Environment Variables
The Week in Green Software: An Introduction
October 24, 2022
Welcome to our first episode of The Week in Green Software hosted by Ismael Velasco. This new segment on The Environment Variables Podcast will be a bite size smorgasbord of news, events, resources and tools that will help you discover how to get involved in the world of software-focused climate action. Check out the links below for all the resources mentioned in this podcast!
Welcome to our first episode of The Week in Green Software hosted by Ismael Velasco. This new segment on The Environment Variables Podcast will be a bite size smorgasbord of news, events, resources and tools that will help you discover how to get involved in the world of software-focused climate action.  Check out the links below for all the resources mentioned in this podcast! 

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Transcription below:

Ismael Velasco: Hello, and welcome to The Week in Green. Software part of Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we give you the most UpToDate news and events surrounding green software, a bite-sized smorgasbord of resources that will help you discover how to get involved in the world of software focus, climate action.

I'm your host, Ismael Velasco.

Hello. I'm Ismael Velasco, and this is The Week in Green Software. Each episode I will visit the cutting edge of software focused climate action and give you a whistlestop tool of the latest research and solutions standards and tools. A Bitesize smorgasbord of News and Resources. If you're just starting your journey as a responsible technologist, The Week in Green Software will give you the signpost you need to navigate this fast changing landscape.

And the first signpost I'll give you is the Green Software Practitioner Training course created by the Green Software Foundation. If you have found your way to this podcast, you probably already know that. Digital creations of our hands as we type on keyboards and build software have very real material impacts on the environment that aggregate into a massive driver of climate change.

And you want to do something about it, and this is why you're here, but perhaps a lot of the vocabulary terminology techniques. Are still fuzzy to you. We speak about CO2 emissions of software. What does that mean? We speak about carbon efficiency versus energy efficiency, and we also speak of carbon awareness and we talk about hardware efficiency and how that interacts with software.

When we talk about all kinds of metrics around all this, and finally we discuss all of these things. Very frequently in the context of climate commitments, whether it be the planetary commitment toward net zero or specific targets in particular companies or nations, and just like a junior developer, junior green software developer.

Can also feel somewhat lost in the massive vocabulary and of new concepts that are not part of the day to day of our practice to this day. So this course creates a very. Easy to consume, clear and evidence-based structure that breaks down the concepts of carbon efficiency, of energy, efficiency, of carbon awareness, hardware efficiency measurement, and of climate commitments, including each core component, each core terminology, and in very brief units.

Allows you to understand the landscape and gives you healthfully some good multiple choice questions at the end to consolidate your learning. By the time you finish this very brief course, you will be equipped to. Dive into the nitty gritty of making your software green, not just at the level of technique, but at the level of understanding why those techniques are having an impact and how they fit as a whole with the various other elements of creating green software.

In short, the Green Software Foundation training course will prepare you to consume. This podcast and others from a position of awareness. But the weaken green software is not only aimed at those starting their journey, if you are a pioneer already greening the material impact of our digital lives, this podcast will keep you updated on the latest advances and how they might enhance your own efforts.

And speaking of pioneers, Second resource I'd like to bring to your attention is the sustainability chapter of a hot of the Press Web Almanac Report by HTTP Archive. HTTP Archive are the creators of the Wayback Machine, and they. Are the foremost collection of copies of snapshots of the worldwide Web in the world, and that results in a massive data set that is indicative of the practices of Web developers.

This chapter was authored by real pioneers, Lauren De Verne Gerry McGovern and Tim Frick, who have helped define and continue to shape discourse and practice in green software on a global scale. Many of the green software practitioners that I know. Began their journey and trace it back to the incredible book, Indispensable book, Worldwide Waste by Gerry McGovern, and many of the people who started trying to respond to the moral imperative and call to action of that powerful occur, that powerful voice from the heart turned to Tim freak's groundbreaking textbook.

Sustainable Web design and he was one of the first people really together. A lot of the practices that today we are working on across the field. And Lo de Verne works with a company called Greenspector who have been really. Forefront of new techniques and new approaches to understanding in a very rigorous and actionable way, the environmental impact not just of websites, but of Web applications and of software in general.

And this chapter that they have written as a dream team together, I would say is probably the single best resource on green website development practices available right now in the world. I would recommend it as both an introductory guide once you've done that first training course to get you up to speed with vocabulary, but also as a truly powerful expert.

It summarizes the state of the art in Web related environmental metrics, methodologists and design patterns, and uniquely, in many ways, it takes an intersectional approach that engages not just with. What is called sometimes carbon tunnel vision, CO2 emissions only, and not even more broadly with environmental degradation around water consumption or other chemicals or energy.

But it also engages with the issues of climate justice and accessibility and says that actually building. Sustainable software is about more than just reducing CO2 emissions. It's also about engaging with the whole planet in a sustainable way. In addition to this already groundbreaking contribution of getting us all up to speed and summarizing in a very accessible but truly, Learn it and evidence based way, the cutting edge of thinking in this area.

It also breaks new ground in that it brings together a really vast. Data set that is open source and accessible to others with very user friendly and powerful diagrams that allow you to just go through that report and get a very granular sense of how the Web ecosystem is actually constituted today from an environmental perspective instead of an average.

Or a projection, which is what we mostly use when identifying the carbon footprint of the worldwide Web. We now have, uh, an empirically backed distribution. The authors tested 8 million websites and mapped in every single one of those 8 million websites, the presence or absence. Of all the good practices that we know make for green Web design, and they now allow us as a result to benchmark all of our websites in a multidimensional and rigorous way.

Your site, for example, might be in the 25th percentile for total size. It's beautifully small. It might be in the 90th percentile for number of requests. Every time that somebody lands on your tiny page, a hundred requests go off to trackers, to analytics, to libraries, to logs, and actually the net result is your very otherwise optimized website is actually a net polluter.

Not only does it give us this kind of data for our own individual practice, but for those of us who are active in. Shaping or advocating for policy agendas or in education for sustainable development in reaching our peers and fellow technologists. The data set provided also allows us to prioritize policy agendas.

For example, one. Impactful takeaway for me from this report was that only 10% of sites in the 8 million sample were hosted on green hosting providers. And that is both surprising in some ways and inexcusable in the sense that. There are so many options today, so many options for green hosting from going directly to the big three, which are probably the greenest of options to AWS or Azure or Google Cloud in reverse order of greenness.

So Google is the greenest followed by a zero, followed by aws, but also a lot of the even hosted providers. At the back of the trail are actually hosted in CloudFlare or in other providers that are green, but 90% of sites are not taking advantage of this, and this is significant because. Servers where our information is hosted and from which it is transmitted are the probably the biggest direct contributors of emissions in the software life cycle.

So the manufacturer of the devices that. Use is much bigger. I believe that the aggregated usage of all of the devices is probably greater, but in terms of the direct footprint of your piece of software, where you host it is hugely significant and it's one of the greatest. Biggest and easiest low hanging fruit.

If you were to shift your. Website from a bare metal or a dirty host and put it into a nice green cloud, you would dramatically improve the footprint, the optimization, the water usage, the electricity consumption of your website. So this kind of data point is a useful. Strategic guide for those of us who have to prioritize between all the various good patterns and messages.

Clearly the battle is not even begun, let alone won. We have to get the message out there that we need to be on green hosts, and perhaps even more significantly, we should be working with regulators, with producers, with industry bodies. To require green standards from all hosting providers so that we're not just having to leave it to the consumer to discover which host is green or not.

Although it's very easy and there are fantastic extensions to it, or you can go to eco greater. Put Globe Mellow on your browser or simply go to the Green Web Foundation, which has an eye wateringly large data set of billions of hosting providers of whom, significant proportion that they have identified our Green Web hosts.

It doesn't mean they're actually green, it just means that they are much greener than any alternative and so worth Priorit. Which brings me to a question that has come up again and again in my conversations this week. Why bother? And I mean, you're listening to this podcast so clearly you care, but in the secret recesses of your soul, or in the late night conversations, do you not ask yourself the question, Can I as an individual technologist, Really have a meaningful impact on this train wreck that is accelerating climate change.

This week, Greta Thunberg wrote of the climate crisis. It will take many things for us to start facing this emergency, but above all, it will take honesty, integrity, and courage. So honestly speaking, do we really believe that by turning off autoplay on a video on our webpage, we can actually change the world?

Is the focus on green software not a distraction? Placing the burden of change on individual technologists while the only people who can make a real difference operate on a much grander. What's the point of debating which bit of dust to clean in the middle of a mudslide? It is easy to be discouraged when faced with systemic societal problems, not just environmental, but across the board.

But it is a dangerous fallacy, I think, to think that the only form of power is authority resources. And coercion. Yes, governments could have a massive impact by regulating and enforcing greener ways of living. And yes, multinationals are in the privileged position to make changes that affect the entire planet in one go, but there are other forms of power.

The power to envision, the power to choose. The power to collaborate and evolve, perhaps the power to become. It is a tiny infinitesimal proportion of humanity who have envisioned tools, systems, and approaches that have allowed entire nations to change their energy con. The crisis of our times, I would argue is not least a crisis of hope and imagination.

For instance, if the extent of my hope is that I will be able to move in this room in which I am recording this podcast, but I have no. Ever opening the door that leads to the rest of my home. Then all of my planning, all of my solutions, all of my initiatives will be confined to these four walls. The. If my hope stretches further, if I believe that it is actually possible for me to roam the confines of my entire house, well that will be very good from the point of view of going to the toilet and having a shower, it will be fantastic from the point of view of feeding myself in a healthy way.

Above all, it will open up a huge range of options for interacting with my space. I can sit in the sofa, I can put some music, I can watch tv, et cetera, etc. I can even perhaps order food brought home and then my possibilities really expand. But if my level of hope only stretches as far as this house, I will never again place my bare feet on the grass.

I will not lie down at night and count the stars. I will not go and visit my children or my friends because all of my planning, all of my choices, all of my actions will be confined to this house. The extent of our ability to act is closely inseparable, in fact, from our ability to hope and to imagine, because if I can imagine not just leaving the house and I cannot just imagine.

But actually hope it, I can believe in its possibility even if at this particular moment I don't really know how to unlock that door because I lost the keys. But if I believe that I can actually get out one way or another, my initiatives, my problem solving will not be focused on which room I will sleep or eat in.

It will be focused in how to open the window or the door or find a way through to the vast landscape and the entire planet that awaits me. Similarly, those few people who have been able to see further, who have been able to imagine to conceive of possibility have allowed us all to. Beyond the confines of our immediate situation between the four enclosing walls, and gradually step into that space because in contrast to the very small number of visionaries creating collective planetary possibilities, it is in fact the aggregated choices.

Of millions of consumers to give their belief, their hope, their commitment, their effort to those ideas, which has been the engine of massive societal transformations. It is individual, often on coordinated, but values driven choices that have led companies and governments to adopt net zero target. And they may be moving too slowly and there may be a lot of green washing.

But the fact is that as a planet, we have agreed on a direction of travel and we are moving in that direction. It is those myriad of tiny individual choices that have aggregated to make esg. A corporate requirement, environmental, social, and governance indicators that have changed regulations, supply chains, manufacturing standards, and have made renewable energies power a growing proportion on an industrial scale at a time when, at the beginning, the very idea that solar could be.

Practicable, let alone scalable was elusive. But those few people there to hope and were able to imagine, and they gave us all the possibility to choose between those visionaries and that growing mass ethical consumers, the visionaries with the power to imagine and us with the power to. It's a dense network of networks of powerful collaborations, mobilizing to educate one another, to persuade one another, to track and implement and verify.

The civil society sector has been growing and growing and growing, not just in numbers, but in influence, in sophistication, in capacity to mobilize. To account for change and obstacles and to make that vision that the innovators and the dreamers and the spiritual and ethical leaders in the real sense of the world have seen for us and make it, reach us, make it, reach the.

And what all of these things have in common is that they allow us to be, not just to run an auto pilot, but to be true to our own best selves, our highest values, and thus not just exist, but really live in the end. The power to hope and to dream, the power to mobilize and collaborate and the power to. All adopt the power to become who we can fully be individually and ultimately as societies and.

The whole human race, which brings me to the Green Software Foundation CarbonHack 22, which is another thing that's coming to my radar this week, which I think is significant and of wider interest even for those listening who will not participate. I have been around the hackathon scene for a few years as a software engineer and as an I.

And this event is, in my view, a truly exceptional opportunity to envision, to collaborate, to choose, and to become. It is an inspiring confirmation of these other forms of less formal, but no less significant forms of power On the one hand. You have participating in this hackathon, the massive corporations with the power to have large scale impacts very quickly.

Intel, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Accenture Globe, and UBS ThoughtWorks. Together, they have made this a hundred thousand dollars challenge, which let me tell you is a lot more than is usual in Hackathons. With a $40,000 first price, this is a great motivator that amounts to more than just encouragement. It becomes a form of seed funding.

Any idea that really, really captures the imagination of the judges from these massive planetary organizations will receive. Money to be able to liberate time or bring in talent or buy equipment that allows their proof of concept, their dream, their vision, that hope beyond the borders of the four walls of our present to embody itself in action.

But perhaps more significant than that price, than that seed funding is the fact that these judges, that these big companies will be genuinely paying attention. I have had people reach out to me from some of these companies. Just wanting to participate as engineers in the hackathon, not for the money because they would not be eligible as sponsors, but simply from the enthusiasm to make a difference and others who are really paying attention, who want to see.

New approaches and solutions that they might support, incorporate scale, that would allow us as a planet and their mass companies to be more responsible, impactful citizens. A single idea that grabs their imagination could be the beginning of massively impactful change. And you also have the collaborative networks of change makers that can socialize, not just the tools that come.

This visioning process, this imagination, this hope in action. We have Code for All, which is the largest civic tech network in the world who are helping disseminate this happening across their amazing network of technologists trying to improve the world beyond just the environment. We have the Green, Web, Foundation, who are.

One of the greatest hubs. Proof of concept innovation. They themselves, just, if you go to the Green Foundation, GitHub re repository, you will see a whole range of things that all amount to windows into the future, to exits into hope threads that you can pull to advance closer toward a greener. And of course, the Green, Software Foundation itself, which is mobilizing to help reach those individuals across all three populations in whose power lies to imagine, to initiate, to sow seeds.

And then you have the innovators, hundreds of volunteers from both the global north and the global south with decades of experience or just starting. Finding one another and exploring what would be relatively simple ideas with the potential to really change the world or one corner of it in a significant and environmentally healthier way.

And already there are ideas, which, when or not I can see have huge potential. The purpose of this hackathon is to promote carbon aware computing. What does that? Well, what we really, really need in the planet is to drastically reduce our energy consumption and our consumption in general, which is. Really driving our planet to multiple cliffs, not just around climate change, but around the exhaustion of valuable resources and the degradation of societies, the exploitation of people, all of the very unhealthy patterns that create a system that is no longer functional for us, if it ever.

But to get to that point where we have achieved equilibrium in our consumption and production patterns is not gonna be like pressing a button. Even if we wanted to, even if we convinced absolutely everyone, there would still be a period of transition of experimentation, of learning, and in this transitional period.

We are all children of the half light with one foot in the sun and the wind and the water, and one foot in the shadow of a coal mine. Indeed, our energy mix is and will remain for a good while mixed. Some of it will be clean. Brought to us from by nature's hand, and some of it will remain dirty in the legacies of a dying world, so we cannot control.

When the sun shines, we cannot say to the wind, to Blauer right now or make the tides rise at will to power our washing machines and our computers and whatever you are using to consume this podcast, we have to follow nature. We are partnering with nature. We are not controlling it. Therefore, carbon awareness means that we ensure that the electricity that we will consume no matter what is sensitive to the flows and ebbs of renewable energy in the electricity grid.

So, for example, you could make sure that that washing machine only runs. When the electricity grid in your area is being powered by the sun or by the wind, And stops when it is powered by burning fossil fuels. Or you might have a massive computing job, which is happening in the cloud. And if you know a little about cloud computing, you know that there are multiple geographic zones where that job could take place.

So carbon where computing would allow you to say, I will run this computing job, not here where I am at this moment when the electricity is dirty. Instead, I'm gonna run this computing job in Sao Paolo or in Sweden where the electricity happens to be green at this particular. So this is carbon aware computing is the idea that we still use energy.

We haven't yet reduced our energy footprint in that sense, but we ensure that the energy we use is as clean as possible and that we avoid as far as possible the peak moments where the electricity is most polluting. The Green Software Foundation created this fantastic API that allows you to know when and where the electricity is being powered by renewable energy and when and where in the planet the electricity is.

Highly polluting and this hackathon is all about hooking to this API and coming up with solutions that allow you to apply this carbon aware computing. Now the solutions that people are working on are super exciting. Some of them are really quite small. For example, a plugin for the serverless framework.

So this is an infrastructure as code framework where you basically write a few lines and say, I want you to create, to provision a computing environment for me in. AWS or in Azure or in Google Cloud particularly, at least I am aware of it being used in AWS for what are called Lambda functions, serverless functions that only are activated when activities happening and then go back to sleep.

So they're very environmentally friendly and very efficient and powerful and composable. The research shows that something like 80 or 90% of all serverless functions, Lambda functions are deployed via serverless. So just a little plugin in this very, very niche area that allows you to ensure that those Lambda functions, those serverless functions only run in the greenest electricity zones around the world.

Could have a massive, massive impact because a lot of computing is being run through lambdas. Other ideas, for example, are around completely different part of the computing stack. So someone is creating green mold UI components. So the idea is that you create websites by composing various pattern. So you use a library like Tailwind or like Bootstrap or like Material ui, which already has pre-built styled components like forms, like buttons, like headers, et, cetera etc.

And those can be very attractive and very beautiful, but also potentially a little heavy. If you could have versions of the very same components of the forms or of the buttons or the nav bars that became simpler and lighter when the electricity was dirty, you would shave a tiny bit of electricity and of CO2 emissions.

And we're back to that idea and why do we care? Why would taking one gram of CO2 out of a webpage make a difference? Well, if that webpage is visited a hundred thousand times each day, then over a year, that is three and a half million tons of CO2 that your one gram reduction has achieved. There are so many other ideas.

There are some very, very simple ideas which are nevertheless really powerful. So simple schedulers, simple alarm belts as it were, that tell you when the electricity is optimal or so suboptimal. So for instance, in my example, you could get a scheduler that allows you to choose when. Put on the washing machine, but also when to game, and when to watch videos and when to engage in the most fun yet most intensive activities in your digital life.

So you can be a responsible gamer or for electrical equipment or for crypto mining if you're going to be mining crypto coins. Consuming a lot of energy and that's not a good thing to do. At the best of times, but if you are gonna do it and people are doing it at scale, wouldn't it be amazing if you could ensure that that mining happens at a time when the grid locally is running on renewables or stops.

You stop your mining when the grid is particularly dirty or when your emissions budget has gone past a certain level. All of these are little glimpses of hope. There are little windows of imagination. There are possibilities where, where a million collective individual choices might eventually lead us.

If those of us now engaging you, listening, the organizations that are participating, mobilized to let, to empower people to be able to make those choices. Maybe one of these ideas really takes off in a huge way. Maybe 10, maybe five of these ideas take off in a small. But still aggregate, not just in making a direct impact and difference, but in stretching our capacity to envision and to dream.

And the result is that a new solution comes on the back of these proof of concepts that actually scales. I want to finish by telling you a story and it's a real story. It took place in Geneva in the year 2000. I was there for a United Nations summit, and this was the Geneva 2000 Millennium Summit, which was five year son for the very first social summit that looked at social develop.

And it was taking forward this, and there were so many thousands of non-governmental organizations. I was representing the International Association for Community Development, and it was a fantastic space to meet incredible change makers. And there's. That stays with me. Out of everyone, there are hundreds of people I met there.

There is one person that I saw that I didn't even speak to properly. I had, you know, 10 seconds of conversation with. Mostly I just saw her walk against the flow of people to get to a meeting. She was from Somalia, and Somalia in 2000 was on fire. There was a terrible, bloody civil war and a mass immigration of war refugees.

This woman, too, had left Somalia, but she hadn't left Somalia to escape. She had left Soma. To launch an incredible vision. Think if you can, if you are old enough or if you've watched on series and movies where the world was technologically in the year 2000. Our phones, I think were barely Nokia, and the most that you could play was snake.

You probably could do a little more by 2000, but you were a far cry from smartphones and they were all in rich countries. What this Somali woman entrepreneur. Came to say in that conference, and I don't even know her name was, invest in mobile technology in Africa, come to Somalia and put in the infrastructure and bring in mobile phones.

At that point, that was sheer fantasy. Imagine starting a business in our war. Imagine bringing mobile phones to a continent that mostly struggled to have electricity and running water, and certainly no fixed phone, which in the year 2000 was still by far the primary way of phone communication. So people said, You haven't even got to the stage of fixed landlines.

You're convincing us that there is a business to be made installing mobile infrastructure and selling mobile phones to the poorest areas of the world. It really seemed ridiculous, and I don't know who listened. The vast majority did not. I was hugely inspired by her, but I have to confess, I was also hugely skeptical.

Fast forward 2022, and Africa is the pioneer in the application of mobile technology to social innovation. They are the. In mobile wallets with 60% of all mobile wallets in Africa, the incredible innovations, the interventions, the way mobile phones were used to save. The entire populations from starvation by, um, a version of universal basic income by sending to all these subsistence traders who were hawking wars and who suddenly could not survive cuz they could not sell and they could not go out because a pandemic was killing people.

They used phones to put money into all of those pockets and lifted an enormous number, enormous proportion of the country. I believe it was in Togo, from starvation and from poverty. Mobile phones are everywhere. I lived for three months in a very remote Maasai village in Tanzania. There were. The only technology that existed in that village was one very old cassette tape running on batteries.

A car that visited once a week or so, maybe three or four. Collective electric torches, battery run, and a few mobile phones. Everything else. Was built from nature and you follow the stars and you follow the seasons and you cope with a drought and you lived entirely by the flows of the natural world, except for mobile phones.

Those Maasai tribes were so entrepreneurial and globally aware and savvy, and they harnessed that technology in incredibly powerful ways that Somali woman was a visionary. If you listening to this podcast, if you got to this moment in this podcast, I know one thing about you. You care about our. You are not just passively despairing, but actively taking action, big or small to make a difference.

And I know you're not alone. That woman was a single undefeatable voice in a conference that wasn't listening. You are part of an incredible community of change makers, whether you've already found each other or you haven't met a single person who is thinking about digital. But you are not alone. Every single person listening to this podcast is another voice in the planetary conference room advocating with you, experimenting beside you, adding their impact to yours.

So I will lend by highlighting the most wonderful space I found to connect with others who are walking the very same path in very different shoes. It is called climateaction.tech, and it's Epicenter is a community on Slack comprising thousands of technologies from. Programmers to product owners, to designers, to investors, students innovators, exploring how to green existing tech across any and all domains.

This includes people who have just begun to think about these issues and also world authorities in this space. In an atmosphere of mutual encouragement, support, humility, and dynamism. That amazing Somali woman accurately envisioned the future. She was alone, but you could tell she knew she wasn't. We are not either.

And armed with this knowledge, we can share in her certainty of impact. How much more when we have so many more channels to find and collaborate with one. Not least The. Week in Green. Software spread the word. Hey everyone, thanks for listening. Just a reminder to follow Environment Variables on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, visit Green Software Foundation, and please, if you liked what you. Do leave a rating and review. It helps other people discover the show and joining the conversation. The more of us are exploring these issues at home, at work, in our free time and in our projects, the greater chances of taking effective action and making a difference in our own corner of the world.

Good luck in your green software journeys and see you in the next episode.