Environment Variables
Greening Software Procurement
May 9, 2024
Joining Chris Adams today is Mike Gifford, an accessibility and open web veteran, to look at the drivers adopting digital sustainability in the industry, learn from the field of accessibility and inclusive design how we can further sustainable software development. Mike tells us about the wins from the accessibility movement that we can learn from in this engaging episode.
Joining Chris Adams today is Mike Gifford, an accessibility and open web veteran, to look at the drivers adopting digital sustainability in the industry, learn from the field of accessibility and inclusive design how we can further sustainable software development. Mike tells us about the wins from the accessibility movement that we can learn from in this engaging episode.

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Mike Gifford: Yeah. So that's an interesting approach to structure content so that you're hopefully trying to go off and encourage your, the organizations to push themselves to better understand their users and be able to build a website that meet the needs of their users.

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 the Green Software Foundation podcast, Environment Variables, where we bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. I'm your host, Chris Adams. When we look at the drivers adopting digital sustainability, in industry. As much as we want to think people will build greener digital services out of the goodness of their own hearts, it's worth bearing in mind that in a commercial environment, other concerns frequently take precedence.

And if we want to see wider adoption of more sustainable practices in digital, a lot of the time we have to be somewhat strategic, learning from other fields, for example, and being thoughtful about how we spend the social and political capital we might have available to us. So where should we be looking for people who have done this before?

One commonly cited field is the field of accessibility and inclusive design, where over the last 20 years, we've seen accessibility move from a field where lone, heroic actions were the norm, to one where, in growing parts of the world, accessibility is a non-negotiable, mandatory requirement in new projects with the full force of the law behind it now.

So, are there wins from the accessibility movement that we can learn from to apply for digital sustainability? And where in the history of accessibility online should we be looking? With us today, we have Mike Gifford, an accessibility and open web veteran, to help us navigate these questions. Mike, thanks very much for joining.

Can I give you the floor to introduce yourself today?

Mike Gifford: Absolutely. I'm Mike Gifford. I'm a senior strategist at Civic Actions. I'm excited to be here. And this is, I'm definitely an active listener and I've really enjoyed all the. Discussions that have taken place from other leaders in this field. I'm also a Drupal core accessibility maintainer. Drupal runs about a million websites around the world.

And I've been trying to improve accessibility in that field. And increasingly trying to do work in sustainability there as well. At Civic Actions, I lead the accessibility practice area. I've also been involved in contributing to the W3C's sustainable web community groups, draft web sustainability guidelines.

That's a bit of a mouth mouthful, but it's essentially just a group of people within a standards body called the W3C that is trying to go off and create a set of best practices around sustainability, and I've also spearheaded the development of a tool called OpenACR. Which is a new way to try and help organize vendor claims around digital accessibility.

Chris Adams: Brilliant. Thank you for that. And for folks who are listening to this for the first time, we do have a podcast episode specifically with the W3C, some of the other members, we'll link to that in the show notes. If you're new to this podcast, my name is Chris Adams, as I mentioned before. I work at the Green Web Foundation. Foundation, where we are a Dutch nonprofit focused on reaching an entirely fossil-free internet by 2030. I also am one of the chairs of the Green Software Foundation's Policy Working Group, and one of the maintainers of a software library called CO2.js, which you can probably guess what that does from the name.

It makes it easy to work out the environmental impact of various digital services. Mike, before we start, I should ask, because when I have spoken to you before, I've generally assumed you're in Canada, but you mentioned you might not be, so first of all, where are you calling from, and how's the weather?

Mike Gifford: So I'm calling from outside of Carcassonne, France, and I've been here for just over five months and I've got another four months to go. My wife wanted to have a sabbatical between careers, and this was a good place for us to learn French and eat cheese, stumble across castles and explore the culture of Europe.

So that's why we're here. And the weather here generally has been really good, especially compared to Ottawa, but right now it really has been a cold, nasty week this week. And so it's not being very good and it'll actually be warmer in Ottawa later this week than it is here in, in, you know, outside of Carcassonne.

It's a lot of climate chaos is going on around the world. We're seeing it all over the place. It's inconsistent weather.

Chris Adams: Wow, I did not, realize that. I generally would assume that Ottawa and Carcassonne, I mean, they're more or less the same latitude, right? But they are definitely not the same temperature most of the time, and Ottawa's definitely colder normally, right?

Mike Gifford: Yes, absolutely. We can get down to minus 20, minus 30 Celsius in the winter. And in the summer we can get up to plus 30, sometimes 35 Celsius, but it's a, it's definitely, it gets much colder. It has a much heavier impact from the Arctic weather.

Chris Adams: Wow, so I guess, thank you Jetstream for the clement weather in Western Europe. Okay. Long may it stay, I suppose. Yeah. All right. So I think you're sitting comfortably. For folks who are listening, we have show notes, so we're going to mention various projects and we'll do our best to list every single project and website that we do.

So if you are listening along and you want to learn more about one of the things we have, please do check out the show notes at podcast.greensoftware.foundation for more. All right, then, Mike, sitting comfortably, I guess should we start, yeah? Okay, so I did this introduction talking a little bit about accessibility, but I didn't do a particularly good job of explaining what accessibility might be.

And I'm wondering, before we talk about sustainability, maybe you could just expand a little bit about what people tend to mean when they talk about accessibility in this context, because I think there are a few misconceptions that people tend to bring when they first hear about accessibility.

What is accessibility, and what are the kind of myths that we might want to think about that we should probably dispel?

Mike Gifford: First of all, people assume that accessibility is just for the blind and deaf community. Like this is who we're trying to go off and to meet. And there's just a small number of people who comply with that. Why do we need to really worry with this? This is just a, you know, a government overreach additional administration, but that's, it's actually not the case.

If you look at permanent disabilities, most countries in the Western world, a quarter of the population has some form of disability. That could be, and that's a permanent disability, so that could be somebody who's got low vision or no vision, people who have hearing problems, mobility problems, could be cognitive problems, people who have dyslexia, color blindness.

It's a whole range of different aspects. And I tend to think of it like just part of a human experience. Is it that, that when we're born, we have certain limitations and we grow up and we learn how to do things. And we have, you know, we have abilities that we have at this time. But they change over time, you know, when I have allergies, my eyesight isn't as good because I have blurry eyes because I've got allergies.

There's also situations where as we age, like as soon as you're over 40, your eyesight begins to degrade. Probably most people listening to this podcast have glasses. That's a form of assistive technology. If you didn't have glasses, you probably would, would have much more difficulty reading a book or reading a monitor or your phone for that matter.

There's also issues of, you know, temporary and situational disabilities. So if you're, if you're injured, for example, where you're carrying a baby or you're in a loud environment, it may be more difficult for you to go off and to hear the other information that's going on around you. The other thing is looking at people who might be in a place where there isn't a lot of internet, like where if you're using an older device, these are also places where there's limited elements people can access.

And if you're in, in, in rural Canada, you can have a lot of difficulty going off and getting the bandwidth go off and to download a web page. And that's not a disability as such, but it is a way that is people are being disabled because the assumption is that people who are using the technology are going to have super fast

Chris Adams: infinite bandwidth, newest iPhone, everything like that.

Mike Gifford: If you don't have the latest device and the highest bandwidth, then you're going to have a lot of challenges. And so many people outside of urban areas don't. And even inside of urban areas, there's places where you can get, there's dead zones in cities where there, or that the things are wrong or inconsistent.

So a lot of our assumptions are incorrect. And I like to think about it also in terms of just, ultimately, you know, the planet is going to be fine with, you know, with or without us, the planet will survive. It comes down to us as a species and as a species, as Western civilization or civilization, how do we want to organize ourselves to survive?

And the brass tacks is that we have to work on a very fragile planet and we have to work with the fact that we are fragile species and that we need to go off and think about it not us at the height of our abilities, 

Chris Adams: The whole gamut, 

Mike Gifford: abilities throughout the whole gamut of our lives, right? Hopefully we'll all grow old.

Hopefully we'll all be able to explore and experience worlds where we, we do have different abilities because we've managed to live to 80, 90, a hundred years old, but that will be a different experience for all of us.

Chris Adams: I see, okay, alright, that's actually quite an expansive and interesting way of framing it. I haven't actually thought about it in that way, and the idea of saying, well, accessibility is actually a kind of... the fact that you've shifted it somewhat to the situation you're in is actually something that I think that's that's quite helpful framing. Okay, so we've got a rough idea that accessibility isn't just about helping a small number of blind people It's actually a significant part of the population in many cases probably larger than 25 percent when you include the different situational aspects someone might actually be in.

Okay, and it sounds like you know, did you ever see the London Olympics opening where they've got Tim Berners Lee or like Timball to his friends saying, where he has this whole thing, like this is for everyone. He's talking about the web and the internet. There's a thing that it seems very much that you're kind of, there's a reference to that, I suppose.

So these sound like good things, right? But we know that historically, when people are working on digital projects, accessibility hasn't had the same kind of priority that say, shipping a new feature might be, or making sure a particular date is hit by a team working on something. So let's say that, as society, the things you've described sound like good things to be aiming for and wanting to include.

How has maybe the accessibility community made sure these do get prioritized? Because they don't immediately all sound like they would have an immediate short term kind of benefit, for example, or that you might explain to on an earnings call, for example. Maybe you could, say, lay some of that out there and we can explore some of that area as well.

Mike Gifford: You'd think that it really wouldn't take much more of a carrot than trying to go off and support your future self, because that's ultimately you're doing. It's just trying to go off and make sure whatever you, whatever abilities you wake up with tomorrow, which may not be the same as they are today, are going to be, but you're going to be able to use the technology around and interact with the world as best as you possibly can.

That's not much to add, but it's not how people think. People think, people are very much more geared on what's the sexy new thing. Like. At FOSDEM, I gave a talk on accessibility, or sure, on sustainability, and I was, I've given talks on both of them, but it was, and I think it may have actually been both of them, an integration of the two and that, that one.

But the previous two sessions were on AI and they were packed. Like they were, it was like standing room only. And then my talk came up around sustainability. I mean, the room wasn't empty, but it certainly emptied out. And yet this is one of the things that like, this is life. This is us. You know, AI is neat and all, but ultimately it's not the thing.

But in terms of answering your question, what caused accessibility to go off and actually become a, a thing that people are paying attention to is the efforts of people with disabilities who have lobbied long and hard and protested often with civil disobedience in order to go off and to make sure that their rights are respected, seeing accessibility as a civil right.

And so that they are able to go off and have the rights to access by law. And in most Western countries, people with disabilities have rights to work and to employment, to housing, and to be able to communicate with their government. But that process is not being well respected. The digital world is being very much a move fast and break things kind of world, and, and actually supporting the bulk of their users is something that generally most companies don't invest in, even most governments.

Most governments have, far less accessible websites than they say that they should or say that they do. and, and it's something that, that you know, it's only through protest and through awareness raising and decades of effort that, that we've been able to get to where we are right now. and, and that's something that is still not where we need to be.

We're still not at a point where there's a final site that we can say, "Yes, this is accessible." This is like, it is... sites are more accessible, there is more awareness, but it's, it's just like security. It's about perpetual vigilance. So how do we make sure that we're more accessible today than we were yesterday, and that people are pushing that, that type of a framework forward?

Unfortunately, many people have a checklist mind set. They want to go off and say, "has this been done? Yes, let's move on." And that just. Unfortunately, it doesn't help people with disabilities who are actually experts around their own experience of where they're facing barriers with digital interfaces and you know, they need to be able to find ways to engage with their governments or engage with their stores or their friends in ways that are just like everyone else.

But that has, that does require effort and maintenance.

Chris Adams: I see, okay, so it sounds like there's a degree of, like, hard won essentially campaigning on various levels, and there's degree of, like, organ and there's maybe a degree of actual, like, organization with the people who are able to say, "well, okay, we need to find a way to translate these into concrete things you can ask for," or that people who do want to do the right thing, so they know how to go about doing that.

Mike Gifford: Right. Which is, which is how the web content accessibility guidelines. And the Web Accessibility Initiative from the W3C got that started because they saw that this was a need to try and, and provide some guidance and direction that everyone could agree on. And that would be a universal point that would allow everyone to agree that this is an improvement that, that benefits people.

And creating standards is a huge challenge, but it's been really important for organizations and governments to being able to lean on those and build legislation around that. Some of which actually have teeth for a lot of agencies or organizations around the world. So the, having legislation that requires accessibility is a, it's a huge deal.

Chris Adams: I see, and okay, so there's one thing that you just spoke about just there was this idea that, okay, you're essentially able to kind of capture this idea that society values this thing, which is not maybe immediately helping in a quarterly earnings call, for example, but it's still something that people tend to value, and that has ended up being translated into various forms of law, and one of the things that helped with the creation of that law was essentially things like the existence of some of these standards so that people could then say, "well, we want to have, you know, because we value access for everyone rather than just a very specific set of people, we're going to refer to these standards here saying you need to at least hit this kind of bar."

That's how some of it came about. Okay. And if I understand correctly, you, some of the examples you used earlier on about the situational example, like when you've got a broken arm or in your, I think I've seen some of that mentioned from Microsoft, actually, in some of their inclusive design things, so presumably there's an argument about the regulatory certainty that gets provided and means that organizations themselves might want to invest in saying, "well, okay, this is how we are competing in this by, you know, we're going to meet this bar when other people aren't," for example.

That's another kind of argument people take. Okay.

Mike Gifford: And Microsoft has had a great deal of leadership around the thinking around inclusive design and trying to think about how do we make sure that we are thinking about the whole self and not just ours, everyone on their best days.

Chris Adams: Okay, cool. So it sounds like there is a bit of a push. And so one way that some of these were adopted was essentially going through the public sector route to kind of demonstrate that there's demand and there's something that people need to go for and that and by creating that demand that allowed people to then respond to this.

Okay, so I've, are there any like particular countries or examples you've heard of? Because I've heard of like stories like say, I don't know, the things that started in the public sector that then kind of, percolated down. So like maybe I think things with Kindles, Kindle books, for example, or something like that, are there any examples we might point to show how something that large organizations might have been prioritizing first, but this end up kind of shifting them to start prioritizing something in a way that they weren't previously prioritizing?

Mike Gifford: I think that one of the challenges has been that, that governments have initially tried to go off and create their own legislation and, and not to build on a common standard. And one of the issues with this is that the tech is often global. And so if you're trying to go off and create a legislation, like so many governments individually in government agencies just don't have the clout to go off and to go to Microsoft and say, "Yeah. We want you to go to this and implement these standards because these are, if you want to sell to us, you have to follow these standards." Like maybe Microsoft will say, "sure, we'd love to do that. We're happy to go from bend over backwards and make that happen." But most likely they won't. They'll say, "sorry, if you're, this is what the product is.

And if you try it, we'll charge you X amount to go up in additional costs to go up from to meet those standards". But it, but it's not something that, that we can cover because you're such a small entity, generally how, how government procurements work. But, but if you're able to go off and work on a global standard, then technology, and especially if technology companies are involved, like they are, they have been to the W3C, that there's, there's an opportunity to, to get them on board and make sure that a lot of the kinks are worked out of the process, when it comes to implementation.

So that there are things that we know that can be implemented and can be maintained by the technology that we work with, whether that's open source or proprietary, there needs to be an engagement around how we're working on those same set of standards.

Chris Adams: So, one thing that you've just spoke about there was this notion of, okay, you, there's some work that goes into creating standards, because that allows both organizations, at governmental level to say, "hi, we need you to meet at least this bar," but from the other point of view, for people who are trying to meet these standards, let's say like, okay, you're calling from Europe instead of Canada today, right?

Everyone having 28 standards per country in all of Europe, for example, having one makes it a bit easier for someone who's inside the company saying, "hey, can we even at least meet this bar? Because this one will mean that we can, we don't need to do it across all these other countries as well," for example.

That's one of the ideas around the kind of some of these global standards. Yeah.

Mike Gifford: Absolutely. Having a single standard is much easier to get compliance around, particularly if you get a few larger economies that are adopting it early. Like if the European Union is able to adopt a standard around digital sustainability, that's something that will have real impacts around the rest of the world, because a lot of people want to sell their products into Europe.

So. So that's just like the GDPR has had a large impact on privacy outside of Europe as well as inside of Europe because it was something that was, was agreed to amongst a larger group of countries that there was a, an opportunity to really make waves across the digital sector.

Chris Adams: Okay, so that's quite interesting. So we spoke, we were speaking a little bit about accessibility and essentially the same things, because there is maybe not a short term gain for this, you might talk about it in terms of, okay, there is, you're creating some certainty and saying, well, these are things you need to actually have, and I guess in the context of some recent laws we're seeing passed, you might see some of that start to play out in the form of, I think we have things like, say, the CSRD, the Corporate Social Responsibility Directive in Europe, as one example, but even in America, or even in, I think, California specifically, because California is a big enough economy in its own right.

You're seeing some regulations there which end up acting as a kind of driver to kind of move to rather than just have people inside companies saying, "we'll save you some money on your green service." It's like, "no, this is the thing that's actually going to be, this is the bar we need to meet if we want to kind of keep selling to these people here," for example, or "this is a risk that we can head off by making sure we're compliant with this."

That seems to be the argument you're essentially kind of making around that, right?

Mike Gifford: That's right. And I think that, that the, it'll be interesting to see as scope 3 emissions get, get, more closely monitored and evaluated the, the impact of digital, I think is going to be a lot bigger than it currently is because most people don't, don't own a data center, they use services. So if you're, if you're suddenly looking at those people who are managing all the different technology that we're engaging with our lives on a regular basis, that has a third party impact and in terms of virtual pre-emission changes, and I think that we, we're going to, it'll be more of a challenge to try and figure out how to regulate those and to address them.

The web doesn't really affect most people for their scope one or scope two emissions, but it will certainly affect for, for scope 3 emissions.

Chris Adams: Right, I'm just going to take a kind of step back out for this. So I just want to check. So when you've mentioned the words scope 3 and scope 2 and scope 1, I assume you're talking about, say, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is a bit like an international standard for tracking carbon emissions for an organization, for example.

So where scope 1 might be me burning, say, gas and emissions caused from, I mean, I use the hot beverage example because that seems to be quite easy way to get your head around it. Scope 1 is me burning wood or coal to heat up a kettle so I can have coffee, right? Scope 2 is me consuming electricity, so someone else somewhere is burning coal or gas so I can have coffee.

And then scope 3 is the entire supply chain, so that's like me going into Starbucks so I can have coffee. And then, there's still a supply chain, but I'm not burning anything myself, but, you know, there is still someone accounting for the emissions that way, and that's what you're talking to when you talk about these kind of scope 1, 2, and 3 thing here, right?

Okay, brilliant. So, we spoke a little bit about how there are maybe some patterns, some ideas, and some lessons from the accessibility movement where, with the creation of some standards, we've then seen people tie this to, say, how projects get bought. Like, someone help people allocate time and money to do a piece of work and I think the one thing that when we spoke before you mentioned about how you saw this happen at a kind of public sector level first saying "we have to make this accessible because we have a mandate to serve all of our population not just the rich people basically or not just like the this one target market we've decided to segment and go after" essentially but that ends up creating a kind of norm which then is allows, say, other sectors or kind of more other private sectors to start looking for that as well.

And I think there have been examples of, was it the Domino's pizza, for example? The famous example where once people had set a norm that you actually had accessible websites, then was it, maybe you could expand on this one because I think I'm going to get it wrong, but I do remember like Domino's had to start rebuilding their websites and making sure their sites were also accessible to people because the norm had been set.

Mike Gifford: There's a, the US has an unusual piece around accessibility where if your website isn't accessible, you can be sued. There's people who've set up lawsuits and yeah, and some of them are not as legitimate as others, there's easy enough to find accessibility bugs in various different websites. But, but there are, there are people who are chasing the court system in order to try and get revenue from lawsuits.

So then that happens quite a lot in the states and that's a huge motivator around accessibility in the world actually, is the, the sphere of lawsuits from or within the United States. But domino's got sued and they were like, "we're not going to pay for this. We're just going to go off and channel just in the courts.

We don't think this is necessary." They did end up losing the case and they also spent quite a lot more in, in, legal fees than they did in actually hiring web developers who knew what they, they were doing and actually were able to fix the issue. But it was a, it was an interesting case in that, that they, just the egos of the senior management at Domino's.

Were like, "well, we don't want, we don't believe this is the right way to do it. So we're just going to do it our way." Even though they were explicitly excluding customers who could not, who were trying to go up and buy their services,

Chris Adams: Like, "hey, want a pizza." And they're

Mike Gifford: yeah, "I want a pizza." yeah, so I was like, why couldn't a blind person order a pizza through Domino's pizza only ordering system?

It seems ridiculous. They wouldn't want to go off and to address their customers, but that, that is the case for some companies. And having a hammer to go off at, to come down and for those organizations who are opposing best practices is sometimes needed. Unfortunately, you need to have the carrots and the sticks.

Chris Adams: Okay, so one thing you've said, there was basically an immediate harm that was being felt by some groups who were able to then look to some specific laws and say, "hey," this is, that was essentially the basis for that. And that's how you've been able to kind of maybe compel some activity from organizations who might not be prioritizing otherwise, right?

Now, I, for that to be possible, presumably, you needed to be able to demonstrate that a website was unusable, for example, or something wasn't working the way it would. I mean, are there any lessons that we might apply from how we think about maybe normalizing some things around digital sustainability for this?

Like, is there anything we can use from there? Because it sounds like there are I don't think anyone's been sued for not having a green website or a green digital service or anything like that. And I don't I'm not saying you should reach for that first, but It's clearly one of the techniques that people have been using in other fields to kind of compell action.

Mike Gifford: It's interesting though, that Europe is suggesting now that you can't claim to have a green, green product if you don't. You know, they're making greenwashing illegal, which is, it's similar in some ways, but so much around accessibility has been around the creation of these web content accessibility guidelines.

Which have been a set of best practices that have been created by people around the world. Very much like in the, the, sustainability field, the web sustainability guidelines are much newer and they're only being developed by a committee, so they're not something that is a full W3C working group recommendation, but it's something that is moving in that direction.

But I think that in terms of motivating people, you need to have some bar that you can say, how do you demonstrate what the expectations are, and that you're meeting those expectations. And then have a common bar to, from, and to, to compare yourself against 'cause, I mean, how many people have a website that is green enough?

There are not that many. And there, even when you're looking at trying to create the standards and look at, "well, how large should a webpage be?" There's a lot of different views. And the average weight of a webpage, we know right now is about, I think it's 4 megabytes is the average weight of a web

Chris Adams: Bigger than Doom, then, yeah.

Mike Gifford: so it's only the initial release of Doom after all, but it's still shocking that it's that as large as it is, and there's so much cruft that is not necessary. But do you think we can get a website down so that the average site is a hundred kilobytes? Well, maybe, but it's going to be a huge amount of effort to go off and remove all that cruft and advertising and layers of JavaScript and to weed out what is actually necessary to convey. And then there's also elements of how do we build society that, that is where there's, privacy exploiting, JavaScript apps that are adding to the bloat of the infrastructure that we're not addressing. Security issues 'cause, again, if you've got a lot of software, you probably haven't monitored it to make sure it is meeting best practices. And having secure, sustainable code is really a huge part of just creating quality code. If you just redefine it as part of quality, then that's something that, that is really an important way to reframe the advantages of building for accessibility and sustainability.

Chris Adams: So thanks for that. So there's a couple of things that we spoke about and I realize I'm showing my age I'm making a joke about Doom and I realize that most people for them to like get Doom they need to know what a floppy disk drive is and you realize oh my word we... I realized that ages me quite a lot.

So for anyone who... doom was a very popular 3D shooter, and it was, it's definitely smaller than most websites these days. Okay, all right, let's move away from that somewhat depressing note and try and get back to what we were talking about. So you're talking about, there was essentially a way of demonstrating that there are some expectations you have, and then you're able to demonstrate if a website was meeting a certain bar of accessibility and I think when I've heard people talk about accessibility they use this term POUR, like is it perceivable, operable,

Mike Gifford: understandable and robust. Robust is a tricky one, but basically trying to go up and make sure that you're doing this in a real world environment, that it's something that it's not just from set up in a lab, but you've actually got real people, real engagements, real user flows,

Chris Adams: I see, and these and so perceivable is like okay if you're not blind you can't see obviously so you should be able to perceive something. Operable, I get the idea that you can operate it, right? Understandable, self explanatory, and

Mike Gifford: Plain language, all that

Chris Adams: yeah, and then the robust thing is basically this idea that Okay, you've opened this discussion about saying in certain parts of remote Canada you can't access something.

For example, that's like robust, like something might degrade gracefully, so you can still achieve a particular thing even if you don't have like the latest greatest iPhone on the super fast Wi Fi or something like that, right?

Mike Gifford: Right, right. Exactly. It's, it's looking at what are people using, how are people engaging with your site and how do you train and address those? And there's, there's not as many success criteria for robustness because it is a trickier one. Perception is certainly one of the easier ones to address and that's mostly about trying to go up and have textual equivalents for non textual content and making sure that information is visible for people with however they're able to, with whatever senses that they have that they're able to perceive that.

Chris Adams: I see. Okay, so one thing that I guess One insight I'm taking away from that is that these don't necessarily have to be like a binary yes/no thing every single time. Obviously it helps, and it means you can automate things, but that's not an absolute deal breaker for creating any set of guidelines, for example, or something that you might write into a commercial agreement, or might say that, you know, every public website should at least be doing this kind of stuff.

It sounds like you don't necessarily need to have that kind of binary thing.

Mike Gifford: One thing that they've tried to, I mean, the courts definitely want it to be binary. and there's definitely things that, that are, there's different levels of WCAG. There's, there's level A, AA and AAA 

Chris Adams: Sorry, sorry, you said WCAG. Is it WCAG? This is Web Content.

Mike Gifford: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Chris Adams: got Okay. That's okay.

Mike Gifford: people just pronounce it WCAG, but I've gone with, with WCAG because that's.

Chris Adams: Yeah.

Mike Gifford: Somehow rolls off the tongue faster than, or easier than WCAG.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right.

Mike Gifford: The W3C three in general is good at many things, but not naming things. But the point of the level A, AA, and AAA is it's try to say what are the bare minimum things that organiza that things people should do.

Easiest stuff that affects the most people. What is sort of AA is what is legally required. So in most countries, it's WCAG 2.0 AA is the legal requirement and AAA is sort of aspirational stuff. So knowing that your users are at this base, if you're dealing with senior citizens, for example, you might want to go above and beyond what WCAG 2.0 AA provides, because you know that your users are going to have less perception of color. So you want to have higher contrast available for them than you might for other users. So it's really a, about stretch goals, for, yeah, so it's an interesting approach to structure content so that. And you're hopefully trying to go off and encourage your, the organizations to push themselves to better understand their users and be able to build a website that meets the needs of their users.

Chris Adams: I see. Okay. So if maybe one thing I'm taking away from that is that first of all, okay, there's value in binary, but there's also value in certain kind of grades as it were. And that might be more useful for the specific, I don't know, set of audiences you're trying to reach or who you're trying to cater, for example.

And presumably this, by kind of breaking into something like this, kind of removes some of the need to be an absolute domain expert so that if you're commissioning some work, you can say, well, "you need to be meeting AA," for example, for this, and that's what you could write into, say, a procurement thing to make sure it definitely does happen inside a new project, for example.

Mike Gifford: I mean, and that's what what a lot of organizations have tried to do is they tried to go off and put in contracting language that their product or service must be WCAG 2.2 AA compliant. what the current best practice would be. But unfortunately, procurement officers often drop off the necessities that if, if the client says that the site is successful, they'll leave it at that, and that there'll be no, not necessarily any follow up.

If the project manager on the client side doesn't care or isn't motivated to address this or doesn't have a subject matter expert that they can evaluate, then it's something that that can be quite difficult to implement it. And especially since like so many things, if you don't think about it early enough in the process,

Chris Adams: easy to count, yeah.

Mike Gifford: yeah, so you know, so often accessibility has been left to the end.

And then, well, the budget's spent, the time has run out and now you've got these accessibility issues you've just now discovered. Well, guess what? They're not going to happen, right? They're going to be, or they're going to be done badly. And in a way that's more expensive because it's being done after the fact.

And, and that's often a more fragile way to go off and implement technologies. Think about it from the beginning.

Chris Adams: I see, okay, so there's two things that come out of that that I think are possibly worth exploring in a bit more detail. One of these was this idea that basically, the cost of checking if something is still working the way it's supposed to. Like, you know, people say, "oh, it's totally accessible." But being able to check if something really is accessible, this is one thing that I think you've pointed me to some work where there's some software like Purple Accessibility, Purple A11y.

Yeah, Purple A11y, yeah. This is, I'm not sure where the A11y thing came from, but for people who are not familiar with the lingo, A11y is A one one y, which is the number of letters for accessibility, and Mike, you introduced me, what was the name of

Mike Gifford: It's a, it's a numerium. Anytime you go, you take the, the letters of the beginning of the end and you squish them together. Internationalization is I18N, localization is I10N. It's just, you squish them together and create a number of

Chris Adams: Ah, I see. And that would explain the whole S12Y that I think people keep trying to make happen with sustainability in the kind of digital world, right? Yeah. It feels a little bit mean girl saying stop trying to make, like, fetch happen, right? But this is something I struggle with as well. And if people who are curious why this episode is called A11y to S12y.

Now you know why. It's, numeriums at work, basically. Okay,

Mike Gifford: And they make a lot of sense, especially in Twitter, they make a lot of sense. But now that we no longer are limited by 180 characters, it's, and actually in some ways just complicates things because since sustainable development has been a term popularized by the Brundtland commission, I guess it was the eighties, the sustainability has been overused and generalized in a way that makes it very difficult to understand things and just sort of shortening it into, you S12Y doesn't actually make it more understandable or any more specific.

It's just made it more, added another, fewer characters and more confusion. So it is something that does happen.

Chris Adams: Does make for a cool hashtag, though, so I suppose, you know, swings around about. All right, so we digressed and the reason we mentioned Purple Alley or A11y was because I think this was something you were me about, how there are ways of, there are increasingly tools which, rather than just doing a one off check at the end of a project, might continuously be tracking some of this.

And this is maybe a way to kind of almost provide like continuous audit or something as one of the mechanisms that you might use to kind of maintain a level of quality, for example. I believe Wagtail is one example. They've built some tools so when you're editing a web page, they will basically give you a kind of check ahead of time.

So it's a bit like, shift-left, but for content editors or people who do this. So before you publish something, you'll see some of this and I would assume that other content management systems have these kinds of checks as part of the kind of workflow process rather than it being a thing that gets checked once a year, for example.

Mike Gifford: Right. Drupal has it with the, for the code level. We don't have it for the content level. There are plugins you can add in for modules. You can add in for Drupal that give the authors that sort of context, but we don't have it built into core. And that's something, so it's an effort to install that. It's hopefully it's something that will come into core at some point, but that's a much bigger discussion, right?

How that, how and what tool they use and how that would be implemented. But Purple A11y is a great tool for scanning websites and providing a, an understanding of where accessibility issues are across hundreds, if not thousands of pages, because there's a lot of tools that are built into your browser that you can use to scan a single page. So, like there's WebsiteCarbon.com and the EcoGrader from, which are great tools. But they're, they will evaluate one page and you can pay for services, certainly from EcoGrader that will go off and allow you to scan your site. They keep a sense of your site, but most people are, are not necessarily going to do that.

And not everything is designed for that. And site scanning tools. Yeah. It's nice to be able to have an open source solution that is able to give you a, a sense of the challenges and the barriers that you're running into as you're developing the site. They can see that you're making progress or your site is more accessible today than it was yesterday.

And the incorporation of something like CO2.js into that. It would be a really great addition and there's other tools that could be useful to go off and add to aggregate quality as well and get a sense of like plain language as a, as something that it's very difficult for people to go off and write.

People under think they understand it, but it's, it actually takes a whole lot of work to go off and write in plain language. But this type of language complexity can be evaluated on a code level, at least on the English language. It's more difficult for other languages, it can be. The more we can sort of build in testing early in the process, however, when a site's being developed, if it's built on a weekly or two week sprint cycle, the team, when they're doing their script planning, should know what their accessibility issues are this week compared to the last sprint, so they can see if they're actually making it more accessible today than it was previously.

And the same thing should be applying for sustainability, because there's things that do change in code, like a new JavaScript library is added. And things slow down or there's an image that, that somebody added and that's something that is not noticed by the development team and you want to catch that as early as possible, partly because it's easier to fix them because you've just added it, so you should be able to the issue and, and, and you're like, "Oh, it's just the last sprint.

We know we approved that" and you can learn from that process. I think much like, like spell checkers, like if spell checking was something that you only did right before you submitted your paper,

Chris Adams: Yeah.

Mike Gifford: like you're not going to learn, you're going to be frustrated by the process. It'll be something you ship off to somebody else to deal with and you're not going to go off and build that into your own practice.

But if you see the errors and you see them as you're writing it, eventually you will write better and you'll have a sense of what are the mistakes you often get and how do you try and avoid them going ahead.

Chris Adams: I see, okay, so it's basically a piece of, like, incorporating into, like, your workflow, I suppose. You, you said one other thing that I wanted to unpack, if I may, which was a little bit about setting expectations. Like, talking a little bit about how, like, because you, you mentioned there's things you can do for, like, language, for example.

And we spoke a little bit about this idea that, okay, there's a certain level. I think you mentioned WCAG AA or something like that. And I know the one example I've seen from other places are saying "we aim to meet this level and this is how we check for this and here's how to actually contact us for any kind of breaches" for example like these seems to be mechanisms that i can see being adopted to talk about digital sustainability like one of the reasons i'm particularly interested about Purple A11y and that one there is a it's an open source so anyone can use it for free assuming they have access to like a computer to do that.

But also the Singapore government have been talking about using this to check their own digital estate as well. And that's how I know that in the public sector, some people are using these to do some of this kind of continuous monitoring, or at least some way to kind of flag things up to make some of this a bit more kind of observable and actionable, I suppose.

And like, as far as I'm aware, we don't really have any way of, do we have a way of checking that for accessibility when a... so, you know, you go to a website or a digital server, you say, well, do you, is there a way of seeing a kind of consistent URL, like wellknown/a11y or something to see where they say what they are, say what level they're trying to reach, and then how to kind of test about this.

Because this feels like something you could at least for certain things, be able to kind of verify, you know, verify the claims that you're making, basically. 

Mike Gifford: Right. I mean, I think right now for accessibility, the best practices is around trying to create an accessibility statement that's in the front of a web page. So if you go to any European government website, now you'll see a page that is about accessibility, that gives you information. And if it's properly structured, it'll say, it'll have a feedback form that allows you to go up and give feedback if you run into a barrier.

It'll tell you what they've done and how they've done it and get a sense of what some of those challenges are. Also, it's useful to highlight the, yeah, what are the processes that they've done to go off and assess accessibility. All of that can be built into an accessibility statement. And the same type of thing could, could very much be included as a sustainability statement.

And there are going to be pages, there's out,

Chris Adams: we target this, yeah.

Mike Gifford: That's right. I mean, there's no reason that couldn't be done the same, in the same way. You just have a little link in the footer that explains what the process is. And you evaluate that page on an annual basis to make sure that there are things that are being, so that if you're changing your processes, which they do, you come back and reflect on that and say, well, how do we make this better this year than it was the last?

Right. That, that reflection, I think is an important part of it, as well as the feedback with the users.

Chris Adams: Okay, alright, so there is a way, so maybe this is actually quite a nice segue for us to move from, okay so that's one pattern that we've seen adopted in the accessibility field where we know there's a tradition of being quite specific about things you're looking to purchase but also some ways of checking that people are actually like meeting the things that they're saying they're doing.

I mean, there's some parallels to the whole kind of green claims discussion I suppose and that you might see online where people are saying, you know, you can't mark this product as carbon neutral by buying offsets anymore, but they say like if you're gonna make any kind of claim you need to kind of substantiate these claims now rather than actually just having some woolly language around this.

So, okay, and maybe this is a nice way to talk a little bit about what that might look like for digital sustainability because I believe the I know there's these Digital Sustainability Guidelines. I don't, I, WSGs, I'm not quite sure what we would call them. I mean, in Germany, you might call them like WSG, as if it looked like a joke on ESG.

I don't, okay, ignore it. Like, we don't have a good word for them. I mean, nothing is, snappy as WCAG, yeah. So, come up with something for those. I do know that there has been some work to make some of these checkable. I think, I remember the name, it was Star, wasn't it? Star, which is. Sustainability, Technology, Accessibility, something.

Do you know the thing I'm to here?

Mike Gifford: I do. But I don't the 

Chris Adams: Sustainable Tooling And Reporting. This is what it was actually. Yeah. I just looked it up in a tab. Yeah.

Mike Gifford: There's whole, there's a whole lot of effort to go off and get a pronounceable acronym that is also somewhat meaningful and doesn't offend anyone. And that was, yeah, that, that's what we came up with STAR, because it's a generally universally appreciated type of thing, so.

Chris Adams: Okay. Well, this is good. And this is like machine readable things that you could check. So you could check it each year, but you could almost Yeah.

Mike Gifford: And that's it. The more that there, I mean, I think that there's always going to be things that are going to be, you know, there's some things you're going to check by machine, but you're not going to be able to check it all by machine. Like even with WCAG, that's being around for as long as it has, you can only catch about a third of the issues using automated checkers.

So with sustainability, there is going to be need to be manual but there's stuff that you can check, knowing where the site is hosted and where the third party libraries are that's stuff that's checkable because it's just an IP address you

Chris Adams: Look it up. Yeah.

Mike Gifford: against database and determine whether it's there.

And the same, the size of the pages and the, the, the use of JavaScript. These are all things that can be. evaluated in a very, black and white sort of manner, like compared year after year to see how, how are you doing or print after sprint to make sure your, your. We're actually making movements on this and just to make, for people to realize that these tools are things that have been hidden, like the weight of a page has been hidden for people for so long.

They're becoming much easier to evaluate and to track and to identify. So a lot of the stuff is, is going to be more noticeable for people and for them to say, well, "why is my page taking so long to load? Who's responsible for that?" Like that's, that is going to be an issue that, the people will start to pay more attention to cause they have to.

Because there will be legislation, hopefully, that requires an organization to demonstrate that they are improving their performance and have improved customer experience and making a more sustainable site.

Chris Adams: Okay, so I'm speaking to you with a, because you're in France, and I know that if we're talking about digital sustainability, France is currently one of the countries which is kind of at the forefront, and they, I'm going to butcher the, the, the RG... I can't remember what they're specific, and it's basically the French version of digital sustainability.

 I think it's Référentiel général d'écoconception de services numériques, but basically it's the equivalent to digital sustainability stuff. It looks a little bit like the digital sustainability kind of guidelines, but the French version that they've been written as a, and there's, as far as I'm aware, this is something which has been adopted nationally as a thing that you would actually include.

Now there's another discussion about how you might kind of maintain that and enforce that and make sure and what the remedy mechanisms are if you are in breach of that. But like, that's one of the examples there. I guess, you know, that's one people, one thing that people might be looking at as an example of, okay, here's some ideas, but here's what some of this might look like, for example.

Mike Gifford: Yeah, no, I think it's great. And there's things that I think would have been quite useful to have done for accessibility as well. For example, engineers are required to take a course on sustainability when they're getting educated in universities. Well, why isn't that part of how things are done in accessibility as well?

That's a big one. There's certainly a lot of elements around evaluating municipalities and evaluating other government agencies in terms of what their digital sustainability plans are. A lot of work around recycling, the recycling electronics, again, that's a big part of this puzzle is trying to make sure that the, all of the carbon and resources and energy that goes into these devices is managed as effectively as possible.

So again, that's really forward thinking stuff. And also it's wonderful that France has gone first on this and highlight that, that this is something that, that like somebody has to go first. Somebody has to demonstrate that it's a possibility. And France has legislation in place long before people are even thinking about it.

So it's been a real good thing for the Web Sustainability Guidelines to be able to look at and learn from, what's being done in France and, and to say, well, "how do we take this, this model that is being successfully implemented in France" and try and say, well, "how do we scale this to the rest of the world?"

Chris Adams: see, so like you said before about, okay, are there lessons you can make more general? We should probably give a shout out to the fact that, I mean, and one of the reasons I know about this is work, some work from Gautier Rosilla and also I think a gent, Thibaut Collas was one of the people who basically draw attention to basically a translated version of the old RGSN as examples of this and when I first read them, I was like, "wow, this is actually really, this is actually quite well written" and it kind of stays in its lane in the sense that it's just focusing on digital sustainability, it might refer to some other things, but it's not repeating too much of the other guidance that exists in other forms with other groups and other working groups.

Okay, cool.

Mike Gifford: Also, a shout out to Laurent Devenry, who's also been, I'll include a link to an article I wrote for Apolitical, talking about the, the French, the French legislation and trying to help make it more accessible to the English speaking world. Cause I think that's something that is often a barrier for good ideas is language and culture.

And so trying to encourage more, a broader adoption and understanding of what countries are doing effectively to make these changes.

Chris Adams: Okay, all right. Well, I think we're just starting to come to time, but it sounds like there are a few things we could learn from the world of accessibility, like it's not perfect, but yeah, the idea of like setting some basic standards that you can then write into procurement is one thing that we've got.

Like, we don't really have the equivalent to poor, like perceivable, operable, robust yet. I wish we had that for digital sustainability, and maybe one day will, but if that seems to be a thing, that would be helpful. But the whole notion of being able to like continuously check to see if something is or at least have a way of checking if people are saying something and then are they able to kind of deliver against that.

There's a precedent in accessibility that may also be relevant for sustainability too and we have a growing number of standards from outside of technology that we might even be able to refer to for the things outside of how a website is built that might actually speak to some of the kind of other wider sustainability considerations as well, by the sounds of things.

Mike Gifford: Absolutely. And, and I think that the more we can learn from other people's work, the better it is. It's not like we're anywhere where we need to be around accessibility, but there's been some advances around accessibility that are, that are, are useful to learn from. With sustainability, we just don't have the two decades or three decades of struggle to get us where we need to be.

We need to have countries very quickly taking on regulations or that, that allow us to quickly start scaling down the technology. There's so many organizations buy technology that is there for at least a few years, if not for a decade. And larger organizations are buying technology that, that is going to be in place for a long time.

It takes a long time to shift from one stack to another. So we need to be prioritizing sustainability in the procurement process as early as possible so that it's something that can be built in as we go ahead and as we're building towards a more sustainable future.

Chris Adams: Brilliant. Well, Mike, thank you very much for sharing your perspective and your experience with us today. If people are curious about the, what you've been discussing or some of the work you're doing right now, where should people be looking? Where would you direct people's attention to if they wanted to learn more?

Mike Gifford: Right now that the best place to go from find me is on LinkedIn and it's Mike Gifford is the easiest way to access me. I'm also on a bunch of different Slack channels, like the Drupal Slack or the Climate Action Tech Slack is a facility to reach out. I do have other social media accounts like Mastodon and Twitter, but I generally don't use them as much as I do LinkedIn.

Chris Adams: Okay, right, and CivicActions, that's CivicActions.com, presumably, and if there's any of the other kind of user groups or working groups you're part of, are there any ones we should be thinking about? Like, is it OpenWeb? I forget the name of them actually, you said there's another CMS

Mike Gifford: Open Web Alliance that's, that's, that's coming together. That's, that's an effort to try and get, different content management systems to be able to support and work together to go off and build that more effective open web, so that's one group. Also the Susti Web Community Group is definitely something to consider joining if you're interested in sustainability.

And there's an effort to turn that into a full working group, which will require more effort and leadership for people to be involved. And so, yeah, those, those are definitely some of the main places to see. On accessibility, you can also find us on our accessibility sub site, which is accessibility.civicactions.com.

Chris Adams: Brilliant, okay, and I just realized, you mentioned something about FOSDEM in a talk, There's, I'll share the link to the FOSDEM, Sustainability and Accessibility Talk, which was what prompted some of these discussions in the first place. This has been fun, and I didn't realize that you were in Europe, so if I ever do pass through Paris, or pass through Carcassonne, or France, maybe we'll get a glass of wine or something.

Mike Gifford: That'd be lovely.

Chris Adams: Thanks a lot, Mike. Lovely to chat to you again. All right. Take care.

Mike Gifford: See you, 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.

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