Environment Variables
The Week in Green Software: Open Source Innovations with Tom Greenwood
June 7, 2023
TWiGS host Chris Adams is joined by special guest Tom Greenwood from Wholegrain Digital, to bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. They discuss insights from The State of Green Software report, the cost reduction strategy of Amazon's Prime Video, Atlassian's sustainability program, Wholegrain Digital's Employee Activism Policy, the open-source Falcon LLM, and the innovative approach of heating swimming pools with servers. They also highlight upcoming events like the GSF’s UN World Environment Day Event (today!) and the London Open Source Data Infrastructure Meetup. Tune in for a deep dive into the intersection of technology and sustainability.
TWiGS host Chris Adams is joined by special guest Tom Greenwood from Wholegrain Digital, to bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. They discuss insights from The State of Green Software report, the cost reduction strategy of Amazon's Prime Video, Atlassian's sustainability program, Wholegrain Digital's Employee Activism Policy, the open-source Falcon LLM, and the innovative approach of heating swimming pools with servers. They also highlight upcoming events like the GSF’s UN World Environment Day Event (today!) and the London Open Source Data Infrastructure Meetup. Tune in for a deep dive into the intersection of technology and sustainability.

TWiGS host Chris Adams is joined by special guest Tom Greenwood from Wholegrain Digital, to bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. They discuss insights from The State of Green Software report, the cost reduction strategy of Amazon's Prime Video, Atlassian's sustainability program, Wholegrain Digital's Employee Activism Policy, the open-source Falcon LLM, and the innovative approach of heating swimming pools with servers. They also highlight upcoming events like the GSF’s UN World Environment Day Event (today!) and the London Open Source Data Infrastructure Meetup. Tune in for a deep dive into the intersection of technology and sustainability.

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Transcript below:
Tom Greenwood: There's no point people wasting time and money and energy, like reinventing the wheel. Somebody's doing something that might be useful to others. Put it out there, share it, and then we can all stand on each other's shoulders and go a lot further, a lot faster. I think.

Chris Adams: Hello, and welcome to Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we discuss the latest news and events surrounding green software. On our show, you can expect candid conversations with top experts in their field who have a passion for how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of software.

I'm your host, Chris Adams.

Hello, and 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'm your host, Chris Adams, and in this episode we'll be talking about a few insights from the recent State of Green Software Report. A brief survey of developments of the environmental impact of large language models, unexpected news about monolith versus serverless for green coding, employee activism, policies for the workplace, and finally some events and opportunities for development from the world of green software.

But before we dive into this, let me introduce my special guest from Wholegrain Digital for this episode of this week in Green software. With us today, we have Tom Greenwood. Hi Tom. Why not introduce yourself from here?

Tom Greenwood: Hi, Chris. Yeah, I'm Tom and I'm co-founder of Wholegrain Digital and been the big proponent of sustainable Web design for a number of years. I wrote the book. Sustainable Web design and yeah, into all things sustainable business and sustainable technology. Really so keen to be here.

Chris Adams: Cool. Thank you. Also the website Carbon Guy as

Tom Greenwood: Not the website carbon guy. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Yes.

Tom Greenwood: Not many people know that I'm involved in that. I sometimes, I'm walking around in like tech conferences and I hear somebody talking about this website, carbon calculator, and I'm like, yeah,

Chris Adams: Yeah,

Tom Greenwood: I was involved in that. Right? Yeah.

Chris Adams: And for folks, and if you are not used to, if this is your first episode, my name is Chris. As I mentioned before, I am the executive director of the Green Web Foundation and the policy chair for the Green Software Foundation. I'm one of the maintainers of a software library called CO2 js, and we also work at the Green Web Foundation, where we run various checkers and tools and open source software for we're understanding the environmental impact of green software.

So if you are new to this show, the general format is that it's a roundup of some new stories that we've seen this week that we thought were worth talking about. So what we'll do is we'll share a link, have a bit of a chat about each of these, and then run through until we run out of time. Should we have a look at the first one together then?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, sure. Let's dive in.

Chris Adams: Okay, so the first one here is a new report that was released last week, which is called The State of Green Software released by the Green Software Foundation. This has been a bit of a labor of love for the last. Me nearly a year trying to get some of this together. And, uh, it went live last week. And if you go to https://stateof.greensoftware.foundation/, you can see the report and all of the findings in there, hyperlinked glory.

Tom, there's a couple of things that caught your eyes on here. What, what should we talk about first in this one?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, sure. First of all, someone's been very busy doing all this research, which is fantastic, and I was really excited to see that there was so much in it, which is a big change from several years back where there was not a lot going on in this space. And the thing that jumped out at me specifically on that level was one of the items around they'd found 2000 specialized software tools related to green software, which is a huge number, does that, to think that there are that many projects going on, however big or small it might be, it means there's a lot of people interested and are starting to actually work in this space.

Chris Adams: That's true, and if you think there's maybe what, and a few million developers. That's actually a surprisingly high proportion of developers and projects. Assume you have a one-to-one and there's not no one person making a hundred of them. That's actually pretty impressive, actually. I think the research that we have here.

Let's have a quick look. Cause I can't remember if this is just looking at GitHub or if there's been a look across all of the different tools. Yeah, this is mainly looking at GitHub actually. So given there's been a kind of explosion of other tools like GitLab or giti or other things like that, there may be more like you folks used GitLab as well,

Tom Greenwood: We use GitLab. Yes. So we are not included in the statistic. Yeah. So that's

Chris Adams: be more than that case.

Tom Greenwood: it could be, yeah. And they've been quite cautious in their numbers, I think, in the way that they've laid it out. So actually, if anything, it could be more.

Chris Adams: So we have some forks, but including the forks, it's at least 2000, which is a number which is significantly higher than zero, which probably what it was maybe five years ago. So that's encouraging. Alright, anything else catch your eye on this one actually, Tom?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, the other one was around it, what was called decarbonization alone Cannot make green software, and it was basically an article around the fact that we just need to think about more than just using renewable energy and making things energy efficient. There are obviously two really important components, but there are other environmental factors from digital technology, basically they focus specifically on water. But I think like the message is really, let's think more holistically about the environmental impact of digital technology rather than just being about like energy, weather and carbon emissions. And I think that's really important because like water is obviously like a key resource fundamental to human life, especially clean drinking water.

And it's limited, but it also gets, if you take this more holistic mindset, then you also think about things like electronic waste as well and how these things factor. Um, I'm really glad that they've highlighted that. Cause I think that. When we're talking about these things, we do tend to focus, be a bit tunnel visioned on the kind of the energy piece.

Chris Adams: You used that spec specific term, a tunnel visioned on the carbon. We'll have to share a link to that diagram of the person's eyes. You know the one I'm talking about where someone's only. Looking at carbon and missing all of the other kind of parts of this big circular forms of impact that we actually have.

Okay, cool. I'm glad you mentioned that. Well, we work at the Green, Web Foundation. We talk about the environmental impact of software in a number of ways. We talk about efficiency, which is one thing we are used to, but we talk about intensity of which carbon is one, and you can also have water in intensity and.

Various other minerals being drawn out the worth and also toxicity and things like that. So yeah, this is absolutely a place to be looking at. All right. There's, can I give, can I share one, because there

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah, go

Chris Adams: my eye. So this one here was this idea that developers want to have a positive impact.

And there was one really nice study or stat from this goes from according to this survey, which is over, I think it's just under 3000 developers took place in the survey from this, 35% of the practitioners shared they and their organization never measure the environmental impact of software. They said that they really want to though.

So they found that say only 8.5% have actually taken any green software training, although more than half of them are looking for stuff. So this suggests that there is an unpinned demand and or an unmet demand for this stuff. And I guess the thing we should probably do at this point with my hat on is basically say that or share a link to the fact that the Linux Foundation does actually have some free training that can give you, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to call it accredited or certified, but there is some form of recognition that lawyers allow you to use the note word for that.

Let you say that you've done this and get a bit of a grounding on this. We'll share a link to that because it's actually quite useful. And it was based around the Principles Green website from a couple of years back that Asim worked on

Tom Greenwood: that's brilliant here. It's obviously disappointing in a way that like people haven't been able to necessarily do the training or find the training that they want, but the fact that like more than half of software practitioners would like to. Is amazing cuz it's just a matter of time. Then before they do find it and they do take that training and they start to embed it into their works.

That's exciting.

Chris Adams: There is also scope and hope in my view for things when people are just starting to come into the industry. So previously we did a podcast interview with Luis Cruz at TU Technical University Delft, where he was talking about an open source syllabus that he was working on for students doing a master's at his course.

And last week I went to South Southern Germany to Frey Borg to, for the first ever software engineering course, which was specifically aimed at sustainability first ahead of the actual software engineering part, which I really enjoyed. It was really cool, and it was a project run by the European Commission where they basically issued something like 20 scholarships to all these young students from say, Bangladesh or Nigeria or Germany or Indonesia.

Lots and lots of places which are outside of just the North America and Western Europe where people who are often, many cases you would associate with the people on the sharp end of a, lots of the changes of climate. You had a bunch of those people coming along and learning and talking about, okay, yeah, this is how I wanna build this into my work when I graduate.

It was really exciting and really inspiring. I'll have to share some more links to that one as well.

Tom Greenwood: That is amazing.

Chris Adams: All right. Let's look at the next story then. So this is one about, I think it's called Scaling Up the Prime Audio Video Monitoring Service, and Reducing Cost by 90%. It's a bit, it is a pretty, pretty dull title, but basically the thrust of this story is that it did arou, it did the rounds.

Recently Amazon shared a blog post, uh, about their Amazon Prime video service. And a lot of us are used to this idea of serverless software being the kind of trendy thing that turns itself off and it's seen as one of the most efficient ways to run infrastructure. The key thing from this was the team at Amazon basically saying we moved away from using serverless to using boring, old and busted monolithic parts of the infrastructure and we saved 90% of our infrastructure costs by doing this. This caused an explosion of hot takes across the internet with everyone saying, oh, monoliths versus serverless, everything like that. And I find it interesting in my view, cuz this goes against the narrative that we typically do have where everything has to scale down to zero and everything like that.

Anything that catches your eye on this one, Tom?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, I get asked this question a lot, people asking me like, oh, shouldn't everything be serverless and I'm not gonna claim that I'm an expert in this but, but my answer is always, it depends like everything. And I think my view has always been that we shouldn't be dogmatic about technology. Like it's all about context and what you're trying to do with it.

And every technology has a really valuable use case, but equally, every technology has its flaws that mean that the wrong. Application is not necessarily the best thing. And I think this is really interesting cuz they basically, they've started off, they've used the hot trendy thing and it has been the right thing to build a prototype and get it going and.

Like an MVP to demonstrate the principle, but then they found that actually we wanna scale this. We wanna make it really robust and efficient over the long term. Then actually the sort of monolith approach is actually really what we need. And I think it breaks down some of the dogma and I think it just just demonstrates actually we need to just assess each use case on its merits rather than being dogmatic and allying ourselves to one solution for everything.

Chris Adams: Yeah, I agree with you on this. What we'll do is we'll share a link to a really nice piece from Adrian Cockcroft. Basically, it's called So Many Bad Takes. What is there to learn from the Prime video microservices to monolith story, which expands on this in a bit more detail. Also, just for context, Tom, you folks use WordPress and PHP as like one of the main things that you folks use, right?

Tom Greenwood: We do. Yeah, that gets a lot of criticism.

Chris Adams: This is the thing that is, in my view, entertaining because the actual programming model for PHP, if you think about the things that people like about serverless, like you run something and it scales back down to zero. The actual programming model used for PHP, where you just load a script. Bootstrap everything, server response, and then go back to, to nothing Again.

That's basically how things like PHP tend to work and how they're designed to work. This is how the whole shed hosting thing, for which it may be maligned, but this kind of approach has been essentially the mainstay for a bunch of infrastructure for 20 years. So when you actually think about this, if you squint basically WordPress and bhp, a bunch of this stuff can look kind of serverless in this way.

So yeah, that's the thing that I just have, I'll share with all of you. Okay. Should we look at the next story from this one?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah.

Chris Adams: All right, so I'm not sure I'm allowed to say this without ruining the language on this, so I'm gonna just spell it out the, there's a really nice piece from Atlassian called Don't F Sharp at bang percent the planet.

I think it might be don't, I'm not sure that's what

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, we know what to say.

Chris Adams: in, yeah, exactly. So I was born in Australia and Australians can be known for colorful language, and this is a. Quite an Australian way to talk about don't f the planet. Basically, this is Atlassians talking about their most recent work on basically net zero and them sharing an actual report about how they did it, how they went about, what steps they did, what was easy, what was not so hard, and how other organizations can follow this themselves.

Have you been following any of these, Tom?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, it's really interesting. It's good to see. Firstly, just that like you've got a big name company in the tech space that's not one of the big three. Going down this path and saying, look, we're taking sustainability seriously and we're taking it seriously on multiple levels and it's not just a marketing thing.

But then it's also nice to see how they're laying out really transparently in a way that a lot of the big tech companies are a bit vague. And instead Atlassian has said, look, here's a nice report that tells you like how the journey of like. Why we're doing this, how we got here, where we've got to the things we found difficult, and then obviously they're gonna be reporting on that moving forward, which is really good.

One of the things that jumped out at me was the fact that they set themselves this target for 2025 for having everything using a hundred percent renewable energy, but they then found that actually just switching to renewable energy provider and then using credits for the rest is, is like such a low hanging fruit.

They did it almost immediately and then the question was like, oh, okay. Like how do we make this more robust now? That's the question moving forwards. But the low hanging fruit was already there and they didn't even know it until they looked into it. So it's nice to see things like that where I think they used the phrase Go fast and then go far, which I think is a really good way of thinking about it.

Do something to take it like a step forward and then keep moving forward because there aren't no any fruits. And I think a lot of people are put off by just feeling, oh, I dunno what to do. Especially things like net zero can sound really complicated and scary as like such a, like a big, lofty goal. And I think it's nice to see how the, they've taken this approach of let's just start moving in the right direction as fast as we can and then find the blockers along the way.

Chris Adams: Yeah. I have to say I'm a bit of a fan of Atlassian in general, and I, we use Trello at where we work. All right. And I know people have opinions about things like Jira and, and Confluence and things like that, and, but it, it's really nice for an organization to be so transparent about the infrastructure as well.

In their report, they're one of the few organizations that basically say, here's a breakdown of all of our infrastructure, how much we're using, and ev every single data center. And they provide this reporting, which is almost impossible to get out of other organizations, so it's really cool to see them doing it.

Yeah. The other thing that I think is quite interesting is that there's a kind of stereotype of like tech billionaires being generally terrible people. Right. There's something really interesting that I think from Mike Cannon-Brookes, who's one of the founders of Atlassian. So the funding he's using rather than I know, turning large social media websites into kind of havens for right wing climate denial.

One of the key things that he's been doing is basically aggressively buying up the biggest source of carbon emissions in Australia, which is the biggest power station they have. And then finding ways to refinance it so they can shut it down and replace it with wind and solar basically, or primarily solar.

So this is what they're doing and that's one of the projects called Grok Ventures that's doing all this stuff. So there's all this stuff here, and then there's like activist investing to accelerate this transition away from fossil fuels. It's like really cool to actually see someone talking about some, something about this and using funds in a kind of, In my view, a very kind of pro-social and progressive way, but also somewhat techy and boring basically, is okay, you will need to do some boring refinancing of this stuff rather than only looking at the shiny things.

It's cool.

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah, it is. Yeah. The things like financing can sound really dull, but I think it highlights how typically you'd look at something like sustainability in a business, big tech company, as being like, okay. Yeah, let's do some offsets and we'll reduce our energy consumption and so on. But actually like looking at how that company has resources and influence that it can use more broadly, that actually can have really big impact is super interesting and it's really nice to see that they're pulling that lever.

It reminds me a little bit of also, like when I lived in Australia for a bit, there was a company, big mortgage company that was looking at introducing solar powered loans, and the idea was basically that they could refinance people's homes in order for them to buy solar panels and then once they got solar panels, that would generate an income that would actually mean they'd pay up for their mortgage faster than if they hadn't done it.

And it's things like that where you think actually, like it sounds really dull when you like about refinancing things for um, sustainability, but then when you actually look at what you could achieve, oh, actually that's pretty clever. It was a bit of financial wizardry.

Chris Adams: Yeah, absolutely. And uh, really good example in the UK is actually one of the writers of Love Actually. His new thing is actually this thing about divest moving your pensions, basically moving your pension outta fossil fuels into renewables. Cause he basically said there's 51 trillion. Pounds or dollars of money invested in stuff and you can either, by default it's usually invested some chunk of it in fossil fuels.

So one of the things you can do is actually just take some of this. You're not having to give any money, you're just making a change. So it's not doing the bad stuff and going into the good stuff. It's really cool. They said like they've run, they started the pro- the campaign just a few years ago, and they talk about how they've been able to redirect something like more than a trillion pounds of investment away from fossil fuels into renewables already, which is gonna make a significant change, right? Yeah. Once you find the leverage point, it's pretty impressive. And this is going back to the hot waste, what we're talking about. This is one of the reasons why it's interesting to work at developer because there aren't that many developers.

This is the argument that Asim keeps making. It's basically because there aren't that many developers, if you can impact some of the developers to make changes there, then you can have some relatively high leverage changes that cascade through the actual supply chain, basically. So that's one of the things.

But sometimes you do need boring policy things, or not boring, but whole need necessary, but sometimes need to do the work on the policy front for this. And, uh, this is something we spoke about ages ago actually, when you folks published your sustainability policy, and then you released it with creator comments. That was really helpful cuz that was directly relevant for our organization. We ended up essentially using that as a template ourselves for this stuff. And that's probably a nice segue into the next story that we see here.

Alright, so this one is about Wholegrain Digital. We've introduced an employee activism policy, so this is talking about some of the other things you can do as a technologist, which aren't just about coding.

Cuz while coding is fun, we are also citizens as well as just consumers or. I don't know what's, I don't have a word for a contractor. Yeah. We're more than just contractors and consumers I suppose. Maybe you could talk about a bit about this one, because there's a bunch of thought that's got into this and I was really pleased to see this go live actually.

Tom Greenwood: yeah, sure. So it actually came from an event called Good Fest that I attended last year. Good Fest is. Like a, a sort of creative conference for, for making the world better essentially held down in Cornwell every year. It's amazing event. And there was a talk there from a guy at Patagonia and he was talking about how Patagonia in the US and he is like really supportive of their employees taking part in activism.

Immediately after that, had a lunch with a guy called Viril who is involved with Just Stop Oil and it was a really interesting conversation where he started talking to me about how actually a lot of the barriers to activism are employment related. Activism can come in many forms, but a lot of people are in.

Either nervous to get involved because they're worried that it might reflect badly in terms of what their employer might think of them, or they are struggled to get time off work or they can't afford to get time off work, or they're worried that, like what happens if I get in trouble and like I get arrested or something and then I might lose my job?

Or what happens if something happened and maybe I got glued to a. Bus or something. And then I had to miss a day off work and, and people think, oh, I don't really know how I can fit this into my life as an employee in a company where I've got responsibilities and I dunno how the company will look upon it.

And so on. And we started chatting in about, surely like companies could introduce things that would basically try to mitigate as much of this as possible. So I said about trying to figure out like what might those things be? And then along the way, Ben Tolhurst from Business Declares, which is like a nonprofit, organization that gets businesses to commit to net zero and playing a role in trying to tackle climate change.

He heard that I was working on this, got really interested because he's really interested in the sort of activism side of things himself. And also he's got a lot of connections with people in other businesses that are looking at what they could do from a climate change point of view. So it quickly evolved into Ben helping write the policy as well as hooking in people from other companies who were, who were intrigued by this idea, or maybe this is something that that we might be interested in doing as a company, we then realize that we really need some lawyers to tell us whether we're doing something stupid. So we involved Bates Wells, which is a B Court law firm, and who are basically like a bunch of hippies that have got law degrees. And I'm not sure if they'd like me describing them that way, but I think that's why they're so brilliant.

They, they care about the outcome rather than just being like all about risk mitigation and

Chris Adams: Principled legal professionals who like granola.

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah, that's, yeah, they're great. And they were really helpful in basically going through it and rather than literally tearing all of the heart out of it, which it did get run by another law firm who literally did that and came back and said, just don't do it.

Bates Wells came back and they were like, look, here's all the risks we can see. Here's our thoughts on how you can mitigate them. You go decide how much risk you're prepared to take. And so the outcome of that is that we crafted a policy for our company, Wholegrain Digital, which basically means that people can take time off to get involved in various forms of activism. If they do get arrested, they're not gonna get fired. So there's security of employment. If they do get arrested, we'll contribute to the bail money if necessary. So there's some things that we could do that are quite tangible that basically say, look like if you are passionate, we're not gonna tell you to go out and do anything.

But if it's this sort of comes intrinsically to you and you feel this is important, it's not just climate change, it might be some other kind of social or environmental issues and you want to go and stand up for it, then. We really wanna back you because we need people in society like that. And here's what we can do.

And then in return, it basically says, here's the things we ask of you if you are going to do that, and you want some support from us as a company. And it basically is saying, look, just be careful. Try to keep yourself safe and uh,

Chris Adams: have your back. Basically,

Tom Greenwood: we have your back. Yeah, exactly. So we published ours and then business declares then published a variant of it, which is open source so that any company can base, and it's got guidance notes in the template as well, including some of these things that the the spoke to us about.

So that as a company, you can basically take this template and say, okay, how might this fit for us? How much risk are we prepared to take? And you can craft your own policy. Gonna get your own legal advice, but hopefully more and more companies will see this as a way of lowering the barrier to entry for people who would like to get involved in more activism, but maybe feel like there's some things that are holding them back.

Chris Adams: Cool. I'm really glad you shared that, and I really like the approach that you've mentioned about it almost being a kinda like modular approach. So you're able to see how far you're able to go because this somewhat reminiscent of the work. I believe the Chancery Lane in the UK has been doing around writing climate clauses into kind of commercial contracts and things like that.

Cuz I know that you folks have spoken about things like having a carbon budget on a consulting project, or if you're building something, you'll do things like that. They have a bunch of existing mechanisms like that, which are easy to put into standard form contracts. So when you are doing some work.

These are the things you can include, and I assure you there is a kind of link to WordPress for this, which is why I'm where I'm getting to with this. The way that the people at Chancery Lane explained it to me was basically this idea that in the legal world there's like Lexus Nexus and there's a few organizations which have these kind of standard form pro contracts.

They're built like the WordPress of standard commercial contracts that you do this stuff and they realized this and they said, okay. We can take some ideas from open source and we can apply that to the legal kind of world. So there is now a website called Climate Clauses, which is from the Chancery Lane Project, which is, you know how like WordPress plug-ins extend something to carry in new directions.

They've basically taken the same approach to standard form contracts that people use for entering business deals with other people. For example, they said, here's how you can include like the module for net zero or the module for a budget or the module for environmental performance clauses. It's really cool

Tom Greenwood: really good. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Yeah, we'll share a link to that as well because when I first heard about that, when I had a lawyer explain it to me and say, yeah, dude, this is basically no, we, we saw what you folks were doing at WordPress, we figure we should have that too. And I thought, wow, that was such a cool idea. Cuz it's so different from, it's very easy as a tech you to just think, oh wow, we are the only people with this special tech spec technique.

But it turns out that no other skills and other industries can be inspired by some of the things that we, we are doing here.

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah. And like you said earlier about the sustainability policy that, that we shared with you guys. I guess a few years ago. There's no point. People wasting time and money and energy, like reinventing the wheel. Somebody's doing something that might be useful to others. Put it out there, share it, and then we can all stand on each other's shoulders and go a lot further, a lot faster, I think.

Chris Adams: Yeah, I agree. And just to round this story off, the example of these contracts, I just came back, there's a project called, there's a contract called the Salesforce Sustainability Exhibit. So Salesforce large company, they basically used this, they used the chance relaying climate clauses as the basis for all their stuff they do with all of their supply chain now.

So it just like open source, it always comes up in weird places. So it turns out that a bunch of people working on a side project ended up having some of the basis for one of the largest companies in the world to be, for them to use is their basis for essentially building sustainability and climate awareness into how they do business with pretty much the entire supply chain.

Tom Greenwood: That is amazing. Ripple effect, eh?

Chris Adams: Yeah, indeed. Alright, so speaking of open source, let's look at the next thing that we have here. So this is Falcon, an entirely open source LLM, which is a large language model you can run on your laptop. Tom, this was, this might feel a little bit left field and uh, I, I'll give the introduction and then I'll let you come in on this one actually.

So, We are used to large language models coming from organizations like Facebook or Microsoft or Google, for example, or not necessarily coming from, but us being able to use the results of, and this one here is, okay, weirdly or unexpectedly, United Arab Emirates. Have basically published a entirely open source, royalty free, a machine learning module.

And there's a few things which are interesting. In my book, when we looked over the website, they, it's designed to be more efficient than say, GPT three by the significant amount. And it requires maybe a fifth of the computer inference time. So when you've used, once you've trained it, you are using to try to get numbers back when you speak to ChatGPT, is that kind of thing.

That's what they're using and this is designed to be open for. Anyone to use. So rather than having to only get it from say, OpenAI or own you from Google, anyone is able to run this even on if your laptop's fast enough, your own laptop here, and I think this is one of the first and largest and highest kind of performing open models for this.

And it speaks to the idea that only a few years ago, but only less than six months ago, these were millions of dollars to train and only available from $3 trillion companies, and now you can train and run this stuff on your own hardware for less than a million tens of millions of dollars. Right? Amazing.


Tom Greenwood: A huge leap forward and it, yeah, it feels a bit ironic that, that this is not coming from OpenAI. It's coming from coming from the Technology Innovation Institute in the United Arab Emirates as an open source option, which is amazing and brilliant that they're doing that. And it's almost a.

Chris Adams: that like open night, it's not open source, it's not really open data, but it has the word open and you not, you don't typically associate open with lots of the kind of news that you might read about the, you about say the UAE for example. Especially when you think about things like say COP 28 and stuff.

And yet here you have an open model being released, it gives you an idea of just where the stuff comes from open source. It's really hard to predict basically. So we'll see what happens with this. And

Tom Greenwood: is. Yeah.

Chris Adams: folks who are curious about this, we've shared a link to Hugging Face, which is a kind of GitHub for machine learning stuff where there is a bunch of really interesting work by, it's one of the only machine learning and companies I know of with a climate lead.

Who specializes there and maybe one day we'll get, we'll be able to get them onto the show. Sasha Luccione, she's been creating some really good papers and yeah, this is one of the things that she's been doing actually. So we'll share a link to that for folks to look at. All right. Should we look at that last story then, Tom?

Because this one, one that you shared that, I think it's a really nice one actually. So this is Heating Swimming Pools with Service And this one, maybe you can talk about this one actually, Tom, cuz this was the one that you brought, brought along.

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, so this one really caught my imagination. About a year ago. There was, there was a company that was in the Netherlands that was building sort of small data centers on farms to heat greenhouses and that. That really caught my imagination as like a great way of doing things. And then suddenly this one popped up in the uk, this company called Deep Green, installing tiny cloud data centers at leisure centers, basically.

And it's this beautiful kind of symbiotic relationship between data centers that need cooling and. Swimming pools that need heating and particularly we've got this energy crisis, like energy prices have gone through the roof. A lot of local councils in particular are like really struggling with money.

Some swimming pools are being closed down just cuz like cost of heating the things. And then you've got this company that comes along and says, actually, like we could put a little data center in your leisure center and heat your swimming pool essentially for free. We'll pay for the electricity to run the servers and give you the heat.

It. It just seems like such a brilliant solution where you've got this huge tank of water that needs to be kept constantly warm, and you've got these servers that need to be kept constantly cool. It's one of those things where when I saw it, I was like, oh my God, how has no one thought of this before?

Chris Adams: Yeah, is there's a pleasing circularity to this and a kind of this term called free calling, which is usually around air, and this feels like the same idea. I'm a big fan of this as well. Actually. It also asks questions about what data centers should and shouldn't look like because we're used to data centers being, well not, the common narrative for big data centers or when you hear a data centers machine learning, you're thinking of like a football pitch full of machines, which is almost like a kind of big box out of town Walmart style warehouse full of things, like a bit barn. And this is the further opposite. It's integrating it into the fabric of the urban environment, for example. Yeah, this is a really nice story actually. Thanks for sharing this one.

Tom Greenwood: it's okay.

Chris Adams: All right, so we're just coming up to the half an hour mark and we are just gonna look at some of the events now, actually. So I guess the thing we should probably share is this is the 5th of June time of recording. And if you aren't aware, today is the UN World Environment Day and uh, today you probably. Us recording this now is probably gonna be a little bit late for people to know about this, but there is an, there is a virtual event taking place later on today, which will be recorded, which is by the Green Software Foundation called Green Software Revolution, where there's a number of people including the.

One of the head, the, the chair of the community group, Anne Currie, Asim Hussain, he of Principles Green Pindy Bhullar ubs, the at the bank, who is also a PhD specialist in sustainability. And Tamara Kneese, who was the lead researcher for the State of Green software report. So there's a bunch of stuff there and we've online for people to stream or look afterwards, after this.

And what else have you got? They've got this open source infrastructure meetup on in London on June the 14th as well. We have that there. Is there anything that caught your eye on this one, Tom?

Tom Greenwood: I guess my curiosity is more to see what's happening in terms of sustainability in this open source world that they're gonna be focusing on AI and deep learning for enterprise, and I guess we're at this space now where the whole AI world is like kicking off in a big way this year and there's, in the sustainability world, I guess the question is just, oh my God, how much energy is gonna be used by these things?

I think it's fair to say a lot of us are in this space where we're like, torn with these like amazing, exciting opportunities of the technology as well as some of the potential threats, both from an environmental point of view, from a like societal point of view. So for me, the, I'm just curious to see what the op open source world is bringing to this conversation, because obviously that's where a lot of kind of conversations around tech ethics often happens in the open source world.

Chris Adams: Yeah, I'm with you on this as well. It's easy to get really caught up on some of this stuff, especially if you start playing with some of these like chat tools, but, You're right. There is a non-zero footprint associated with this stuff, and even now it's actually quite difficult to find some of the numbers for this.

We have shared links to give some estimates of this, and now that you have an entirely open stack, presumably you could start coming up with some numbers, and yet I'm not aware of any services that still provide these numbers on a kind of per request basis yet. Like how Website Carbon has done, or even some of the stuff that we've done with like.

co2.js or so on, but it does feel like it's needed. So you are aware of when you're speaking to someone, what the actual impact of that when you're speaking? Not someone, when you're speaking to spicy auto complete, like it's not a person. We've gotta remember that.

Tom Greenwood: I, when I've tried these tools, I keep having to tell myself, don't say thank you. It's a slippery slope.

Chris Adams: I know what you mean. But if you, British, you're taught to, you're taught to apologize when someone stands on your own foot, let alone saying please. And thank you. So

Tom Greenwood: but I feel like saying thank you to ChatGPT, GPT is the slippery slope to ex machina.

Chris Adams: Could be. Alright. Alright, Tom, I'm gonna, I'm gonna park that there before we go down that scary rabbit hole, but I'm just gonna, we're just coming up to the end, so I'm just gonna come up with one of the questions. Are there any open source projects that you've seen that you might direct people to or anything that you'd like to direct people's attention to?

Whilst I have you here on this call before we head off?

Tom Greenwood: I guess the thing that would be great to direct people to is the W3C Web Community Group, which is, to be honest, I haven't been. Anywhere, like as involved as I, I would've liked to have been for personal reasons, but they're doing amazing work as a community, really exploring kind of all of the facets of what goes into creating a more sustainable Web for the benefit of the wider web community and producing some guidelines to help everybody.

So it's just something I'd, if you're interested, go and have a look at it. Get involved. There's some exciting stuff happening there.

Chris Adams: And W three three is the Worldwide Web Consortium, W3C and SustiWeb is the sustainable Web group.

Tom Greenwood: Exactly. Yes.

Chris Adams: Yes. Awesome. Okay. I think that one of the few groups who are really good at using Wikipedia or using Wikis to share links and things, cause I think there was a link shared about their massive list of resources that they were working on at the moment.

Tom Greenwood: Yeah. Yeah. They're pretty good at docu documentation. It's quite impressive.

Chris Adams: All right, we'll share some links for that for anyone who's so interested in that part there. Tom, I think this brings us up to the time that we have and I wanted to say thank you so much for coming on. I really enjoyed chatting with you again mate, and it's lovely hanging out again because now that I'm no longer in the UK it's much, much harder to come visit you, folk.

Come visit you in London, so, or wherever you are now. So, Once again, thank you very much for coming onto the podcast and I wish you the best. And just before I go is, where should people follow you or where should people look if they want to hear? If they like the sound of your voice or found what you had to say?

Interesting. Is there a newsletter or a website you would point people to?

Tom Greenwood: Yeah, so my company's wholegraindigital.com. You find that you look me up on LinkedIn. There are lots of Tom Greenwoods who run, and some of them run Web design agencies. But if you find the Tom Greenwood that runs Wholegrain Digital, then that's me. And then I've also got two newsletters. So there's the Curiously Green Newsletter, which you can sign up for at www.wholegraindigital.com/curiously-green/, which is a Green Web newsletter covering things that's going on in the world of sustainable Web design, but also Greentech more broadly.

And then I have another newsletter on subs called Oxymoron, which is about exploring the confusing world of sustainable business and how we reconcile the aims of creating a more socially, environmentally friendly world with the world of business.

Chris Adams: Cool. Thank you very much. I'm subscriber to both of those and I really do enjoy them. So thank you for writing them and once again, thank you for coming onto Environment Variables, Tom. Take care mate.

Tom Greenwood: Thanks Chris.

Chris Adams: 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'd love to have more listeners.

To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, please visit https://greensoftware.foundation/. That's https://greensoftware.foundation/ in any browser. Thanks again and see you in the next episode.