, like the incredibly limited amount of data there is out there, but there's a lot of extrapolation

Chris Adams: Hmm.

Asim Hussain: the day, like some of the LCA work that they're using is like 10 years old.

Chris Adams: Yes. L C A here stands for lifecycle analysis. Manasi mentioned these things like ISO 14040 and 14044. There's basically complicated methodologies which people use to talk about what the environmental impacts associated with any tools, with building and operating something over its lifecycle. Over its lifecycle.

And LCA is the kind of short term for this.

Asim Hussain: And actually I hadn't seen the parallels myself, but it seems really obvious right now what Microsoft Surface. Estimator Emissions Estimator is, is basically hopefully a more accurate version of what Bar Vista is giving you because it's providing you with that data. Remember the conversations around this originally, becuase it was based around the idea.

If you're an organization with like 10,000 employees and you bought each of 'em a surface laptop, that's a lot of things to keep a track of. And also like those employers are gonna be based in different parts of the world. The laptop's got shipped over from different locations. Did you dive into the tool surface? Whether or not it took that kind of regional variability into account, I dunno where services, let's assume services all get shipped from the US. Would your US employees have less emissions than your European because you're just, the travel is less. Do does it take things of that into account?

Chris Adams: So when I was looking at this, what you could see is you could actually, it does show some information about the carbon intensity of different grids, and it does talk about the end of life part of it, but it doesn't mess it by. I didn't see, I, I didn't see so much specifically about shipping. So if I'm in one part of the world, is there an environmental impact of getting it sent over here?

For example, proportionally that's relatively small, meaning it's not being flown around, which in some cases it actually, unfortunately can be basically. So it doesn't talk about that, but it does tell you what the environmental impact is from the grid itself. So if you are running something in. I don’t know, let's say Pennsylvania, where there's load of coal, it's gonna say that proportionally the use face is gonna be heavier than, say, France or Montreal.

Where like more than 99%, this is Montreal, for example, or like, uh, Quebec. Most of the powers coming from the hydro or nukes. So therefore it's gonna be very relatively low carbon electricity. So it doesn't, does seem, does take that part into account.

Asim Hussain: So there seems to be a very unusual correlation between. , low carbon electricity and speaking French. There must be some research there about

Chris Adams: Honestly, I, this is gonna sound a bit weird, but like a significant part of it is in my view, having a real interest in there being a very strong state. So the entire. Thing about, say France being full of nukes on France like using, is because historically they had massive investment in the seventies and eighties in into nuclear power through the state owned systems, which is not really what you saw in other parts of the world.

And uh, also you've gotta remember that France didn't really have much of a kind of fossil fuel, didn't have much in the reserves, so they chose to have that as their way. Achieving some degree of energy independence. But the thing that when you see lots of people talk about nuclear these days is like they say, oh, we should be more like France.

But that means you have an entirely state owned system where you have a very different structure to how any of this stuff works. And people who tend to be talking about that tend to be the people who prefer to have a smaller state for this stuff. So it's like, okay, do you really want that? Because everything else you're suggesting suggests you probably don't think the government should be involved in all this stuff.

Asim Hussain: I think one thing I will state though is that I think it's interesting the way , because I think I will actually, I won't. I won't. Even though I'm very out. My debt, I'm going to carry in a little bit because, I dunno if you know this Chris, but the French energy firm actually owns, I believe half of British gas, which is really fascinating because the.

Chris Adams: You're talking Centrica, right? So they own…

Asim Hussain: Centrica? Yeah, it's a British castle, the energy, but they're in a significant part of the UK energy market, which is fascinating because you know, Britain privatized the energy market which was sold predominantly to a state owned energy firm in, in France. So  now with the energy challenges that happening across Europe, France is somewhat protected.

Whereas anyway, we're all paying like double, triple our energy prices.

Chris Adams: Actually, so France over in the last year, there was a big thing about the cost of power going super high in France because while there was historically lots and lots of investment in the previous nuclear stations and what you might refer to as thermal energy, where you basically heat water up to make steam, to turn a turbine, to make, to generate power, what you found was.

The, you had all these kind of issues with corrosion and stuff, but also because you had all these heat waves reducing the amount of water available, that meant that it was really hard to keep things cool, which meant things were coming offline. So you end up losing lots and lots of what you would refer to as firm nuclear generation, which put the cost of power really high in France, except that.

Yeah. Nuclear thermal. Yeah, basically it wasn't just nuclear, it was any form of thermal energy had this problem because it's all relying on water to keep things running. If you're gonna turn water into steam, the water has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, so it didn't increase the prices by nuclear going down and having to burn more coal. More coal and gas. It was just everything increased.

Chris Adams: There was just like, there was just a shortfall of power and as a result, the cost of electricity went through the roof really high in France as well. And you saw that manifesting and yeah, this is one thing that you saw a lot of, basically, so what you ended up happening was the French government ended up essentially bailing out the large countries, doing a massive investment at that point, which is somewhat different to how we did it over here, but.

Now we can move on. Cause I think we've just gone on off on one actually.

Asim Hussain:  There is, I do wanna say one thing. I think more about the, not about what Dallas, let's leave politics for, uh, for. No, we can talk politics, but the one thing I wanted to say that I think is quite interesting what the Microsoft Service Emissions Estimator project, and I think this is parks back also to what we spoke about last week, which is Will Buchanan and his work at Microsoft as well.

Ola, I remember meeting Ola initially from this, you know what's called a green team. So this employee led grassroots, sustainably focused individuals inside Microsoft and that's. All I was and from my, where my memory serves. And Ola, please message out and reach. Now you're a correction. The Future podcast said if I'm wrong about this, but you, Ola wasn't in sustainability at the start.

This was a personal project. Something that he personally felt was important. Push and push. Years later, it's now being released. And this is what one of my things, and I think actually one of the things that we were really talking about in climateaction.tech, which was employee driven. Work inside organizations is so important.

I think probably a lot of what is eventually advertised as like a big corporate endeavor really starts off with a couple of passionate people or one passionate person inside an organization who pushes and pushes until the lever finally moves. And so

Chris Adams: This is true. The drawdown, you, if you've ever heard the term drawdown, they've got the nice kind of shiny coffee table books. One of the people leading Drawdown labs, I forget her name, damn it. But she, there's a really interesting interview with her on my climate journey and she basically talks about, yeah, I think that employees are one of the kind of untapped, unrealized groups that we need to rely on more to actually see achieve some of the.

Asim Hussain: Yep. So next up, we have just a really interesting article that came to our attention on Forbes actually reporting on a. A company called Cycloid,  Green Ops. So Green Ops, we have the term Green Ops mentioned this week. Last week we had dev suss up. So the uh, decision is still not yet made as to which term will win out, but Cycloid Green Ops tool, and I find this Chris, a little bit fresh on, it's called Cloud Carbon Footprint.

Chris Adams: Hmm.

Asim Hussain: Which, so basically Cycloid have released a tool called the Cloud Carbon Footprint, which measures the cloud carbon footprint of cloud computing. Interestingly, there's a whole other open source project called the Cloud Carbon Footprint, which was exactly the same thing, and it's from ThoughtWorks. So there's a little bit of confusion there.

I initially, when I saw that was like, what's going on? Have they bought an open source product? But they're just named it the same as an open source

Chris Adams: Was this the case? I couldn't tell because when I looked at this, I thought, oh, they. I was confused by this as well. Cause I thought, hang on, those, these numbers look somewhat similar. And when I look at the, when I look at this, the screenshots don't look exactly like cloud carbon footprint. But yeah, cloud carbon footprint is, is a term that.

Is associated with a relatively well-known and probably like thee most well-known open source tool for this. So I am, I was surprised by this actually. And I'm actually meant to ask the ThoughtWorks I and say, hi, is this you guys? Or has someone actually just rebadged it and provided a hosted service?

Because it may well be that, in fact, cuz I, I. We know that's the thing that ends up being used in lots of places. And there are various other providers, like one company is called Green Pixie. They use some of the underlying parts of cloud carbon footprint in the same, and I suspect that this might actually be a.

it could plausibly be a kind of view on the existing version of this because if you don't want to run an some infrastructure to work out the footprint of your infrastructure, then I can see why you might wanna have someone else manage that. Because the cloud carbon footprint tool from ThoughtWorks is, it's got some stuff like how to set up with Terraform and stuff and how to run things in type script.

And if your team isn't comfortable using type scripts or this stuff here, then maybe it does make sense to use. Uh, hosted service for this. So that's my guess , basically.

Asim Hussain: While you were talking, I was double checking the blurb and that's, they actually specifically mentioned that it is based on that very same project, the cloud carbon footprint open source project, which makes me feel good. I was, I was confused a little bit, but that's, Very clearly mentioned in their marketing material.

This is based upon the open source project that I was talking about, which is really exciting cuz you're right, it is quite complicated to to set up cloud carbon footprint. It's not for everybody. It is a cloud-based tool that you need it hosted somewhere in order to work. And I believe how it works.

Remember how it works, Chris? I believe it works predominantly through billing data, at least the AWS component of it. I remember correctly.

Chris Adams: Yeah, there are two ways it would use the information. So the first one was that you could query the billing APIs provided. Large cloud provi providers and that, and based on that, they would say, you spent in the last week, you spent maybe a hundred a thousand euros on Amazon EC two, or Microsoft's equivalent or Google's version of that.

And then it would provide a conversion factor to say, for this many hours, it would likely be this. Based on the size of your machine and how long it's been running, and I'm not sure what time, but they might do that depending on if you have that kind of access, basically. So it'll give you some figures like that.

And that is the main way that it used to work. I think there is actually an alternative way that you can get the data from the, the, for example, you can also use utilization based approach. So they would read from say, Amazon, CloudWatch, Google's something, stack Driver, all this stuff. Yeah. Whatever.

Asim Hussain: The equivalent. The equivalent for Google and that,

Chris Adams: Yeah, and I, I actually dived into this cause I opened a Pi, a pr, a pool request on the project because I wanna look through it.

It's not actually that complicated to get this information for things which are not just the big three. So as long as you have an idea of how long something has been running and what the kind of utilization is like, how much of the CPU you're using for any of these things, which is exposed by lots of providers.

Then you could do this. So Hetzer could do this, Scaleway could do this, Digital ocean could do this quite easily. It's just a case of people not doing that yet. But no, it's open. It'll be really cool to see that. And ThoughtWorks provides some on-prem a service where they'll basically plug this stuff in so that you can have numbers specific from non-cloud infrastructure to have a kind of consolidated view of your emissions from all this stuff.

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And it's good. This is, it's making the technology available to a lot of other people, which is very useful. I think. It's interesting, and I can, I see there's another, there's another announcement in the newsletter. I think it's interesting because Cycloid is a devops organization, I'm, this is more and more in the cloud space.

This is, these are the organizations that we're hearing more and more about if you are, or the, not organizations I should say, like providers and providers from DevOps. As Anne mentioned last week and she was quoting Adrian, it's a very much aligned, like carbon emissions reduction is aligned somewhat to the DevOps, to what's the cost reduction and all these other aspects that DevOps

Chris Adams: It's also easy to measure, dude, it's also easy to. Numbers from here, apply a number, apply a conversion factor, and come up with another number that you're being told that you need to report against by the C-Suite or the CSR or investors and anything like that. So in many ways you can think of these as a kind of pain reliever, whereas before they were considered like a kind of vitamin, oh, isn't this great?

Now you're like, oh. Can this help that person go away so I can focus on my existing work? That's how some of this is actually being presented to people because there are like regulatory drivers for this, for increasingly. One thing that's confusing with this esteem, cuz we were confused by cloud carbon footprint being the name of a well-known project and a commercial service from a totally separate, unrelated organization, and this kind of makes me glad.

There is a trademark on some of the green software stuff because I feel that if I'm confused by this, then I suspect other folks would also be confused by this. And I think when you look at other projects like say Firefox for example, or Jango or WordPress, people are a little bit careful about how the name can be used because it might not be obvious to what you use.

On the flip side with this, maybe the thing they're going for is saying if cloud carbon footprint is just ubiquitous, like hoovering is, maybe that's the thing you would just say, well, you're just gonna ccf it. Or cloud carbon footprint it. I dunno, but it's a, it let me realize that this conf confusion is only gonna happen more and more as people start thinking about this or have to be mindful of this.

Asim Hussain: yeah. Thinking more generously, which is not a usual trait of mine, but just to give the opposite viewpoint. So it also could possibly be seen as a sign of respect. You're a commercial organization, you wanna use a product, and you just name it the same as the open source, so you're not. The fact that they mention it very explicitly in their marketing material also is they're not trying to hide it.

But, uh, but yeah, I see your point. Cause this is the Kubernetes, I believe Kubernetes is trademarked, so you can fork it and call it Kubernetes, you can't call it Kubernetes. So Yeah, that's really, yeah. So that's, yeah, I think that's something pretty cool.

Chris Adams: a minor segue into IP law. Spoke about the actual project itself. Spoke about the fact that it's open source and can be extended and tagged in various directions.

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Yeah,

Chris Adams: Yeah, I'm happy.

Asim Hussain: I'm happy with that, how we covered that. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Yeah. What's next? How green is your cloud,

Asim Hussain: Ah, yes. How green is your cloud? So this is an article on Tech Monitor, and so as you might guess, this article is about the environmental impact of the cloud and just highlights some interesting stats. I always wonder, whenever I read any of these articles, I wonder what stat they're gonna quote.

the cloud's impact, cuz there's, it's a wide, the band of, as you could quote, is significantly wide, but they quote, the cloud computing contributes between 2.5 and 3.7% of global carbon emissions. And they are quoting a 2019 study from the shift project. I've seen other stats I've seen as low as 1%. 3.7 I think is one of the highest in terms of current stats.

The stat I actually find quite interesting is the one from Eriksson, which is I think is. Interesting because it talks about the growth of orange. So if we do nothing else, I believe in what we're doing right now. By 2040 we'll be, I believe it's 14% of global emissions, which I think is a really interesting way of looking at it.

Cuz it,

Chris Adams: 14% of global emissions. That's like steel,

Asim Hussain: Yeah. That's like all of, almost all of transport,

Chris Adams: That's,

Asim Hussain: it? Yeah.

Chris Adams: I'm struggling with that,

Asim Hussain: Are you struggling with that? Oh

Chris Adams: struggling with that being 14%.

Asim Hussain: and 14%. That's what we know. We, we are almost certain.

Chris Adams: Yeah, that's a, so for context, like shipping, all of shipping, that's like between one and 2%. And so I think agriculture's right, 20 to 30% or so. It's like a, these numbers, they are, we're not very good at like measuring, like keeping an eye on this stuff. But 14% seems incredibly high for us, part of the existing technology sector, right?

Not everything is gonna be.

Asim Hussain: Just so we're clear, they're not saying it's 14% now it's, it'll be 14% by 2022.

Chris Adams: Even then, and that would mean that cloud computing would have to overtake the manufacturing of steel or the manufacturing of concrete as a key emitter. And like you could possibly make the argument that in 40 years, like between now and 2040, that steel will become so clean. and people are gonna shift away from using all this kind of coke and stuff to make steel to go there.

And likewise, it's the same with cement, even though cement's been like the significant driver. Yeah, you maybe have that, but I think between now and 2040, like technology is probably one of the easier of the sectors to decarbonize. This seems like someone's taking some numbers and just like basically pointing it.

Yeah. Rather than actually thinking what's gonna.

Asim Hussain: I can see your point. There's probably multiple Variables at. They're all moving independently, but if you froze some of those Variables and extrapolated out, there's probably an argument to say there's 14%, like for instance, like in the incredibly complicated and lab that exists in ASMs mind that just run an experiment with his thoughts like, I can't imagine the manufacturer of chips is going to.

The major part of what that 14% is, it has to be energy consumption. That has to be that in in terms of what that model, it has to be the energy consumption. I cannot see 10% of all global emissions in the world making chips by 2040. And then if you maybe assume the current grid mix and all things out to 2040, and then maybe you can get that argument.

If you then have something a bit more complicated, then assumes the grid mix is going to get cleaner by the time it gets 2040. And then things may be balancing themselves out and probably that. That stat probably comes, well anyway, multiple levels of guessing even on my side

Chris Adams: All right. I, while you were saying that Asim, I looked up. And

Asim Hussain: looked it up.

You looked it

Chris Adams: looked to a, yeah, I wanted to bring some light rather than just heat into this discussion. This is our Weldon data, which is generally pretty good. Iron and steel is around 7% of global emissions. What we, what we have right now, all right, so it wasn't 15 and agriculture is probably around 18 ish percent, so like I was at the wrong end of the 20 thing.

So this still feels. So all of cloud computing being double the footprint of all the iron and all the steel being made, that seems very.

Asim Hussain: Chris last week. This is quite interesting cuz. Last week you quoted a stat which Anne found challenging to accept, which is a 7.3 million data centers in the world. And now a stat's been quote. I think what's interesting is there's stats here that boggle the mind because the scale of what we're talking about is really hard for human beings to imagine.

I've had colleagues of mine, one of my colleagues gave a, a presentation, which I thought was really fascinating. She took a picture of a rack, and then the, the picture of the room, a rack is a silver rack, a picture of the room. A picture of the building, a picture of the campus, A picture of campus is part of like multiple campuses, and you are already an enormous space, and that's just one of those 7.3 million data centers that exist in the world.

So I think that could form part of the resistance that we're finding in our minds as to the scale of where we're in.

Chris Adams: One thing that I saw from there, there's like another highlight in this piece that says, despite sustainability now appearing in the top 10 business priorities, only 9% of companies are allocating resources towards sustainability goals. And like I Canditt, thinking you can't have both. You can't say it's a

Asim Hussain: course you can.

Chris Adams: and then say you're not gonna be.

Can you imagine if we said revenue is one of our top 10 business priorities, so we're not gonna allocate anyone's time to chasing revenue inside this organization. Do you see how it sounds? A little bit unconvincing here. Or like a, and then if you look at the companies, let's say Google, Amazon, Microsoft, large companies, then we say, okay, if it's a priority, then why are the emissions continuing to grow every single year?

Right? At least between 15 to 20% each of these companies year on year. That suggests it's not as much of a priority as you might be thinking. If we know the science is saying we need to be reducing these year on. . So I've struggled with that part, but,

Asim Hussain: I think it's, there's, my colleague of mine recently did some analysis on, you know, this website, net zero tracker. Have you seen Net zero tracker?

Chris Adams: uh, I think so.

Asim Hussain: They analyze not just net zero, but like other, the various kind of sustainability commitments of organizations around the world. They like score the commitment on a kind of red, green, blue basis and they then score them on, this is your commitment that you've made.

Let's look at the plans that you've published for actually how you're gonna meet those commitments. And what's amazing is looking at it, it looks 58% of Fortune 500 companies have set very like green. targets and yet almost all of them, like any form of detail plan as to how to actually meet those targets.

So I think like setting targets is, is like a very easy thing for an organization. And in fact I, no, just to, I feel like I might be the one, cause I work in enterprise organizations, so I feel like I have a little bit more, I just have an insight that might not be available outside. And I think that. At some level in an organization, the leadership has got to set the direction of a, of an, of a, of an organization.

One of the ways, one, I think the very important first step for an organization is for the leadership to come out very publicly, not privately in an email, which then get ignored, but very publicly say, this is important to us. This is the commitment that we're going to make. So I think that is an important step.

That next stuff. I think the money, I don't think people fully understand how money shapes everything. Absolutely everything, and it doesn't even have to be intentional. It's just this is how our company makes money, a, B, and C earns us money. The whole organization is just absolutely geared towards maximizing.

That's what a for-profit company is these days. It's an engine to make money, and so all these promises are off to the side of. Rather than the primary thing, and I think this is why regulation is so important, some advice is given to me a while ago, which is that people that all they're focusing in is solving their pains, their pain points, and unless you're causing pain, you're not really going to be solve it.

So regulation is a pain for an organization. So they, if there's regulation on sustainability, they will put effort into resourcing it.

Chris Adams: Peyton really was a vitamin. Absolutely.

Asim Hussain: forces. is a pain. So if your customers are demanding more sustainable features and there's a competitive nature to this or another organization saying we will do it, that's another pain that you, you do it.

And I also argue that employee, internal employee forces are also pain cuz it's becoming increasingly the sustainability credential and organization is becoming increasingly important as one of the metrics talent is using to choose to whether or not to work in an organization.

Chris Adams: Yeah, absolutely.

Asim Hussain: say.

Yeah. Which counteracts the profit motive. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Yeah, actually, so here's how, here's one thing I see when, cuz there's an implication here that perhaps near liberal shareholder capitalism might not be the mis mechanism for us to actually get here. Right? And I won't di go down that particular rabbit

Asim Hussain: keep on wanting to go into politics, like

Chris Adams: But then, no, the reason I was saying this, cuz there's a good point.

I'm assure you. So, for example, we spoke about in technology firms, there is a whole thing about being 24 7 clean energy by 2030, right? This sounds really like a big thing. Microsoft has this, what they call it, 10, 10, 100, I think, or 10, is it? What? Do you know what it is? Is it.

Asim Hussain: yeah. It is. I think it is. It's a hundred hundred 24, a hundred percent renewable a hundred percent of the time. I don't, I can't remember.

Chris Adams: Alright. I've actually, I did a talk about this, so I'm embarrassed that I don't actually have the particular thing at hand.

Asim Hussain: don't think it's, I don't think it should be embarrassed. I think it's should be embarra. Like why is every organization choosing a different brand name for exactly the same?

Chris Adams: I don't know. Google mentioned, Google spoke about 24 7 being the key thing that they have and like the key, let, if we just step away from the N, the words people use, it's basically every hour of every day. Being matched with renewable generation is the key idea. And Google was one of the leaders for this saying, yeah, we are gonna do it by 2030.

We think it's hard, but we're just gonna manage it. All right. Then Microsoft came in. We are a trillion dollar company. It's gonna be hard. I think we're gonna get there. And then you look, and then earlier on this year, a small energy firm called Peninsula Clean Energy. Based in California, they were like, oh yeah, we're at 99% clean energy matched already, and we're on target to hit a hundred percent by 2025.

And here's the model we've used to figure out how to procure this. So this makes me think that, okay, if one organization is able to move, literally doing half the time of these large companies, then it suggests that it could be more of a priority and they could move just as quickly as this other organization, which has far fewer.

And I feel like this is why I, this is why like you said about the governing is so important. If it's a priority, you'll actually hit, you'll absolutely talk about this. And just like you said about like the pain thing, I'm really glad that there is now a really good example of a small, not particularly well resourced energy firm going so much faster than these trillion dollar companies, cuz I'm hoping it's gonna accelerate them to do this as well.

To an extent, to be fair, some of the funding and some of the work is somewhat funded by some of these organizations, but it does show that if you make it a priority, then you will actually move that quickly, and we totally can do this. It's just a decision that people are choosing not to move as fast as they really need to right now.

Asim Hussain: I, I, I agree. I, I've got two points to say. Here I was. One of them is I used to have a statement, which is, if you're working in sustainability inside a large organization, as as quickly as possible, you want to make sure that your work is not being supported through what I call grace in favor. So some executive leader, this is a priority for them, and they're pushing back the tide and pressure of all these other things saying, this is important to me.

I'm making sure that Chris Adams has got the resources to focus on sustainability. That's great. And most things start off with somebody doing that. , but you won't get the significant investment unless you kind of align with the rest of the business of the organization. And if that exec leaves, your whole division has just gone.

So I always say great. And I think that we should talk about it next week. I think. I wonder if some of the things are happening in Amazon are. Related to that kind of activity. But the thing I was saying, this is maybe like a call to the people who, who work in startups that are listening to this podcast, cuz quite a common piece of feedback I get when, and I talk to a lot of people who are in startups and I understand the pressure of a startup.

You're in survival mode. I mean, this isn't, you're not just sitting back, you're like, you're wondering whether you've got enough money for the next six months or next year. And it's sustainability a priority for you. But I think, Chris, you had a really good point, which is, A smaller entity is far more capable of reaching these targets and these goals such as the 24 7 ALI matching target than the larger organizations.

If your cloud businesses several hundred billion, it's much harder to reach like some sort of energy just because the market isn't there. You can't even just buy your weight out out of the solution. But imagine a very small cloud operator. It's much easier for them to achieve those kinds of targets. And I would just encourage you to explore that space a bit more because I believe if you were to achieve those targets, there is the market pressure there.

There is the customers there who would then choose you over the larger organizations. I think that's a missed opportunity for a lot of startups. I see.

Chris Adams: Yeah. I also, proportionally it's not that much, so if you, so I did a talk or I, me and Max Schultzer, he's another one of the members of the Green Software Foundation. We did a really nerdy recorded YouTube video. China basically deconstructing the cloud model to figure out, okay, how much profit is left over If you really were to step on the accelerator to try to actually achieve 24 7 by 2030 and like Amazon and Microsoft is 30% net profit for most of this stuff, there's plenty of cash left over to actually then like redeploy into this stuff and there's so much policy support both in.

America now with the infrastructure, the I, the ira, the Inflation Reduction Act, and in the uk uh uh, uh, in Europe as well. Loads of this, like I really feel that this is something that you could, that people could move on and people who aren't, those companies could quite easily actually compete on this, in my view.

Anyway, we're going way into something else cause we've got one story left.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Finally in in the news, I think there's a really interesting paper. It's called Counting Carbon, A Survey of Factors influencing the Emissions of machine learning, which is one of our favorite topics of this podcast.

Chris Adams: This is cool. This paper, I'm really glad you mentioned it actually. Asim. Yeah. Okay. So Counting Carbon, the idea was there to this one woman, Alexandra, Sasha Luci. She works at Hugging Face in Montreal, Canada, and Alex Hernandez at the University of Montreal. They. Basically looked at something in the region of 500 papers where people were talking about the different machine learning models they've been creating.

And they basically, they sent an email and contacted every single one of the 500 authors of all these papers and said, hi, can you share some information about where this was run, what you used and what and how long it was running for? And they basically came up with some figures saying, these are the key things which will affect the environmental impact of machine learning.

And they talk about things like say the, the source of energy, the amount of training time that's being used, and a couple of other ones. It's a really nice piece and there are some really surprising things that came out of it. Basically, they broke this into five different tasks, kind of buckets of tasks that these machine learning models would do.

So like image classification, so, which is object detection, so that's like picking out a face in a, in something like that. Or machine translation, which is. What is you imagined, like Google and all these tools use question answering and named entity recognition? I'll be honest, I don't work in AI and ml, so I don't, oh, hey.

Your named entity recognition is basically through text, pulling out ideas and concepts, so that's what they were doing.

Asim Hussain: Adams is the speaker of this podcast. Chris

Chris Adams: So that's what they did. And the, there was one thing that surprised me was that of all of these ones, the only thing they saw was of all these ones here, only the image recognition one was the one that there was a strong correlation between the energy use and uh, the accuracy and effectiveness of the models, which was mind blowing for me.

Asim Hussain: so what is a difference between those models? Logically, those models should function effectively. Similarly, they're just nodes that you pump numbers in and these weights and all this other stuff. It's just matrix multiplication. What's the difference in the matrix?

Chris Adams: I don't know enough about it to really talk about it, but the quote, based on the comparison between carbon emissions and performance, we can observe that the only task in which better performance accuracy has systemically yielded more CO2 emissions was image classification. Really. So that was one of the key things that kind of blew my mind because you might naively assume that in order for you to have better models, you would need to just burn through huge amounts of energy.

And it turns out no, that's not actually the case. It's much more about the actual design and how people have actually been putting some of this stuff together.

Asim Hussain: Or it could just be those other types of models they could just plate. Plateau. Whereas image processing is like such a complicated thing. What's in an image is probably a lot harder to understand than what's in a body of text, which is a bit more structured. So what does that mean for chat G P T in large language learning models?

Because those are more.

Chris Adams: This is the thing that was surprising for me because you hear about chat, GBT four, chat, GBT three. You hear like, oh, it's used this much more compute time. Like it's now in the, it's now like maybe a hundred times. There's an implication. It's a hundred times more effective and like this paper is basically saying now that's probably not the case.

It may be more effective, but the link isn't as strong as you might think. It's not like a one-to-one thing where. Doubling the amount of computing you throw at something, you increase it by twice as much.

Asim Hussain: Oh, sorry. Is your argument is the argument. Models are not going to get much better the more we compute them. Right.

Chris Adams: Yeah, the argument is that yes, throwing computing at something can increase it, but it doesn't hold true that it's a kind of one-to-one correlation, and that by doubling the amount of machines you throw at a problem, you double the effectiveness of it. In fact, that's actually the thing they say. That's probably not the case a lot of the time.

Asim Hussain: Okay. But the one thing I did catch from reading the paper was they did discuss how, and I think this is interesting for this space as well. The energy source is a really big, the grid mix effectively is a really big cause of the emissions that they, they measured, which ODE 12 for the future.

Chris Adams: Yeah, it's it. What this kind of implies is that for something like machine learning where you don't necessarily need, where you're not, it's not like you're not waiting on the other end, waiting for the stuff to come through. You're training something for a long period of time, and it's kind of. It's something that probably is more interruptible than other fields.

Right. But that was one of the key things that led to the carbon footprint of the extremely heavy ones, is because not only were there was there lots of computing, but the actual fuel intensity, the carbon intensity of the fuel was actually a significant one as well. And weirdly, for like a significant number, like 12 of the papers, oil was listed as the primary source of power like burning oil, which is just, that blew my mind.

I didn't know that was actually. I didn't, I, I don't know where in the world uses oil as their primary fuel for generating power for the grid, basically. But for these folks who are in Montreal, in Quebec where they have 99% plus renewable energy, that's basically a really good place to be running things and.

For folks who might be using Amazon stuff, for example, Amazon have a, have a Montreal data center. So one of the most effective things you can do, probably run it somewhere where the energy is super clean. Even if you're not able to say, Hey boss, we don't necessarily need to be running loads and loads of machines.

You can say if you're gonna run machines, then running them somewhere where the electricity is very clean. It's probably one of the most effective ways to reduce the environmental impact of this.

Asim Hussain: That just made me realize cuz you know, a lot of a, some cloud provider. Do give you information about how much a renewable energy or whatever it is, different data centers use? I believe all of them, yes, I do believe. I think it's only Google, actually. Google provides that data with their market based measures included into it.

I'd be very interested to get a list of all the cloud regions around the world with actual grid mixes or average grid mixes. Because to answer the questions like that, because I think one of the things we talk about in the SN and the things is you should be picking, preferably picking just based on the nature of the grid mix, not based on the nature of the offsets that you purchased to, to,

Chris Adams: Yeah.

Asim Hussain: that'd be just a really simple thing.

Chris Adams: Yeah. Okay, so last year we announced where I work an IP to CO2 intensity api specifically to do some of this stuff. Now the thing is the information that is available for free. As in as open data go works at the country level. And for someone like Canada, this is actually quite an interesting one because let's say that you were looking, I'm gonna run everything in Canada.

So right next to Quebec is, it's the place where the tar sands, I've totally forgot the name of the province of Canada, basically two provinces right next to each other with radically different carbon intensities of power. So if you just say Canada, you could be running something in. Versus Quebec. So Alberta tar sands, super dirty, super carbon, uh, electricity.

Yeah, that doesn't have very green does it. And right next to is Quebec, which is hydro and nukes, which is problematic in its own ways, but very low carbon.

Asim Hussain: but are you saying, are you, because like surely what time and other providers, like they provide the carbon intensity data by grid level, not by country. When you mentioned that, what were you

Chris Adams: So for this one here, I actually think that what time does provide the figures at the kind of grid level. So I think the term is like either a balancing organization or a BA or balancing authority. So they will provide some of these numbers. I think those are the marginal numbers you would actually see, but.

As far as I'm aware, I dunno, of any open data source that provides a higher resolution in that.

Asim Hussain: source, right.

Chris Adams: And that's the thing, like you could be using what time stuff for like e either to experiment with, but as soon as you wanna put them into production, you have to pay for, there's a fee for that. And I don't know where that data is at a kind of free level like that right now.

And I think that's a thing that's really missing. Cuz in many cases you gotta ask yourself, how many times do you have to pay for this information? You pay once through the, your use of the energy bills, right? You're paying once there. In many case, you're paying through like taxation, so it to be generated and then to be like repackaged again so you can use it.

It feels like surely this should just be a kind of universally open thing that people are able to use, especially if it's like the stakes are this high and it has this much of an impact.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, something I think access to this and I, and I love what I think they do. These are great organizations and they have to keep the lights on one way or another, so I, I, I do understand it, but it would definitely benefit the world if a lot of this data was more readily available.

Chris Adams: It might actually be with, with Canada, to be honest. I mean, I'm probably just being lazy. Yeah. They provide a usual useful service and there's an API and stuff for it, but this feels like stuff which I. I feel like every single government everywhere in the world should be publishing this stuff automatically as open data because it does, it makes it, cuz you can still provide value added services on top of that.

You can still do stuff like that. But for it to be something which is so difficult and so not, not particularly open in lots of parts of the world, is a real problem for the policy discussion, cuz this is actually one thing that, going back to the paper, that the paper mentioned, this paper said, okay, all our models, all the kind of large learning models or machine learning models, There was zero representation from South America or Africa.

All right, so that's lit. So all the models published, all the, that were shared in papers were from universities or from institutions in either North America E, either what you might refer to as, say, Western Europe or China, or, or. The kind of North America, more North American continent, and it's not like there's no one living in Africa and there's no one living in South America and they don't have opinions and they're not doing this kind of research.

It just means that there's a whole sponge of things that we're missing out on because access to this stuff is not available.

Asim Hussain: Okay. Thank you Chris. I think there's one other thing that I just wanna mention before we finish our podcast, which is the meetup program. That we're launching in the Green, Software, Foundation. So one of the things that we would really like for there to be is a global network of people who are just.

Shared similar interests. We're meeting up on green software, different places all over the world, and we actually have a Meetup program, which means that we pay for, if you know what Meetup is, a meetup's, a platform which enables people to, to meet up and we pay for the costs of running a group on Meetup and we actually have about 25, 26, 27 meets up groups there.

A bunch of 'em are looking for organizers. A bunch of those groups have now become the actively looking for organizers for them. We're actually willing to also, Launch a meetup group in your area and if this is something you are interested in and if you're interested in organizing a meetup group, if you're interested in helping out with a meetup group, if you are even just interested in joining a meetup

Chris Adams: Speaking for one of the meetup groups.

Asim Hussain: for one of the meetup groups.

Really anything. I personally have built and grown multiple meetup groups in London and it's incredibly rewarding. Meeting up with people with a shared similar interest

Chris Adams: realizing they have legs. Yeah. Mostly,

Asim Hussain: Realizing they have legs. And especially in this space, I'd say cuz we're in a very challenging space and it can at times be quite hard to stay motivated even sometimes.

But I think I find that meeting people with similar interests is a very empowering thing. So if this is something you're interested in, please visit meetup dot Green, Software, Foundation, and you'll find like a bunch of resource information about how to get involved. So that's just the call to action here.

If you want to get involved in a meetup program, visit meetup.green software found.

Chris Adams: Oh yeah. Cool. And I suppose. Realized with the meter thing you're doing, if you were to choose to run an event somewhere, you've probably got a list of people you could ask already with the Speakers Bureau. So that would make it a bit easier to find.

Asim Hussain: Yeah, exactly. That's why we launched the Speakers Bureau because to help the Meetup program, that was one of the primary reasons cuz we, we have a speakers mentioned before, the Speakers Bureau works very closely with the meetup program.

Chris Adams: And just as I understand it, the Speakers Bureau, you don't need to be a member of the Green Software Foundation to be part of it, do you? You can be, as long as you've been doing research or you are able to talk about this and confident talking about this field, you can get yourself listed.

Asim Hussain: That's exactly right. And the same goes actually for the Meetup program. You do not need to be member of the GSF to be an organizer of a meetup group.

Chris Adams: Oh, cool. That's handy. Okay. That's so nice. Everything to end this. So nice I up for that. And I, I think you're listed and I think I'm listed. I can't remember if I am.

Asim Hussain: in the speaker's bureau. Yeah, you're listed. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Oh, okay. In that case, I guess that's one way to ask if you want me to speak at one of the events you or seem to speak at one of the events or even Anne and.

Oh, this is being recorded in February. If there's something happening in March, I might be around to actually be doing a talk in London about that stuff as well.

Asim Hussain: So that's all for this episode of The Week in Green Software. All the resources for this episode and more about the Green Software Foundation are in the show description below, or you can visit Green Software Foundation. That's green software. One word. Dot the Symbol Foundation in your browser.

If you enjoyed the show, please consider leaving a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts,

Chris Adams: Five stars. Five

Asim Hussain: star , leaving a five star review on Spotify or Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Your feedback is incredibly valuable and helps us reach a wider audience. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you on the next episode.


Chris Adams: right. Take care everyone. Bye.

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.