Environment Variables
Environment Variables One Year Round Up
June 29, 2023
Join us for a special episode of Environment Variables as we celebrate over a year of bringing you the best insights on Green Software! From open source's role in reducing software emissions to making green changes in organizations, carbon-aware computing, and more, we revisit the most captivating moments from our top 10 most popular episodes. Listen to snippets from our discussions with industry experts and dive into the world of Green Software, as we reflect on our journey, share valuable knowledge from our guests and hosts, and continue to raise awareness about the importance of Green Software.
Join us for a special episode of Environment Variables as we celebrate over a year of bringing you the best insights on Green Software! From open source's role in reducing software emissions to making green changes in organizations, carbon-aware computing, and more, we revisit the most captivating moments from our top 10 most popular episodes. Listen to snippets from our discussions with industry experts and dive into the world of Green Software, as we reflect on our journey, share valuable knowledge from our guests and hosts, and continue to raise awareness about the importance of Green Software. 

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Chris Skipper: Hello and welcome to this special episode of Environment Variables. For those of you who don't know, it's been just over year since the Environment Variables podcast was released, and we thought we would take a look back at the best moments over our first year. This podcast started off as an idea from Asim Hussain.

The director of the Green Software Foundation and has blossomed into a beacon for green software awareness on the internet. Now, just as a disclaimer, you may not have heard my voice before. I am Chris Skipper, and I am the producer of Environment Variables. I don't often get in front of the microphone and would say, I started this journey not knowing a lot about software or its effect on the environment.

However, I now have accumulated this assumed knowledge or full knowledge of a lot of the facts and terminology that surround green software, which has benefited my day-to-day life in the way that I use computers and the internet as a quote unquote layperson. It has also made me a great addition to any pub quiz team, but that's enough about me.

In this episode, we will be looking at the moments of our top 10 most popular episodes of Environment Variables, which started in April of 2022. This is purely based on listener stats, so we thought it would be nice to revisit some of these tidbits For your listening pleasure, as always, links to each of the episodes will be down in the show notes below, or if you want to listen to all of the episodes of Environment Variables.

You can as always visit https://podcast.greensoftware.foundation, preferably after this episode. So to kick us off, our first moment we're going to look at was from an episode entitled, How Can Open Source Help Reduce Software Emissions? Where Asim was joined by Chris Lloyd-Jones, affectionately known as CLJ, or sealjay as is his Twitter handle.

Head of open technologies at Avenade and co-chair of the open source working group at the Green Software Foundation. And Dan Lewis-Toakley Green Cloud Lead at ThoughtWorks and the other co-chair of the open source working group at the Green Software Foundation. Now, in this episode, they discussed the benefits of open source versus closed source, what opensource tools are out there, and how they can help reduce software emissions.

This was the fourth episode of Environment Variables, and the quote here features both of our guests. But with a particular tone of impending doom from CLJ himself.

Dan Lewis-Toakley: It's about engaging the community and growing adoption of this tool and similar tools rather than necessarily holding it tight to our chest and trying to have the secret source that, you know, that we want to provide to our clients or to partners.

So that was a, that's sort of a, a key aspect. Different license types, more restrictive ones can often be a deal breaker for some companies and organizations. To adopt software.

Chris Lloyd-Jones: Yeah. I dunno about you, but sometimes it can also feel like, you know, when you've got a toddler or a child is holding a suite and you have to kind of pry their fingers off it at times for an organization, it can be quite hard to make that decision.

And I say that because we, we've contributed some code as Avenade, the Green Software Foundation, to start that CICD pipeline tooling. But one of the reasons why I push for that is because I also think if you keep that secret source close to your heart, you run the risk of people, first of all, jumping over you because they just want to get things done.

They want to get things done quickly. What you do becoming out of date and stale, then you've invested a whole load of time in something which isn't compatible with what people are now using. You can also just look like a, a bad actor, particularly in fields like this where we're not, I don't know, making a search tool and comparison to like, you know, the whole open, open search, elastic search for raw rate.

We're trying to actually solve a problem here where fundamentally, if the world doesn't go a zero, we might all die in a massive heat test. There's good reasons to do it.

Chris Skipper: Moving on to something a bit lighter in tone, these next two snippets come from our third episode of Environment Variables, which has the title, How Do We Make Green Changes in Organizations? This was the first time EV regular Anne Currie joined us on the podcast. Anne is a tech ethicist at Container Solutions and one of the organizational leads at the Green Software Foundation.

Not only that, but she is a sci-fi author and a non-fiction author who is currently co-writing the new O'Reilly book, Building Green Software with other GSF members, Sara Hsu and Sara Bergman, which is currently in pre-release via the publisher's page, linked below in the show notes. In episode three, Asim and Anne talked about what are the real factors that drive organizations choices around increasing efficiency within their organization?

What needs to happen for senior leaders to make sacrifices for sustainability and can regulation push for real change inside organizations? They also discussed their love of ops people, developers, and the role of middle managers, which is what this first quote from Anne is about.

Anne Currie: There's been quite a lot of psychological thinking, organizational thinking about how do you make changes in organizations and because a lot of it came from changing the finance industry.

Cause it had to really change, uh, after the, after the big crash in 2008, 2009, and they did loads and loads of psychological research and organizational psychological research. And what they found was that really unless middle managers decided to do it, it all stopped. You know, they would stop it going up and they stop it going down, which is where I think the tech conferences are very good because they tend to be attended by people in the middle managers, senior architects.

If you can get them on board, then that's all that's really required. Top down, get stopped by them. Bottom up, get stopped by them.

Chris Skipper: I also wanted to include this next snippet from Asim, as it includes one of his key beliefs about green software, which is that it can only take a few people to make changes within an organization to set them on the right path to making green changes and green choices in relation to software-based decisions.

Asim Hussain: The first time I got the hint that this might not be the right direction or there might be a different direction, was when I, we started talking about regulation, when there starts to be hints of regulation on the horizon. And one thing I realized, I mean, just the conversation, just the thread of regulation opens more doors than anything else. Like for instance, one of the things I'd learned early in my years at, at Microsoft was that you really do have to find customers. You can't just like be waving around going, Hey, I'm really passionate about technology and I know my area and, and you know, like if we were to build this feature, you know, I, I, trust me, trust me, a lot of people would love it that no one's paying attention.

You've gotta come in with like, I've got five customers. They all want this feature. This is how much money they wanna spend. If they get this feature, we should prioritize this. Let's get this prioritized and be, okay. Look, let's, let's do this. That regulation surpassed that, opened the doors, surpassing that fear.

I, I, I used to work in investment banking. And one of the lessons I learned leaving investment banking was there's only two things people really care about. And that's fear, fear and greed. Fear about fear, I think is greater. I think fear and regulation is greater than greed of, of, of money. So I think that's a direction that would really help us out a lot is more regulation in this space.

Chris Skipper: Now leading on to a very serendipitous segue here. Our next snippet comes from an episode titled The Week in Green Software: Green Software Legislation. This was one of our first episodes of a newer format called The Week in Green Software, or TWiGS, which is a news and events roundup of everything going on in the world of green software.

On this episode, Ismael Velasco, who was one of the researchers that helped out with the recent 2023 State of Green Software survey again, links in the show notes below, talks about the dense legislative landscape around green software and technology and energy regulations. Everything from France's Digital environmental footprint reduction legislation to the UK's greening government ICT, and digital services strategy. This quote is about green public purchasing.

Ismael Velasco: The regulatory movement at institutions are driving extends also to what is known as sustainable public procurement, or green public procurement, or green public purchasing, or sustainable public purchasing. And it's the idea that more and more governments are choosing to develop environmental standards for purchasing products, and that movement toward environmental informed procurement is rapidly accelerated around software specifically, and this matters again, how governments choose to purchase counts. Governments around the world spend an estimated 11 trillion in public contracts every year representing approximately 12% of global GDP.

At a national level, this varies even more. So some governments will spend no more than two or 3% of GDP, but other governments purchasing represents up to 57% of GDP in some countries, so how governments choose to purchase has a significant impact.

Chris Skipper: This next quote comes from an episode that featured Navveen Balani of Accenture, also part of the steering committee of the Green Software Foundation and Srini Rakhunathan of Microsoft. Titled The Week in Green Software Calculating Software Emissions. Asim sat down with our guests to take a deep dive into the process behind Accenture's use of the Green Software Foundation software carbon intensity specification to calculate a measure to track and ultimately reduce the carbon emissions of one of its internal reference applications.

If you would like to learn more about the GSF's SCI specification, we have a whole Environment Variables episode on it linked in the show notes below. In this snippet, Srini talks about the use and value of the SCI specification. 

Srini Rakhunathan: It's gonna change the way we look at carbon value, or how are we systemically capturing monitoring data? The intent of the project is to be able to provide a value, a carbon emissions value, which you can use. It's more for action for you to continuously iterate and figure out where are you at a particular milestone after you have taken some of the measures provided as part of the SCI specs. Which is around making it more carbon aware, making it more efficient or energy efficient or all of it.

So you need a way to tell whether you have progressively made it past your different milestones, whether you're continuously reducing or you're stagnant, or you're increasing because it's always possible that you need to pull all these parameters to make sure, because we are not building applications just to make it sustainable, right? We are building applications to make money for your business.

Asim Hussain: Add value to the world, let's put it that way.

Srini Rakhunathan: Exactly. And so you need a way to easily calculate across your different hosting infrastructure, whether you do it on the cloud or on-prem. You host your app on your laptop. The project aims to tap into the different data sets available and, abstract away the calculation algorithm and just provide you a value, most intelligent value. That's what we would say when we were kickstarted it, and I think it's going good. We should probably have something really cool coming out of this.

Chris Skipper: Now, this next episode definitely increased my green software vocabulary with a particular focus on terms such as time shifting, location shifting, curtailment, and many other terms related to carbon aware computing, which happens to be the title of said episode. Here, Asim sat down with guests, Scott Chamberlain, formerly of Microsoft and Henry Richardson, of Watttime they talked about how we can build sustainable software that reduces the impact on the environment and how these decisions may just lie in the hands of the developers instead of the CSR teams.

So if you were as confused about those terms as I was, I suggest you listen to this episode in full. But to give you a slice of just how these work, here's a snippet from our guests.

Henry Richardson: So this is a really interesting disconnect that we're seeing right now. And as especially in the near future, load flexibility will have a lot of emission savings potential cause we'll be able to shift out of those dirty periods into the curtailment periods.

But once we eventually attain those a hundred percent or near a hundred percent clean grids, the flexibility won't be saving emissions directly, but it will be enabling a hundred percent clean grid because you'll be following wind and solar. And if we didn't have that flexibility, we would have to do fossil resources. So like it's an essential piece of a clean future grid. But it's gonna be harder to quantify the benefit of it in the future.

Scott Chamberlin: That, that's a great way of putting it, Henry. It's, it's, we get to clean grids faster the more we have carbon awareness, because carbon awareness allows us to maximize the use of our renewables, whereas today, we're already curtailing them.

Right. I think that's, that's an excellent way of putting that.

Henry Richardson: Exactly.

Chris Skipper: And just over the halfway point, speak of the devil. Our next quote comes from that SCI episode. It's an episode of Fact Check with Sara Bergman and Software Carbon Intensity. Fact check is another format of episode on Environment Variables, where we take a deeper dive into the bigger questions in a one-to-one discussion with a special guest.

In this instance, Sara Bergman, senior software engineer at Microsoft and an individual contributor to the green software foundation's software, carbon intensity project discusses not only her own green software journey, but 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.

Sara Bergman: In an ideal world, elimination and offsetting would be the same. We are not in an ideal world where in 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. One's 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 breathe, uh, but there are a number of problems surrounding this. There has been reports of projects where trees 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 a 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 out of 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.

Chris Skipper: We now go all the way back to April 11th, 2022 when our very first episode of EV was published. Amazon's customer carbon footprint tool. In this episode, Asim was joined by guests Chris Adams, now host of Environment Variables, Sara Bergman, and Danielle Erickson. As they discuss the impact that Amazon's customer carbon footprint tool is having on the green software landscape, how do services like AWS affect climate change and what are the effects on the environment of these huge data centers?

We also learned about how you can use your heat from greenhouses to grow tomatoes. In this particular snippet, we actually have a link to our last quote about the SCI standard, as Asim talks about how the open source nature of Amazon's customer carbon footprint tool relates to this.

Asim Hussain: And I especially like the fact that because cloud carbon footprint is open source, not only is your methodology public, but your data.

And the, the underlying data assumptions at a very low granular level are public. I can see what is the energy consum if I'm using this particular server, this particular load, that data is public and we're actually using that in the foundation, in the software carbon intensity standard. Where, where you leveraging that data cuz it helps engineers kind of calculate the carbon emissions of, you know, processes or estimate the carbon emissions of processes so they can then make those kinds of decisions. So it's kind of the openness of the data is I think, also missing with these tools. But I've also heard it's extremely difficult for Amazon and Google and Microsoft to make this data public.

And it's not only revealing competitive information. There might also be legal constraints. You know, if you reveal some of this information, you, the SEC might come after you because you're revealing proprietary information. There's actually lots of complications around that from what I've heard.

Chris Skipper: Next up, we have a pair of quotes from episode nine of Environment Variables titled From Carbon Aware to Carbon Intelligent. In this episode, Chris Adams is joined by Colleen Josephson of VMware Philipp Wiesner of TU Berlin, and EV regular Sara Bergman, as they discuss the opportunities with making first carbon aware and then carbon intelligent computing. This episode featured a true plethora of terms, variability, curtailment, disaggregation, 5g, 6g, delay tolerant networks, intermittent computing, IoT, and even a short segue about Raspberry Pi's, or make an appearance in this action packed episode. In this first quote, Philipp explains variability.

Philipp Wiesner: Variability can be quite dramatic. So in France for example, they have clean, not clean maybe, but like low-carbon energy because of all the nuclear power they are deploying throughout the day. So there you have barely any potential. But then there's regions like Germany for example, which are very interesting because they're super variable like Germany employees comparably much wind power as well as solar power. So at many times of the day, they manage to have large fractions of the grid provided by green energy. But if neither sand nor wind available, we burn brown coal, which is pretty much the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. This is why variability is really crazy. Like within a normal day, you can expect twice or like 50% fluctuations.

That could be that one kilowatt hour that you consume now is twice as dirty if you consume the same kilowatt hour a few hours later and within a few days, you can even see like the difference between the min and the max can be factor four or something. So one kilowatt hour can really vary from 100 grams CO2 up to 400 grams or or more 500 grams. Yeah.

Chris Skipper: And following up, we have one of the most memorable quotes from Colleen.

Colleen Josephson: The same thing comes in with upgrades. So if you look at upgrading hardware in data centers or telecommunications hardware, so 5G I think, got some bad press for how much power the base stations consume. But what's actually true about it is that the power consumed per bit transmitted has gone down significantly. So there's a good advantage to upgrading your hardware, but then you know, what about this hardware you're getting rid of everything that we produce has this concept of embodied emissions. It takes resources and carbon to produce this hardware, so you have to really carefully look at that sort of trade off.

It turns out that keeping our devices, especially smaller devices in use for as long as possible, is one of the greenest things that we can do.

Chris Skipper: Yes, so keeping smaller devices in use for as long as possible is one of the greenest things we can do as individuals. But what about bigger entities, corporations, organizations, or even networks?

That's where our next quote comes from In an episode entitled Green Networks, episode 10 of Environment Variables. Host Chris is joined by Eve Schooler, principal engineer and director of Emerging IoT Networks at Intel and Romain Jacob of ETH Zurich. They discuss how can we reduce the energy produced by networks? How could we leverage current research to make the internet more energy efficient? Two very big questions of which one answer is provided in this next snippet from our guests.

Romain Jacob: What if we were to redesign indeed those wired networks? So that reliability is not something we get rid of, but we modulate the requirements we set there and say, reliability is just one objective.

How much performance degradation are we willing to tolerate in order to save on energy? To give a very concrete and simple example, most traffic on the internet is driven by human activity, right? And human activity has a very serious seasonal pattern. We use the networks more at certain time of the day than not at others.

It's very easy to think that we could turn off part of this networks for certain parts of the day, because we don't need that much bandwidth, and if we do, we might be able to tolerate a bit more delay than at peak hours. It's very similar to turning off the public lights on the streets, you know, at night when nobody's driving.

Right. It's the same principle.

Eve Schooler: Or even in your home, right? The analogy of one's parents growing up, don't forget to turn off the lights. It's exactly the same analogy.

Romain Jacob: Yeah. It's the same idea, right? And there is no reason this cannot be done. We know we can do it. The question is how far can we push it? One limitation factor, one blocking factor at the moment is how quickly we can turn things on and off, right? Because switching on a router or switch takes as of today in the orders of several minutes, right? So it's not something that you can just do multiple times for hours or so. Because essentially your network will be completely inoperable. It can be changed. If we were to change the hardware, if we want to change the operating systems we run on those machines, we could improve on that. How far can we go? This is kind of an open research question at the moment.

Chris Skipper: We have come to our final episode on this list, which is Community Clouds and Energy Islands. In this episode, host Chris is joined by Dawn Nafus of Intel and Laura Watts of the University of Edinburgh. As they explore community clouds, data centers, energy regulation, and projects on the Islands of Orkney.

One of the key talking points in this episode was how we've moved from a more decentralized internet running on centralized power to a more centralized internet, running on more decentralized power. Is this the only computing model of the future? What could a decentralized internet running on decentralized power look like?

We see hints of what this looks like at the edge of the internet, but also the edge of the grid, which is what this first quote from Dawn is about.

Dawn Nafus: One of the things that's really been heating up right now on social media, you might imagine is with the recent changes, shall we say to Twitter. There are a lot of folks like myself who have moved over to Mastodon.

On Mastodon, we've been having a rip roaring conversation about what would it take to actually stand up a Mastodon server in a place like Orkney where stuff is in fact community run and where there actually is community benefit to how the energy actually works and how it's organized. And there are a million challenges to that that we can talk about, but that's that next step where, once you get beyond scheduling right, you can start to think about all these other social implications that are far deeper than just, you know, writing some scheduling code.

Chris Skipper: I also wanted to include this quote about regulations from Laura.

Laura Watts: Regulation is one of the biggest challenges to what we're talking about for energy and data, and thinking about how we do things like the ecovisor, and that is manage assets because you need to be able to have permission from the regulator to basically switch these things on and off or be able to have any impact on the grid because keeping the lights on is an absolute commitment. So if you are going to start changing the load, your data's gonna get into this space and thinking, how do we write code for using different amounts of energy sources that's gonna change the load on the grid?

And that starts getting into regulatory issues. And it seems like a dull thing, but actually it's a really important space to start talking about, because we can have huge impacts on what the grid looks like. What does a data electricity grid combined look like in the future? That's a regulatory and governance question. As much as it is a technical, how do we shov the data about and change what the software looks like?

Chris Skipper: So we have come to the end of this episode of Environment Variables. I hope you enjoyed this year roundup. So what have we learned from the first year of the Environment Variables podcast? Well, it is safe to say that when we started this podcast, there weren't that many stories on mainstream news sites that mentioned green software.

However, we are now able to produce not only a weekly episode that covers news topics related to green software. But we have a fantastic newsletter with amazing resources that will keep you up to date with the latest and greatest regarding green software that goes out weekly. Link in the show notes below.

We also learned that despite all the real and heavy facts regarding carbon emissions of software, there is even realer and heavier optimism in the community. So here's a great big thank you to you, the listener, for continuing to support this podcast. As I mentioned before, you can find links to all the shows in this episode below or alternatively, you can visit https://podcast.greensoftware.foundation to listen to all of the episodes of Environment Variables. You can also find out more about the Green Software Foundation, including resources and tools related to green software at https://greensoftware.foundation, that's https://greensoftware.foundation In any browser.

Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you on the next episode when we'll be having a very special episode of Environment Variables again. So keep an eye out for that. Bye for now.