Environment Variables
Environment Variables Year Two Roundup
May 23, 2024
Join us for a special episode of Environment Variables as we celebrate over a year two years of bringing you the best insights on Green Software! In this episode, we explore the key insights and voices that have contributed to the weaving of sustainability through our conversations this year. Tune in for a refresher on the most interesting discussions on the progress, challenges, and future of green software development.
Join us for a special episode of Environment Variables as we celebrate over a year two years of bringing you the best insights on Green Software! In this episode, we explore the key insights and voices that have contributed to the weaving of sustainability through our conversations this year. Tune in for a refresher on the most interesting discussions on the progress, challenges, and future of green software development.

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Chris Skipper: Hello and welcome to this special Year 2 Roundup episode of Environment Variables. I'm Chris Skipper, the producer behind the scenes. As we mark the second anniversary of this podcast, it's a perfect moment to reflect on the journey we've undertaken with the Green Software Foundation over the last year, and how that has been encapsulated through our episodes.

From its inception, Environment Variables has aimed to be more than just a podcast. It's a platform for advocacy and education on sustainable software practices. Over the past year, We've seen the Green Software Foundation grow and evolve, and we've been right there to document and discuss each milestone.

This podcast has not only followed the foundation's developments, but also mirrored the broader shifts towards sustainability and tech, bringing these insights right to your ears. Today, rather than revisiting our top episodes, we will explore how the themes of sustainability have woven through our discussions.

Highlighting key insights and the impactful voices that have contributed to this dialogue. You'll hear about the progress, the challenges, and what lies ahead for green software development. 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 head to podcast.greensoftware.foundation, preferably after this episode, please, to hear them all. So, without further ado, let's dive into the collective journey of the past year with Environment Variables.

Chris Skipper: To kick us off, let's start off with an episode of one of our segments entitled the week in green software, or as we like to call it twigs,

This segment delivers a concentrated blast of the latest in green software news, keeping our listeners informed and engaged with current trends and advancements in the field.

In fact, it's a nice touch that this episode covers AWS and Scope3 emissions data, as the very first episode of Environment Variables way back in April of 2022 also covered Amazon's Customer Carbon Footprint tool. In this snippet, our host Chris Adams discusses a fundamental concept in environmental accountability, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which is the de facto standard for measuring the carbon footprint of any organization or activity.

Chris breaks down this somewhat complex subject using a relatable analogy involving coffee, explaining the three scopes of emissions. He uses everyday examples to illustrate Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions, making it accessible for both newcomers and seasoned professionals, which has often become the role of twigs.

This approach not only simplifies the understanding of these emissions, but also highlights the significant impact of Scope 3 emissions, which often constitute the majority of an organization's environmental impact. Let's listen to Chris explain this in more detail.

Chris Adams: So I'll just quickly, for those who are new to the subject or folks who have never heard of GHG, the greenhouse gas protocol, essentially, this is a way, the kind of de facto standard for measuring the carbon footprint of any organization or any activity. And you typically split it into three kind of buckets of emissions.

And because we're nerds or developers and drink coffee, we can use hot beverages as the mechanism for understanding the difference between scope one, two, and three. You can think of scope one, which is from combusting fossil fuel. That's a bit like turning on gas to heat up water so you can have a nice cup of coffee, right?

Scope two, it's like turning on an electric kettle. So someone is setting fire to something to heat up some water somewhere to generate electricity so that you can heat up a kettle. So it's all the emissions associated.

Scope 3 is a bit like walking into a Starbucks or a Third Wave coffee shop and then buying a cup of coffee. So you're not involved in actually farming beans or burning anything, but there is definitely a supply chain associated so that you can have coffee. So these are the three kinds of scopes. And typically, Scope 1 and 2 are quite the common ones that organizations tend to report on, but for these, for lots and lots of organizations, scope 3 can make up 80 percent plus of the environmental impact.

And this is why we've been talking about it as being quite a big deal because if you do not have 80 percent of your reported numbers, they may look somewhat different to the other providers.

Chris Skipper: In the past year, Environment Variables has also introduced a new segment called Fact Check. This segment focuses on verifying claims and clarifying misconceptions related to the environmental impact of technology, providing our listeners with accurate and actionable information. In episode 29, Host Chris Adams discusses the role of artificial intelligence in optimizing the environmental impact of software.

He is joined by experts Colleen Josephson and Miguel Ponce de Leon from VMware, who delve into the intricacies of sustainability in virtualization and networking, as well as VMware's internal efforts towards decarbonization. In the snippet we're about to hear, Colleen Josephson highlights the challenges associated with training AI models in the telecommunications sector, a field where VMware has significant expertise.

She points out the substantial energy required to train these models and raises critical questions about the energy savings versus the environmental cost of AI, emphasizing the importance of evaluating the longevity and efficiency of AI models before committing resources. Let's listen to Colleen Josephson.

Explain these complex trade offs.

Colleen Josephson: Training is a very expensive process nowadays. Whether it's in the telco space, because, again, VMware, as you hinted, we have a long history of virtualization and cloud, but that also has become very relevant to telecommunications. We need to train the models that we use to make these decisions to try and save energy.

And the process of having so much data and training it, it can be really power consuming. So I think one of the things that stands out to me is, what is your anticipated energy savings? savings. Once you've deployed this model, how long do you anticipate that this model will be good for? And do you need to retrain it?

All of those you want to have some idea of so that you can calculate whether or not it was worth the energy to train this model in the first place.

Chris Skipper: Continuing the insightful discussion on the role of technology in environmental sustainability, we turn to Miguel Ponce de Leon, who shares his experience working on a collaborative project in Ireland. This initiative, a partnership between VMware and a local grid utility hosting a data center, focuses on integrating measurements from renewable energy sources directly into data center operations.

This effort not only enhances the understanding of energy usage within the data center. but also promotes actionable strategies for optimizing energy efficiency. Let's hear Miguel elaborate on how this collaboration helps data center operators become better environmental stewards by enabling precise monitoring and proactive management of resources.

Miguel Ponce de Leon: So one of the things I can mention is that we are working with a grid utility in Ireland and with that grid utility that also hosts a data center if that so happens. We're also working with an accelerator program, a program that is helping startups to look at how you can not just link but actually be able to take the correct measurements from the green sources, the wind farm locations, and the usage within the data center for its performance.

So, again, here it's about leveraging not just the research, we'd say, that would come from research performing organizations or from the offices of CTO of VMware, but also looking at start ups and start ups within the space and being able to link this. And that is helping the utilities. understand what type of usage, and imagine it's a utility that has their own data center.

So it's helping them be a good citizen even within their own environment, but being able to measure it and then being able to take action on it, right? Because that's the important thing is, okay, you've got your baseline, but what can I change about what I'm delivering within that data center? Even down to the containers, how can I move my clusters and pods over and maybe consolidate some of the pods?

We're even moving some of that research as well to look even with the pods. It's been available. How many of the CPUs are they using within the cluster? So again, it's about being able to help data center owners being good citizens around that space.

Chris Skipper: This next snippet comes from episode 32, which was all about the State of Green Software Survey, with lead researcher at the GSF, Tamara Kneese. The State of Green Software Survey serves as a political resource for the Green Software Foundation, offering crucial insights into the involving landscape of sustainable software practices.

By highlighting trends like the carbon footprint of crypto mining and the need for stringent regulations for generative AI, the report informs and influences stakeholders across the tech industry, from developers to policy makers.

In this snippet, Tamara emphasizes the report's role in enhancing the visibility of green software initiatives.


Tamara Kneese: So one of the main goals was really to raise the profile of green software. And I was really interested to see the percentage of developers who actually had some degree of awareness of green software. And so it makes sense that a lot of the people who filled out our survey already were somewhat aware of it.

and already interested. Although there were a number of people who replied in the comments that this was the very first time they'd been exposed to green software. And so by putting out this public report that can be taken up by the press, that can be taken up by policy makers, that can be taken up by academic researchers, it is a way of really getting the word out about green software.

Thinking about the reporting Court as a mechanism for evangelizing green software is really part of what we wanted to do. And we also wanted to understand after knowing that 92% of developers who surveyed said that they were concerned about climate change and wanna do something about it. So what do they need to actually make that happen?

What resources, tools. and other forms of support do they need to take action. And another key element of this is reaching out to ICT industry leaders to the C suite who really want to know how and why they should make green software part of their organization. And really trying to emphasize the business case for green software from their perspective was another really key part of this survey.

Chris Skipper: As we continue to look back on the previous year's journey, our next segment brings you insights from the Green Software Foundation's HotCarbon event, which took place on World Environment Day, June 5th, 2023. In episode 39, host Chris Adams, alongside Executive Director of the Green Software Foundation, Asim Hussain, Delved deep into a mailbag session, addressing questions that remained from this engaging live virtual event.

Their discussion begins with a look at the challenges of quantifying energy consumed by various computer components in the software carbon intensity specification, and transitions into real world applications of measuring SCI and CI/CD pipelines. The efficiency of GPUs and innovative uses of data center cooling water.

In our first snippet, Asim highlights a memorable talk from the previous year's Hot Carbon event, emphasizing the critical role of green software in managing the burgeoning demands on cloud infrastructure without the need to expand physical resources. Let's hear Asim explain this further.

Asim Hussain: It shows how important the work that we're talking about is. It's like, actually, it's one of the really great talks from last year's HotCarbon, which I loved, which was, I've forgotten, I've got to apologize, I'm not going to remember which one it was, but it was talking about how projecting forward kind of compute growth and how green software was a way of being able to handle the additional usage and load of the cloud without actually having to build more servers.

Because fundamentally we are constrained at the rate with which we can actually increase the cloud. But the growth is growing significantly as well. So like being more efficient actually allows you to, to deal with growth. So I think that sounds like what you're describing. So you have to be green, you have to use green software if you want a realistic chance of generative AI being as ubiquitous as you want it to be.

Chris Skipper: In this second snippet from Asim, he emphasizes the importance of broadening the dialogue beyond carbon to include other critical resources like water, acknowledging that managing environmental impacts often involves navigating trade offs between different sustainability goals. Let's listen to that now.

Asim Hussain: There might be situations where it's mutually the opposite, being more carbon efficient might actually make you more water intensive. Like for instance, doing things that reduce carbon emissions might require more water consumption, which is why I think it's exciting that we're actually are starting to have this conversation right now because I think we're so focused on carbon.

And we're optimizing for carbon, but actually the landscape is much more complicated. It's much more of a surface where you're trying to minimize the environmental impacts of your choices, and you might have to make trade offs versus one versus the other. If there's a water scarcity right now, you might have to increase your carbon emissions.

I'm excited that this is where the conversation is evolving to, because once we add water to the mix, we can add other things.

Chris Skipper: As we continue our exploration, our next episode takes a fascinating leap and dared to go where no podcast, or at least this podcast, had gone before, into the realm of science fiction and its role in envisioning a green future. In episode 42, host Anne Currie is joined by Joe Lindsay Walton, a research fellow in Arts, Climate and Technology at the University of Sussex.

Together, they delve into the imaginative horizons that science fiction opens for tackling climate change, the practical application of these ideas to green software, and the impact of speculative futures on our environmental strategies. In this snippet, Joe Lindsay Walton questions who really holds the reins in crafting a global strategy against climate change.

Let's listen to Joe's interesting take.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Are these orbital data storage facilities, are they going to Out compete the earthbound data centers that are using the dirty energy. Who actually holds the big picture of global strategy here, of addressing the urgent issue of climate change? Is it the conference of parties? Kind of, but they're mired in all these geopolitical rivalries.

Is it the scientists? The IPC? Yes, but they're constrained by the remit of political neutrality and face challenges around communication. Is it the finance and markets? They're waking up to something. They're trying to incorporate climate into these risk management methodologies that they don't really play all that nicely with.

Is it science fiction? Yes, we're drawing in a really interdisciplinary way. We've talked about Kim Stanley Robinson throwing everything at climate change, but it is ultimately a story. I'm not really sure who does hold the big picture. And if I was to try and summarize it in a crude way, it seems that we're hoping to adjust the rules of the game.

We haven't even adjusted them yet, but we're hoping to adjust the rules of the game so that Goods and services and enterprises and value chains and industries and sectors and whole communities and regions that are incompatible with a broadly livable planet are going to be destroyed in the Schumpeterian whirlwind of creative destruction, will crash and burn.

And I think there's a lot of emphasis. on the creation side of that, building data centers on the moon or in orbit, but not enough imaginative, creative, realistic thinking about the destruction side of it. There's this expectation that enterprises are going to snitch on themselves. Oh, we've tested for impairment.

We're reporting against this particular standard. All our assets are stranded. We're just going to shut up shop. Goodbye. So I think I would be interested in more science fictional Thinking about the potential pain of switching from carbon intensive activities to the sustainable ones. Not just the focus on the kind of shiny new possibilities, but also the focus on what it's like to shut up shop.

Chris Skipper: Environment Variables also dared to break boundaries on the academic front. Our next snippet comes from episode 47, titled, New Research Horizons, which takes us to the forefront of innovation in green software. Host Chris Adams is joined by Dr. Daniel Sheehan from the University of Bristol to delve into the evolving landscape of digital sustainability.

Their discussion spans from the implications of historical studies to the transformative potential of recent research, offering listeners insights into how new findings are reshaping our approach to sustainability in technology. In this snippet, Daniel discusses the nuances of energy consumption across different media delivery platforms, emphasizing the complexities in interpreting data that could potentially mislead consumers about the energy impacts of their viewing choices.


Daniel Schien: The academic publication that I'm sure you will link to it in the show notes. There's a graph that compares the energy intensity of those four different modes of delivery of television from the BC. So IP, cable, satellite, and terrestrial. And even though they, they differ. So between, if I remember correctly, between 60 watt hours to 180 watt hours, that's in the year 2016, there's a potential step in the interpretation of those results that consumers might take, that needs more support.

If you see this graph, you might I think as a consumer, if I change from streaming to watching something via terrestrial broadcast, I am going to save 100 watt hours per viewer hour. However, that would not be a correct interpretation because all of those delivery modes, they are provided by an infrastructure that is inherently inelastic in its energy consumption.

Chris Skipper: Jumping to November and Decarbonize Software 2023, an essential event for the Green Software Foundation took place. This annual gathering is crucial for those passionate about reducing the environmental impact of software. Bringing together experts, practitioners, and innovators worldwide to exchange insights, breakthroughs, and strategies for sustainable software development.

With COP28 kicking off on the 30th of November in Dubai, we wanted to highlight projects which are driving momentum towards a low emission and climate resilient world. At COP28, global leaders discussed how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030.

In sync with this ambitious goal, Decarbonize Software served as a vibrant forum to promote collective action and shared knowledge. in our pursuit of greener software practices at the forefront of climate action. In episode 53, I was joined by Sophie Trinder and Adam Jackson of the GSF to give a rundown of what happened.

 In this next snippet, Sophie gives a rundown of one talk from the event titled Responsible AI, a fireside chat in which Jesse Mccrosky, Head of Sustainability and Social Change at ThoughtWorks, talked about integrating real time environmental impact metrics into our everyday software tools.


Sophie Trinder: Jesse painted this hypothetical picture. What if there was a carbon counter or there was a water gallons clock at the top of ChatGPT? Would you use it differently? Would you only use it when it was essential? Maybe you would write shorter prompts? Would you ask it to write its answers briefer? Similarly, he painted another picture where, what if a software developer's screen went red?

If the developer made a decision that, yeah, might make them save some time, might make them slightly more efficient, but what if it came with a huge carbon cost? So their screen went bright red when there was a carbon cost associated with the code that they were writing. I think it was just a really interesting way to Start thinking about being more transparent with that data so that we can be more conscious with our decision making.

Chris Skipper: Continuing our dive into the impactful insights from Decarbonize Software 2023, next we'll hear from Adam Jackson. In this snippet, Adam eloquently draws parallels between well crafted software and green software, emphasizing the necessity of built in quality throughout the entire software lifecycle.

Let's listen to how Adam articulates the holistic approach needed to integrate sustainability into software development.

Adam Jackson: I often tell folks when they ask me what green software actually is, that there's a lot of parallels with well crafted software. So well crafted software like green software focuses on built in quality throughout the complete software life cycles and architecture, development, operations, and getting all of the stakeholders together to take responsibility.

And we need the same thing for green software. So at the GSF, we often talk about software practitioners. And this is a broad term that goes beyond developers alone. It includes product managers, uh, program managers, designers, UX, testers, IT operations. And what takes the time, and GSF does have some materials that can help here, is developing the best practice, the processes, and the learnings that bring all of these people together.

into a really holistic software life cycle and I think that's why we're really keen to get organizations to hear and listen to others even if they're competitors. What's the best practice that we can all share that's gonna deliver green outcomes?

Chris Skipper: Transitioning now to our next insightful episode of The Week in Green Software, we delve into the pioneering sustainability strategies at one of the tech world's giants and GSF member, Google. In episode 55, Chris Adams is joined by Savannah Goodman from Google.

Who shares the ambitious climate goals set by the company. Google aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 and to operate on 24 7 carbon free energy by the same year. Savannah explains the complexity of moving from annual global matching to local hourly matching of energy use. illustrating the innovative approaches Google is deploying to meet these goals.

This episode not only highlights Google's efforts, but also discusses broader implications for the tech industry's push towards a more sustainable future. Let's hear from Savannah on how Google is tackling these ambitious targets.

Savannah Goodman: Google has two main climate goals. One of them is to be net zero by 2030. The other is to be running on 24 7 carbon free energy by 2030. And just to clarify too, 24 7 carbon free energy is much more complex. And I'm going to talk to you about how we've been able to make this a little bit more complex than the annual matching schemes that have been most common to date, because we're essentially moving from global annual matching to local hourly matching.

And so you can imagine how, especially over a global system, how complex that is. And there's no playbook, but we see these goals as a way to actually help scale new global solutions that drive broader system wide decarbonization because we're actually aligning our own goals with what the grid


Chris Skipper: Next, we focus on episode 58 that dives deep into the Green Software Foundation's impact framework, probably the biggest highlight of the previous year. Host Asim Hussain is joined by Srini Rakanathan and Naveen Balani. who are at the forefront of developing this transformative tool. They discuss the challenges and solutions in creating a framework versatile enough to assess the environmental impact of software across various platforms, from large cloud providers to personal devices.

This conversation sheds light on the critical need for standardized models that can adapt to different environments without compromising on maintenance and adoption. Listen in as Srini shares Insights into the decision to implement model plugins for more effective integration and broader applicability in green software efforts.

Srini Rakhunathan: With the original concept that we had, where we wanted to cover all, we would have had to build multiple flavors of the impact framework. And that would have caused issues in maintenance, that would have caused issues in adoption. I think the standardization of a model plug in was more important. a decision that we took once we realized that one model is not going to cut the cake for all of us and you had different models depending on whether you are hosting it on AWS or Azure or GCP or your laptop or even your mobile devices.

But if someone wants to just look at the raw emissions from the software, agnostic of the hardware, you could do that only if you have a very thin measurement tools.

Chris Skipper: Finally, let's finish off on another episode of Twigs. In episode 63, we focus In episode 63, Chris Adams, Asim Hussain, and Anne Currie delve into the evolving landscape of AI legislation and its implications for green software. This first snippet from Asim highlights the accelerating integration of AI technologies and their significant energy demands, which could dramatically reshape global emission profiles by 2040.

Asim Hussain: The growth in AI has been significant. We all know on this call that the previous dirty secret of data centers where most of those servers were idle, in a future of AI, those chips are not going to be idle. They're going to be running at a hundred percent. So like, I think we've spoken on this call previously about, you know, various previous reports that talked about, you know, given the current trajectory by 2040, the tech sector will be like 14 percent of global emissions.

I wonder if anybody's doing any analysis. To revisit, well, now, given what we now know about the complete AI will take over everything. It is taking over everything right now. How does that look now? Where will we be in 2040 with the current growth in AI? Will tech be half of all emissions? And will we just be sitting there, you know, being carried around by robots and being fed by little tubes like that robot show?

But I think, I strongly suspect that they factor that in, and I wonder if it's an underestimate.

Chris Skipper: Our final snippet comes from Anne as she contemplates the future of green software practices.

Anne Currie: All discussion we're doing around this is great, fantastically great, but I always think about taking it back to my Maturity Matrix projects on the GSF Maturity Matrix project. You need to do different things at different times, so this information is useful to you in different things at different times of your journey.

So for most of us at the moment, we're not doing anything at all. Just, you know, you really don't need that much data. You know, your scope 1, scope 2, scope 3 are not immediately critical to most people who just need to turn off the machines they're not using anymore, do a bit of right sizing, have a think about what they're up to.

To start to think about, are they in green regions? What are the future, what platforms are they choosing? Are they likely to be aligned with the green future? To start with, where most of us are at the moment, you don't need a great deal of data to, to really make a huge difference. So it's absolutely fantastic that they're doing this work and that every, that we're doing this work.

Everybody's doing this work, but we don't want to lose sight of the fact that. For almost everybody at the moment, we don't even need data. We just need to start to, to use best operational practices.

Chris Skipper: What does the future hold for green software? Is it all doom and gloom? Absolutely not. The GSF is actively working on expanding its initiatives, pushing for widespread adoption of sustainable practices across the tech industry.

You can expect this podcast to bring you all the significant updates showcasing both the challenges and the innovative solutions that are making a real difference. Thank you for joining us on this look back on the last year of Environment Variables. Make sure to follow us on your preferred podcast platform to stay updated on all future episodes.

And don't forget to check out the show notes for links to further information discussed today. A final reminder. You can visit podcast.greensoftware.foundation to listen to more episodes of Environment Variables. See you all in the next episode. Bye for now!