Environment Variables
AI Legislation
March 2, 2024
This week, Chris Adams is joined by Asim Hussain and Anne Currie for an engaging chat on the present and future of legislation around AI and Green Software. Our guests share their hot takes on various topics such as the usefulness of proxies in measurement. With backgrounds in climate and tech, and a future full of green energy, they share their insights into what we might expect, and hope for, from the future.
This week, Chris Adams is joined by Asim Hussain and Anne Currie for an engaging chat on the present and future of legislation around AI and Green Software. Our guests share their hot takes on various topics such as the usefulness of proxies in measurement. With backgrounds in climate and tech, and a future full of green energy, they share their insights into what we might expect, and hope for, from the future. 

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Anne Currie: AI is eating the world, and it's incredibly requiring of energy. But I'm also going to come back to something that all three of us have said previously, which is, "does it matter if AI uses huge quantities of energy but it's all green?" Then it doesn't matter. And it's not, and that energy isn't necessarily being used for other things, because nobody wants it to heat their home in wherever it is, the middle of nowhere, where we've put our data centers.

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. This podcast, Environment Variables, was initially set up as an example of what you might call pun-driven development between myself and Asim Hussain, back when we were both organizers at an online community called ClimateAction.tech. And, to be honest I kind of missed our chats, so I got in touch with him and asked if he'd like coming back on the podcast and talking about what he's been up to at the Green Software Foundation and I was very happy when he said yes. And likewise, Anne, our other guest today, she's been a fixture in green software for a while and has actually been working in the community working group as well as working on a book about green software called, unsurprisingly, Building Green Software.

It's nearly out, so I figured it was nice to kind of chat to her as well. So, that's what we're looking at today. Anne, Asim, lovely to have you on the podcast again. For people who've never listened to this podcast, can I give you the floor to talk about it? I'll go with you first, Anne, because it's alphabetical, and then I'll hand over to Asim.

So, yeah, Anne, the floor is yours.

Anne Currie: Hi, Chris. Thanks for that. My name is Anne Currie. I am one of the community co-chairs of the Green Software Foundation. I'm also the CEO of a training and consultancy company in green software called Strategically Green. And as Chris said, things that I'm doing at the moment, I've been writing the last year, I've been writing with, with two co-authors, also from the Green Software Foundation, Sara Bergman and Sarah Hsu on the O'Reilly book, Building Green Software, which will be out next month. So that's all very exciting.

Exciting. It's very exciting.

Chris Adams: Okay. Thank you, Anne, lovely to have you back. And Asim, I'll hand over to you as well, actually.

Asim Hussain: Thank you Chris. So my name is Asim Hussain. I am now a full time, the executive director of the Green Software Foundation. I'm really excited to be here again. What are the things I've been working on recently? Just keeping the Green Software Foundation running, has been basically my main activity. But the other thing I've been really heavily involved with is one of our projects which is called Impact Framework, which I'll probably mention a couple of times because it is completely on my mind 24/7.

Sometimes I'm asleep and I'm dreaming of it. If I'm getting my kids to sleep, I usually have the GitHub pull requests open and I'm reviewing them. So it's on my mind constantly. So yeah, that's me.

Chris Adams: Thank you, Asim. Last time you were on this podcast, we were talking about the wonders of fungi and the, the carbon fixing powers of mycelium. How are the mushrooms doing?

Asim Hussain: My mushrooms don't, I've not been doing too well. I seem to have lost my mushroom green thumb. My last attempt kind of really failed in a very moldy way, but I have some new ones growing them from scratch again. So I'm going to give that another go.

Chris Adams: Well? Okay, I guess. Do you say green thumb? I wish you green thumbs or brown thumbs, or what's the color correct color? For? For, for fungi? Yeah.

Asim Hussain: Well, you probably, you just like to have that, that mushroomy smell. That's the way you test it.

Chris Adams: I wish you lovely, mushroomy smells in your future then, Asim. Alright, okay. Hi folks, and if you're wondering who I am, as I mentioned before, my name is Chris Adams, I am the executive director of the Green Web Foundation, which is a non-profit based in the Netherlands, focused around meeting a fossil free internet.

By 2030, I'm also one of the co-chairs of the policy working group inside the Green Software Foundation and a regular host on this podcast. So if you're new to this podcast, what we do in this kind of format is The Week in Green Software, we look at some of the stories that we thought were interesting that we might want to share with other people to basically give an idea of what's happening in the field and in many cases, get lukewarm or hot takes from our guests on the day.

And I think that's pretty much it. We will share a link to every single story. And like we mentioned before, the transcript and the show notes are both available at podcast.greensoftware.foundation. But we also will link to a GitHub repo. So if there's a typo, or if there's a mistake, or there's something you'd like to link to, then you can also open a PR.

And we do accept PRs, so that we've got a useful record from other people who are trying to learn more about green software as well. All right, Anne, Asim, I'm assuming you're sitting comfortably, right?

Asim Hussain: Or somewhat, I bought a meditation chair recently. I'm sitting cross legged at the moment.

Chris Adams: Asim, I'm going to hand over to you for the first story because this is actually one thing that takes me back to some of our Climate Action Tech Days, the very, very early 2020s. So this is a story, Sustainability, a surprisingly successful KPI, this is the Green Ops survey results, we'll share the link to it, but the short version is, and the headline is basically, "if you want to save money in enterprise, turns out that sustainability as a KPI is more important than cost." This is one of the key findings of the recent GreenOps survey that was actually part funded by the Climate Action Tech Mini, Mini-grant fund that was running through this.

I find this quite interesting because it's, well, this is the first time I've seen a survey, which is actually scaled out like this. And I suspect there's gonna be some takes coming from this. So, Asim, maybe if I hand over to you first and then Anne, I'll let you come in and then we'll see what goes on from there.


Asim Hussain: Well, yeah, and this is really interesting. And I think it reminded me as soon as I read it, it reminded me of, do you remember when we ran the State of Green Software? We released it last year. We did a big survey with it as well.

One of the questions there, I, I, I still come back to it because I think it's very interesting. We ask people to rank in order of importance, cost, performance, sustainability, reliability, and security. So you actually, you couldn't just say, you have to actually literally drag and drop these things in the order of importance that you thought it would be. And I thought it was really interesting because the number one item that came out was security, which is interesting, but also very valid and it is, I suppose, you know, what a lot of people and organizations do you focus on. Second was reliability, which is, you know, understandable as well. Third was sustainability. And then came performance and the last, the very last item was cost, which was fascinating to me because to a lot of people, they would assume that cost is the most important thing. And there's something, I remember the researcher at the time, she talked about this concept. I think it was called onstage and offstage when you give information. Like if you're like, if you're on stage and someone asks you a question, you're going to say, "Oh yeah, cost! Yeah, cost is the most important thing to, yeah, we'd love, I love saving costs.

I love also, you know, getting promoted at the end of this quarter," but like off stage, and I think this is interesting, I think off stage, when you really ask people, when they know they're anonymous, when they know they can be truthful regarding what it is, I think this speaks to the fact that to a lot of people, sustainability is important and they do think it's more important than cost. And I think, I don't know how we can kind of get this circulated in such a way, and I suppose this article is doing a good step in that, like, how do we get this circulated in such a way that people understand, like, you know, this is important.

Anne Currie: One of the interesting things here is that all of these things are very aligned, aren't they? That being sustainable does cut your costs and it does improve your security because an awful lot at first stage of being sustainable is to turn off machines that you don't really need anymore. And those machines are your security holes. So, you know, there's a massive alignment between security and sustainability and resilience and sustainability as well. You know, the resilience of auto scaling rather than the resilience of hot backups or cold backups, it's more resilient and it's more efficient. So it's kind of like all of these things are highly aligned, but I guess it all comes down to that whole thing about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivations, isn't it? That people like to feel that they're doing good at the same time as they're doing other things.

Chris Adams: Well, there's actually, there's also a bunch of research that, I think the correct kind of term in psychology kind of jargon is this value perception gap, where everyone basically thinks that they're, they might care about sustainability, or they might care about fellow, they don't think everyone else does, so therefore they're going to self censor and say they don't actually care about this so much, or they'll talk about the thing that, as Asim mentions, makes them more likely to get promoted, for example, or something when they're on the stage like this.

The thing that we've done, Asim, I'm really glad you mentioned the State of Green Software report. I've shared a link to that and also the survey data that we had there. This story in particular, this GreenOps one in particular, the actual underlying data is available for anyone who wants to do any kind of research themselves.

And I think there's a couple of really interesting other things that came out of this, is that there was this idea about, if you look into the story, it talks a little bit about where people need to feel support for example like from the c-suite what are the kind of pre-determining things in order to you to provide some of the kind of cover for this there's a bunch of other stuff inside this that's worth a look actually so yeah I thank you both for like your actually quite warm takes today about this. This is quite cool.

Asim Hussain: But I think it's all about motivation and that's really what this is all about. It's not like what is actually the right thing for you to focus on in software. It's more a question of what am I motivated to work on? Like one of the things in the early days of this whole space is like, well, cost is important, but people aren't waking up in the morning going, "Oh, Today, I want to reduce, you know, annual turnover expectation by 0.02%. Like, and that's, what's motivating me today." It's important to whoever needs to do it. But what motivates people is actually, "I want to do something." This is important to me that, that actually reduces some of the emissions of my software. And I'm going to work a lot harder on that than I am on reducing costs by 0.


Chris Adams: Yeah I guess maybe some people are, I don't know, I mean, maybe we'll come to the day where someone says "do you know what? I just really like returning value to shareholders." Like, that is what, maybe that's a thing. I mean, they, presumably they... but, yeah.

Anne Currie: Well, I'm going to come in with hot take number two, actually, because I had a very interesting story this week, which is very related to this and that security being the number one motivator. If people actually acted on good security practice, it would massively cut carbon emissions. The going through and closing off all the machines that you really know you need to, if you did a proper security review and you close off all your old machines that you weren't using anymore, that would be a really good security move, would also massively be more sustainable.

But not only that, I heard a very interesting tale this week from a company that wishes to remain anonymous. They did a security review a couple of months back, which, which was about identifying and turning off effectively, well, not zombie services, but services they knew they didn't need anymore. And as part of doing that, the security team identified a machine that was running at 100 percent CPU. So they thought, "well, hang on a minute, that's been hacked. You know, someone's binding Bitcoin on this." They handed it back to the ops team and said, "what's going on here? Sort it out." The ops team took a look at it. It turned out it was running a load test that had been, that, that had been turned on three years previously and never, never turned off.

So the security review identified the problem as fundamentally a cost problem, but, but more than anything else a sustainability problem. So if you do security reviews, it's actually one of the best things you can do for being greener, because you, you just stop doing stuff you shouldn't be doing.

Chris Adams: And I think I'm going to need to share a link in the show notes to the meme saying, You cannot have a cluster if, if you don't have a cluster, because that seems to be a kind of reference to some of this here. Okay, thank you very much for that, Anne. Just for people who are curious, as a bit of context, this survey was actually carried out by a gentleman called Mark Butcher, I believe, who works at a firm called Posetiv.

The actual process of why this was funded was basically by donations from members inside a community who just put some funding in. And there's a couple of other mindy grants that are ongoing now. There's one to create a sustainable AI manifesto, and there's another one which is a playbook for becoming a climate-conscious product manager.

So it's kind of nice to see some of this stuff. I'm looking forward to more things like this being created because you don't need that much money to get some really interesting results and things coming out there into the kind of, I guess, the public discourse. All right, cool. Anne, Asim, are you comfortable with us moving to the next story?

Asim Hussain: Yeah.

Anne Currie: I am.

Chris Adams: Alright, okay, so the next story here is a blog post from Kainos.com. I believe they might be members of the Green Software Foundation, I forget, but this one is basically, the headline is Cost as a Proxy for Carbon, the Inconvenient Truth. And I'll just share a kind of quote from the paragraph, from the piece.

It says, "Many technology related articles and major cloud service providers promote the idea that cost is a proxy for carbon emissions. This suggests that optimizing and reducing your cloud costs can lead to increased sustainability. But is this entirely true? While there is some truth to this statement, it is critical that limitations to this approach are well understood."

So I guess now I should, while I've got access to two experts, I'm going to kind of put it to you two. Anne, when is cost a good proxy for carbon? And when is cost a bad proxy for carbon? Because I've understood that you might have some opinions on this as well.

Anne Currie: I have very strong opinions on this, Chris. I think that at some stages, it's an excellent proxy for carbon. And at some stages, it's gone beyond. It's not really a great proxy anymore. So it depends is the answer. So I'm going to, I'm going to pull in one of our new projects at the Green Software Foundation that I'm the lead on, which is the Green Software Maturity Matrix, which is about the fact that there are kind of, we're all at a different stage.

Most of us are at stage one. We haven't really started down the road of becoming green in our, in our systems. And at that stage, cost is actually a pretty good proxy. If you can halve the number of machines you have, or you can turn off stuff that you're not using, that's a really good way of cutting carbon. But as you get towards the end, you become quite sophisticated and you're doing really clever stuff with tuning and demand shifting and demand shaping. It's not quite such a good, a good measure anymore, but you know, just use your, we all went into tech because it's clever and it's interesting and it's complicated and it's... just use your brain.

Just everything that you save money on is not, is clearly not going to save you carbon and everywhere that saves carbon is not always going to save you money. But as a rule of thumb, if you're turning machines off, that's good.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right. So basically, if you have fewer machines, you have fewer emissions. That's the kind of broad strokes approach that you seem to be out talking about. Now, Asim, I see that you've added a note here that you've seen examples of resizing, reducing emissions, but increasing costs. So maybe you could talk a little bit about that.

And then I'll maybe come in with some takes at my end as well.

Asim Hussain: I've got, yeah, I've got some other hot takes on that as well, actually, but yeah, I have seen, I have not seen many. I have not seen many. So I think I just wanted to point out that, but I don't think that's necessarily, and the absence of information, or what is that statement?

Anne Currie: The absence of information, evidence of absence is not, 

Chris Adams: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, right? Yeah, yeah.

Asim Hussain: There's a certain absence in our podcast here right now. The, but that effectively, like I have seen some examples of people like when, and where they've tried to do some sort of downsizing and they've happened to have just enough measurement infrastructure in place, which is usually the problem, to actually like determine, Oh, actually, Oh, wow.

That actually increased the cost. Cause you know, sometimes you can right size, but the machine you move to actually costs more and overall just ends on a bit more money, but the actual emissions is less. So it's rare, but I think that's more a statement of we're just not measuring this. But I think more importantly, I think cost has two problems as a proxy for carbon emissions. Number one, and the same, this is the same problem you have with carbon emissions, it's the same issue. A, it's a lagging indicator. Like if you're developing a piece of software, you only know the cost of it after you've rolled it out and you've done it and you've moved on for a month onto the next project, and then somebody goes, "by the way, that's like slightly more expensive than we were expecting."

Like, "Oh, I suppose, but do you want me to stop working on this other project now?" And I'm like, "no, no, no, you carry on that project." It's a lagging indicator. It's like after everything's happened. And I suppose that also means it also has all the other problems that you have with using carbon as a proxy for driving action to reduce carbon emissions, like If you like the, the issue with looking at cost is like someone saying, "well, I'm spending like 3 million on this database and 4 million on this other thing." And you're like, "well, I don't know. I'm, I developed an application. What is my costs?" And so like you have this problem of really it's the problem is more how do you actually get information to the people at the coalface so that they can make decisions to actually reduce the emissions directly? And I think that's the challenge with cost is that you can't, it has all the same problems as carbon in trying to get information to people to actually, so they can know what to do. Because you can tell a department what their cost is, you can tell a department what their carbon is, but can you tell developer X on team Y the impact of a choice they're going to make? Is, I think that's really where we want to get to.

Anne Currie: And I think we're saying exactly the same thing there in a slightly different form. You're saying that it's not a good measure when it comes to tuning what developers do, and I totally agree with that.

I'm saying that generally for where everybody is at the moment, a lot of the good tuning comes at, comes from ops teams rather than development teams. And for ops teams, cost is not so much of a leading indicator. It's actually quite close to what they're doing day to day. So it's a really good metric if your ops team are the one who are doing the tuning to reduce carbon. Not perfect. As you say, it's a terrible, you're better off with performance being a metric if you're doing the development. Yeah.

Asim Hussain: No, you're right. We're talking about different audiences. Yeah. So yeah, to the, to an ops team who are, whose job is to deal with the software after it's deployed, yeah. I suppose it's not a lagging indicator. It is their main indicator.

Anne Currie: But I think that we're in agreement that it's a great proxy for ops teams, but not a great proxy for dev teams.

But it's, but as you say, also, it's not even always a great proxy for ops teams, because often the best thing you can do in terms of operations is to move the whole, your whole shebang to somewhere with a greener grid, but that might well not save you any money.

Asim Hussain: True. 

Chris Adams: Google have some interesting stuff inside this and that. They've got some region pickers which do expose some of this. You can prioritize late cost and carbon. And like, if you cared about carbon, you might move things to Switzerland, for example, compared to running it in, say, other parts of Europe or, say, even America, for example.

So there's stuff like that, that I think you can actually do. But I think when I read through this piece, there was a couple of things that kind of outline on this, like, yes, this can be a bit more complicated, because this kind of assumes, like, if you have this cost as a proxy thing, in many cases, you might have like a commitment to maybe a 50 or an 80 percent discount on your cloud bill, if you've agreed to spend a bunch of cash now.

So now you've got totally different incentives to be doing what you're doing. And like, when we start talking about different instruments that people use to essentially affect the cost of cloud builds, it can be a bit harder to talk about. And there's also this other thing that, let's say you're looking at something like, we don't know which services have particularly high margins versus low margins, which ones lose money versus making money.

Broadly speaking, in 2024, you might assume that for the same amount of work, doing something with, say, a serverless platform like AWS Lambda might be more expensive for the same amount of requests as a dedicated box, for example. So, if you looked at that, that might assume that it's that much more carbon associated.

There's questions there, and like, as Anne mentioned, when you start looking at the edges, you can definitely find all these different edge cases which make it harder to really kind of use. But as a rubric, as a kind of starting point, it may be better than having nothing, basically. And it's not like technology is immune to us looking at easy to measure numbers and assuming that's automatically the truth.

Asim Hussain: Now that is definitely one of the things I would say. I kind of came hot on cost then for a second. But like, what I would say is that in the absence of anything else, which is by large the problem that we have right now, it is one of the best measures that we have. But like, I think we need to move the world forward to better measures eventually. But it is the best that we have right now. If you don't have anything else.

Chris Adams: If we had actual energy 

Asim Hussain: If you had actual, yeah, 

Chris Adams: right? So quickly, it's a commodity.

Anne Currie: It wouldn't. Because even if you've got energy, you know, I would say this, it's still very hard to do a like for like comparison. It's not like performance. Performance is a really good measurement for performance. You know, it's like seconds. How many seconds did it take to do that thing?

I mean, you can put it on different sized machines, different speeds. There are even issues there. But as we all know, you know, sometimes the grid is green and sometimes the grid is not green. So even carbon measurements, you could be running exactly the same thing. Everything can be under your control, but unless you're doing demand shifting and shaping or work shifting and shaping, as now seems to be the more common and correctly, then the name seems to be shifting from demand shifting and shaping to work shifting and shaping, which

is a much better word for it.

Chris Adams: New to me as well, actually. Okay.

Anne Currie: It was, cause I used to complain all the time because

demand is 

Asim Hussain: Did you start changing? Did you start changing the words, Anne? 

Anne Currie: I, it wasn't. I, in the book, it's all demand shifting and shaping. And I do say it's a really terrible description because the demand hasn't changed. As far as we're concerned, the demand comes from users and the users still have demand and we're attempting to meet the demand that they have. We're not intending to shift that. But the name, I think the words demand shifting and demand shaping came from the grid. 

And as far as the grid is concerned, we are the users, not the end users. So what they're talking about is our, as the tech industry, our demand is shifting and shaping, which it is. So there's some confusion about who's the end user in this scenario.

So I have seen some people start to use work shifting and I wish I'd known that they were going to because I've just written a book in which I didn't use those terms.

Chris Adams: Ah, well you heard it here first. Alright, what I'm going to do is I'm going to add a couple of show notes both to basically your book, Anne, and a couple of blog posts. I've written one post recently, a while ago, called Options to make software greener without changing the code and how to remember them, which essentially I'm taking some of the papers I saw at Hot Carbon and trying to translate them into kind of layperson's terms.

So that might be a bit easier, because I think that I agree with you. Demand shaping and demand shifting. These are ideas that have come from the electricity sector that aren't as intuitive to developers, actually. And maybe, I think we've probably got enough there because we've got a few more stories to run through.

Are you comfortable if we move to the next one, folks?

Asim Hussain: I am yeah.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right, so this one is introducing the tech carbon standard. So if you go to www.techcarbonstandard.org, this is a website for, not a standard per se, but a proposed standard from an organization called Scott Logic who are based in the north of England.

This was actually revealed at the state of open conference in February, and the TLDR is the Tech Carbon standard is developed as an approach to classifying an organization as technology estate to enable consistent analysis and benchmarking of its technology carbon footprint. The standard takes inspiration from the globally recognized GHG protocol and its emissions classification in scopes 1, 2, and 3.

And although you can't see this in the audio format, we've shared a link to it. It's basically a diagram, more or less highlighting where you might think emissions take place. Both in the view of the GHG protocol, which is like pretty much the de facto standard for reporting carbon, but also mapped to the kind of bits of software that you might have.

So there's a notion of upstream emissions, where you might be kind of purchasing cloud software, for example, there's operational emissions, which might be talking about you running servers on premise, or something like that. And there's downstream emission, things like end user, and like network transfer, and stuff like that.

So, this is, this is something that is kind of new, and I, I found quite interesting, because Asim, I know that there are very deliberate decisions behind the SCI, the Software Carbon Intensity spec, which has been put forward by the GSF to not try to tack too closely to the, to the GHG protocol.

And it might be worth just to see what you folks think of this, because I think this is quite interesting. And the idea of it being entirely open for other people to use and riff off, I think is quite helpful actually. So maybe I'll hand to, I'll hand to Asim first and then to Anne actually, because Asim has some very, he's got some things he definitely wants to say about scoped emissions. 

Asim Hussain: I'm coming in hot. 

Chris Adams: Yeah.

Asim Hussain: No, I'm not coming in that hot. No, I think it's, I think it's good. I think, look, the GHG protocol was built from the perspective of an, an organization that does manufacturing that, that is what it has been based on. That's why if you're a manufacturing organization, it makes complete sense. Your scope one, your scope two, and your scope one is, I don't know, should we summarize it for people? That the scope one is kind of, if you've got. If you've got an oil drum in the back garden and you're just burning oil. And I don't know many manufacturers that do that, but that would be your scope one emissions. Scope two is the emissions from the electricity that you purchased. And scope three is from all the things that you bought to build the thing, the physical thing that you sell. So it makes a lot of sense from that perspective, but for our world, it's really problematic and especially scope two. Like if you say the word scope two, it's almost meaningless in our world.

Because if you, if I say scope two as a proxy for electricity, well, it's not because if you've got an on premise data center and if you're running your software partly on your own servers and partly on the cloud servers, and you said scope 2, your energy usage, your scope, this is, I can't even explain it, it's so complicated, like your scope 2 is the energy, but only your application can choose, but only on the hardware that you own. The energy that your application uses on the cloud providers falls under Scope 3, Category 11. And so, like, it's really hard to kind of figure out, well, what is the energy? It's like, you have to kind of have this thing. And really, when you say those words, it's so contextual, when you say scope two, it's not what it is to you. It's what it is to the audience that's sitting there and it means different things to different people. So what I do like about this is the attempt that they've got to kind of really look at them and you know, they've got upstream emissions, operational emissions, downstream emissions. When you say operational emissions, it will mean the same thing to everybody you're speaking to, and it's not context specific. So I think it's good from that perspective. It clarifies some of the stuff. So I think there's some good stuff here. I do. Yeah. I think it's some good thinking. I think my advice is to get into detail, when you click on servers and storage, the only description is the energy consumed by on premise servers and data centers. And I suppose we all know there's a lot of, there's a lot of meat behind that one that you've got to, you've got to flesh out. But yeah, I think my rant on scopes is over. So I'll pass it on to other people.

Chris Adams: Thank you for sharing that particular point of view, Asim. Anne, I suspect you might have something to share as well here. So yeah, what did you think when you saw this?

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

So for most of us at the moment, we're not doing anything at all. Just, you know, you really don't need that much data. You know, your scope one, scope two, scope three are not immediately critical to most people who just need to turn off the machines they're not using anymore, right. Do a bit of right sizing.

Have a think about what they're up to. Start to think about, are they in green regions? What are the future? What platforms are they choosing? Are they likely to be aligned with the green future? To start with, where most of us are at the moment, you don't need a great deal of data to really make a huge difference.

So it's absolutely fantastic that they're doing this work. And that we're doing this work. Everybody's doing this work. We don't want to lose sight of the fact that for almost everybody at the moment, we don't even need data. We just need to start to, to use best operational practices.

Chris Adams: All right, so you don't need, you don't need to wait until you have data. You're, or don't, sorry, don't need to have all the data, is what you're saying, because I don't think you're saying you don't need to have data to work on this. It's more like you're not, okay, all right, I think I know more or less where you're going with this.

Okay, one thing that I'll share with this that I thought was quite interesting was, this is the first time I've seen someone really outline scope one, actually, like burning fuel for generators and things like that, because this can add up, and there's also steps that you can take to basically, reduce the environmental impact of running generators themselves, actually.

So, you know how most of this stuff runs on diesel, basically, right? So, diesel is what you'll be burning in a data center, most of the time, if you're not running on electricity. And, this will be tested quite a few times a year, for example. There's a thing called, I think, Hydrogen Treated... oh God, what is it again?

There's a specific treatment for diesel, which basically is a way to remove all the kind of bits of dead, long dead animals and plants from it, which essentially make it less harmful for people nearby to be breathing it. And that can actually come from biological sources like, or biogenic, as in things which are non-fossil, for example, there are non fossil sources of HVO diesel that you can have, which is one way that you can reduce some of the footprints on this. And although it's only a few hours in a given year, maybe 100 hours in the 9 000 hours that you do have, that's very dirty stuff and it has a very kind of localized impact on people.

So it's kind of nice to actually see that called out for the first time. So I found this quite helpful and it was when I first came across it and I'm glad to see it open for a bit of work on. Alright, shall we move to the next story, or Asim, you've got something you want to share? 

Asim Hussain: Just a hot take.

Isn't it funny that like these buildings, which contain some of the most advanced technology that human beings have ever created in the history of our existence, maybe, that are completely chock full, that are huge, just in case they go down, we burn dead animals to, to power them.

Like we, if, if we can do that with the technology inside the buildings, we can do something with the technology that powers them.

Chris Adams: I think, okay, alright, inspiring. 

Asim Hussain: heard any of that. I don't 

Chris Adams: we've got one more story, and then we'll wrap up a bit. So, we're going to link to the IEA's recent report. So the IEA is the International Energy Agency, and they made some headlines earlier on this year with their link to the electricity report.

Basically, they talk about what's happening over the next 10 years with electricity. And one of the headlines was they were saying that electricity consumption from data centers in terms of like AI and the cryptocurrency sector could double by 2026. So I'll just use the quote that I pulled from it, which was "electricity consumption from data centers, artificial intelligence, and the cryptocurrency sector could double by 2026.

Data centers are significant drivers of growth in electricity demand in many regions. After globally consuming an estimated 460 terawatt hours, in 2022, datacenters total electricity consumption could reach more than a thousand terawatt hours in 2026." So that's a doubling in essentially, what, two years?

This is particularly interesting because this is way higher than their previous figures that they used to have which were around 200. So Something's changed with these numbers for them to be that much higher. And I figured I'd open the floor to either of you about this because this has got a lot of pushback from the data center industry.

But there's also people who work in the energy sector saying maybe there's something to it. So Asim, maybe I'll ask you what's your view on this one?

Asim Hussain: Well $7 trillion worth of chips cost a lot of energy to power. So, you know, like I think AI is a lot bigger than we think. And I'm not saying that in a way that is in any way negative. I think it's just, we have to accept this is the future that we're living in. This is the current present that we're living in. I strongly suspect that some of these numbers are taking that into account. The growth in AI has been significant. We all know on this call that the previous dirty secret of data centers where most of those servers were idle. In a future of AI, those chips are not going to be idle. They're going to be running at a hundred percent.

So like, I think we've spoken on this call previously about, you know, various previous reports that talked about, you know, given the current trajectory by 2040, the tech sector will be like 14 percent of global emissions. I wonder if anybody's doing any analysis to revisit, well, now, given what we now know about the complete, AI will take over everything. It is taking over everything right now. How does that look now? Where will we be in 2040 with the current growth in AI? Will tech be half of all emissions? And will we just be sitting there, you know, being carried around by robots and being fed by little tubes like that robot show? But I think, I strongly suspect that they factor that in. And, and I wonder if it's an underestimate.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right. So that's what you got from executive director of the GSF, but that's not his official opinion. Yeah, yeah. Anne, what about you? Where are you on this one here?

Anne Currie: Well, I think Asim's right that, and those numbers are probably right, that AI is eating the world, and it's incredibly requiring of energy, but I'm also going to come back to something that Asim and I have both said previously, all three of us have all said previously, which is "Does it matter?" Because AI is a really good example of a workload that works well with the fact that some places are much, have much more potential to generate green power than others. It's a latency insensitive workload that could be running in Greenland, not that Greenland has a massive data center industry at the moment, but it could do. It could be running further away. But, but also I think it feeds into something that I was reading that almost comes full circle with the discussion we were having earlier about data centers and how they're used and whether or not they're used well.

I mean, the ideal at the moment is we'd start building data centers as places where there was water for cooling and green energy for powering the data centers. And then you have to worry about the embodied carbon, but you don't have to worry about the, you know, if AI uses huge quantities of energy, but it's all green, then it doesn't matter.

And it's not, and that energy isn't necessarily being used for other things because nobody wants it to heat their home in wherever it is, the middle of nowhere, where we've put our data centers. But we need to have a think about data centers more generally. Something that comes up quite a lot is water use in data centers.

So at the moment we can't necessarily put data centers that could run on solar in places where it could run on solar because there's a lack of water, but there was an interesting, I read a very interesting article about that and I shall, I'll send you the link to that about PUE driving companies to overwhelmingly cool data centers with water, because that doesn't count against the PUE score. But in fact, if you're in a place where there's tons and tons of electricity, green electricity, you could be cooling your data centers by using aircon and that would be not a hit on, on water, but it would make your score, your incredibly important PUE score,

because we're focused entirely on a metric, which is not a great metric, is forcing up water use. So, yeah, it takes us full back to the full circle of metrics are useful, but do not overly lean on them, or it can be worse than if you had never had them to start with.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right. Thank you for that, Anne. This actually makes me think of a recent interview between Jigar Shah, who is the head of the US loan program office, and David Roberts, who runs the podcast Volts. It's a really, really interesting one. It's particularly talking about nuclear in the specific, but I'm going to share a link to it in the show notes because it gives, it basically has the person who's the head of the loan program office saying "we have data centers speaking to us. They're expecting this kind of load. And the figures there are extremely high." And they're actually not that far away from the numbers I see here, which was surprising for me. Because the IEA, A had much lower figures before. But there's also another document that we can link to, which has numbers which might not be exactly the same as these figures here, basically.

We'll add a few more, because this discussion about how much power is actually being consumed and how much is going to this is very much a relevant one, especially when you think about, okay, if we've got this much energy, are we going to use it to meet demands of AI or are we going to use it to decarbonize the rest of the world?

Because there is a finite amount of green energy that you can actually deploy in a given amount of time and space. And this is something that we tend not to talk about right now. And maybe this is something that we need to touch on a little bit later. And this might be a nice segue to the next story, which we'll just kind of wrap up with.

One of our last ones. This is a piece of datacenter research from the European Commission, basically. Actually, we mentioned a gentleman called George Kamiya. George Kamiya was leading this research with another gentleman called Paulo Bertoldi. This is essentially energy consumption in data centers and broadband comms networks in the EU.

And the thing that's interesting here is this is country by country information for both data centers and for networks. And it's worth a read if you want to have some numbers to talk about this. And there's a really interesting chart that we'll also add to the show notes. Anne, I'll hand over to you first because you have some things you want to share about this and then Asim, I'll hand over to you if that's okay.

Anne Currie: It's a really fascinating report with a lot of interesting data in it that we haven't seen previously. So I thought that the main takeaway from the report for me was that generally speaking, most countries in the world, that the percentage of energy use by data centers and by telecoms is fairly consistent.

It's kind of like data centers are around one and a half, two percent of electricity use within the country. The only time where that really isn't true is in places where there are lots of data. They are the data center for the world. There are a dis disproportionate number of data centers in that country like Ireland, for example, Denmark, the Netherlands, and it, it'll be interesting to see whether or not those are the places where all the data centers are in future, because I would like to see the data centers in places where there is an awful lot of green Power that is not used, Chris, as you were just saying, in any particular location, you don't want all the green power being sucked up by AI, you want it to go into other things as well, but in places where we could build data centers and there isn't a great deal of other use for the green power, and it isn't competing on a local grid, I hate the whole thing of use your data center heat to heat municipal pools, because that's immediately saying your data center is somewhere where it is competing with folk, with people, for their energy requirements. Data centers should be in the middle of nowhere, which is terrible for people who work in data centers, so I'm sorry. But, that's what the robots should be doing, running data centers.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right. Asim, I'll hand over to you before we wrap up and then come to the last story. Go for it, mate. 

Asim Hussain: Well, I don't, as we were speaking, I just realized that I, what, why? What is it about? I know, I've known for a long time that Ireland has, I've known this statistic for a long time, but I don't know why. What is it about Ireland? Is it a tax haven type? 

Anne Currie: It's a tax dodge, I think. 

Chris Adams: So you're talking about context. So for context, you cannot see the chart, but we're looking at a chart with country by country figures, which shows the energy used in terawatt hours by data centers, the energy used by the telecom sector, and then the share of national energy use. And for most countries, it's between 3 and 5 percent or maybe 1. 5 percent and 4 percent in most cases, except in Ireland where it's hovering around 19 percent or 20%. So you got close to 20 percent of all the power used in Ireland to run data centers, which are predominantly a set of hyperscale data centers. And if you read through the report, you'll see that figure was around 10 percent in 2019.

So in the last few years, you've seen a doubling in usage here. And the other kind of outliers you might compare to are Denmark, which is around 5 percent of total energy usage and the Netherlands, which is a little bit over 5%, but in particular it is very exceptional in that it's multiples larger than everyone else right now.

That's from what we can see so far, one of the largest sources of Load Growth inside the sector, inside there. And there's also, what we'll do is share a link to a actual consultation from the CIO, the Irish Grid Operators, where there's some really eye opening responses from both academics and from data center operators, basically saying "we should be doing this, and we shouldn't be doing this," and some of the charts are pretty eye opening. Yeah, that's, you're right, as Anne mentioned, Anne, you spoke about was Ireland has been considered one of the places with very low tax, and as a result, large corporates love it, basically.

Asim Hussain: Is that what it is? If it's a low tax? I mean, cause then. The solution is to reduce the tax in areas where it has greener energy or something like that? I think there's 

Chris Adams: Do you think that's the case? 

Asim Hussain: Well I don't know and if it is, I mean we have to look at this whole situation

Chris Adams: They're just the prescription of reducing tax in the one place that has very, very low tax compared to maybe increasing the tax there so that you have a bunch of companies that need to choose based on carbon. I think that there's different prescriptions you might use to solve this particular problem if you see that as one of the problems that we have here.

Asim Hussain: Well no, I think it's just acknowledging the fact that if that's the situation and it was being driven by a low tax. You're right, maybe tax is the solution if tax is the problem.

Chris Adams: If you look at Luxembourg, Luxembourg is the other place with extremely high percentage of data center usage, which is actively courting data centers, which doesn't have particularly clean energy. And that's also one of the high ones. And it's also known for not being the place with the highest tax in the world.

So there's this idea that essentially low tax increases the amount of data centers you're going to have in a particular place, especially if they're large hyperscalers. But that's not necessarily means that you're going to have green energy there all the time. All right, Anne, over to you.

Anne Currie: I was just going to say, in the long run, hopefully, the solution to high prices is high prices. The solution will be that green is much cheaper. So, hopefully, the actual cost of electricity going down will overtake the tax breaks and things that are currently distorting the market. We really want data centers to be in places where the electricity is cheap. That is the, green will be cheap. So...

Chris Adams: Okay, thanks, Anne. All right, then. Okay, last story, because we're just running a little bit over on time. The last thing we're going to link to was actually this carbon hack thing. Asim, given this is like taking over your life, I figured it might make sense to give a bit of space for you to talk about what on earth you're doing and why people might go to it.

So, why do people care about carbon hack and why are you working on this thing? Because that might, yeah, justify your existence, Asim. That's maybe the way to think about it.

Asim Hussain: Just to save me. So this year we're running CarbonHack. It's running in about three weeks actually now. And the thing that I'm really excited about it is that the main topic of running is a framework that we've been building here called Impact Framework. Which is many things, but it's a tool to help you measure and really be very transparent regarding your software emissions.

A lot of the stuff we've spoken about today is this question of, is something a good proxy, is it a good measure? What is it? Oh, and what impact framework is, it allows you to, through a set of plugins, build a bespoke calculator, which can take observations that you can make about your software system and turn them into impacts like water, energy, carbon, things like that. But the most important thing about it, and it's something I don't really talk about enough, but it is that everything is stored in this thing called a manifest file. Everything. So the future I want to see is a future where somebody's not telling me what the carbon emissions are, because what is carbon? It's somebody giving me their manifest file, and it has all the coefficients, all the models, all the inputs, every assumption they've made in that calculation is that manifest file. And if I don't like it I'll change it. I'll adjust it. I don't like your model? I'll change your model. I don't like your coefficient?

I'll change your coefficient. And I can rerun it and I can judge what your emissions are. That's the real power of it and that's what we're doing with CarbonHack. We've got a bunch of prizes. One of the things we really need for Impact Framework to grow is a lot of plugins. Everything I just described is aspirational.

We need plugins to help compute web, to compute AI, to compute all these other, all these other things, to compute water. And that's a large part of the hackathon this year, is to encourage people to build plugins for Impact Framework. So I encourage you to go to hack.greensoftware.foundation and you can find out more information on it.

And I'm also giving, if you go to that website shortly, I'm also giving a lot of training and workshops on Impact Framework over the next couple of weeks. So if you want to learn more about it, just learn how it works, there will be lots of training sessions coming your way shortly.

Chris Adams: Okay. All right. Thanks for that. So, hack.greensoftware.Foundation is what people look at if they want to take part of this distributed, online, weeks long hackathon that doesn't involve you having to be awake for three weeks. You can do it in your own time, right?

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Okay, cool. Alright then. I think that'll take us up to the end that we have, actually.

So, Asim, Anne, it's been lovely chatting to you again. I missed you, actually, so thank you for coming on for this. Like I mentioned before, all the show notes and all the links will be on software.greensoftware.Foundation. So if you go there, that's what you can find. And there'll also be a link to the transcript of this podcast, plus the links in markdown format.

So if there's a thing you see that's incorrect, or if there's a thing that you think we missed out, we do accept pull requests and you'd be contributing to the greater knowledge or the greater good for people to explore green software themselves. Thanks again, and yeah, let's do this again sometime soon.

Asim Hussain: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. Great to see you again, Anne.

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 greensoftware.foundation. That's greensoftware.foundation in any browser. Thanks again and see you in the next episode.