Climate 21

How do we reduce IT's carbon footprint? A chat with Sandra Pallier and Hannah Smith of Climate Action Tech

April 07, 2021 Tom Raftery / Sandra Pallier / Hannah Smith Season 1 Episode 19
Climate 21
How do we reduce IT's carbon footprint? A chat with Sandra Pallier and Hannah Smith of Climate Action Tech
Show Notes Transcript

Technology has a large and growing carbon footprint. Everything from when you open Google on your phone, to browsing your Instagram feed, to sending an email has climate emissions implications (by the way, speaking of Google, next week's episode features a senior Google exec sharing what they're doing to reduce their emissions!).

How can we address that issue? That is the challenge being taken up by Climate Action Tech (CAT for short). Climate Action Tech is a grassroots organisation crowdsourcing best ways to reduce emissions in tech, and actively sharing that information.

To learn more about this I invited Sandra Pallier (@TweetsofSandra on Twitter) and Hannah Smith (@HanOpcan on Twitter) to come on the podcast to talk all about it.

We had a fascinating conversation, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope you enjoy it too.

If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to leave me a voice message over on my SpeakPipe page, head on over to the Climate 21 Podcast Forum, or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Sustainability solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/sustainability and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!

Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Sandra Pallier:

Take responsibility. That's that's the main thing of that. Just thinking about our roles in the climate crisis and where we can have an impact. And the impact we can have at work is phenomenal. And if we can make the internet not only a beautiful place, but also a very energy efficient place that thinks about the future of the planet and the people, then then all the better.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the climate 21 podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices and climate emissions reductions. And I'm your host, global Vice President for SAP. Tom Raftery. Climate 21 is the name of an initiative by SAP to allow our customers calculate, report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In this climate 21 podcast, I would showcase best practices and thought leadership by SAP, by our customers, by our partners and by our competitors if their game in climate emissions reductions. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery with SAP and with me on the show today I have my two guests, Hannah and Sandra, Hannah. And Sandra, would you like to introduce yourself with maybe how am I going first?

Hannah Smith:

Brilliant. Well, hi, everyone. My name is Hannah Smith. I live in Bristol in the southwest of England. My day job is I'm a freelance WordPress developer, and a volunteer with cat. And I'm sure will tell you all about what cat is shortly. Sandra ICT.

Sandra Pallier:

Yeah, I'm Sandra Pallier. I am using the pronouns she her. And I'm currently working as an interaction designer at Microsoft, but much more importantly, and one of the organizers at Climate Action Tech, which is often abbreviated to cat, which is a slack community of about 4000, just under 4000 members of tech workers. And yeah, happy to be on the podcast.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so now that we know posh cat is short for climate action tech, do you want to tell us a little bit about what climate action tech is about? And who wants to take that first?

Hannah Smith:

Oh, that's definitely a Sandra question. Yeah.

Sandra Pallier:

And yeah, so cat is all about changing how we work in the tech industry to be more aligned with the fact that we are in a climate crisis. So we're here to provide guidance and support for our members so that they can learn together, for example, how to make green team in their company and how to change those systems from within, in order to have a positive impact on our future.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and why is that important?

Sandra Pallier:

It's important because we either climate emergency Tech has a big role to play because there's this one stat of if the internet were our country, it's it would be the seventh largest polluter in the world. And that just shows that the tech industry has emissions that are part of it. And that's even though that's something we don't usually see if visually with our eyes, when we use tech, or interact with tech interfaces, it is something that we need to think about and that we need to make changes about because at the moment, we are pretty wasteful and polluting as an industry.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, okay. Makes a lot of sense, obviously. But do we? Do we know? Obviously we do. I don't? Do we know, what are the most polluting aspects of tech when it comes to the carbon footprint?

Sandra Pallier:

Well, if it comes to devices, for example, the entire lifetime that you use the device, the actual interfaces, and apps and stuff that you use on it actually less polluting than the manufacturing of it all. So there are huge costs in in the manufacturing of, of tech devices. But like, everything that has to do with the Internet has a carbon footprint as well, because the energy we use isn't currently produced on 100% renewable energy. So we need to be thoughtful about how much data we store where we store it when we're deleted, because we shouldn't be deleting more stuff, actually. And, and yeah, how we how we build our websites and apps and services to be more energy efficient as well so that we don't need to use that much energy from the beginning. So those are those are some of the places where we can make a difference.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and climate action tech had a green the web campaign that was run primarily on Twitter recently. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, Hannah? Maybe this time?

Hannah Smith:

Yeah. So I mean, I was leading on on that project, and very much the cylinder was talking about the tech industry is really wasteful. And we just don't see it. on a day to day basis, you turn your car on, oh, there's fumes coming out of the back, you can smell it, you've got to put your fuel in you much more sort of involved in that process. But within tech, I mean, electricity is just magic, right? It just appears. And there's no fumes coming out the back of your machine. Sometimes there's a lot of noise coming from my fans, but I definitely don't associate that with pollution. So something that I'm very passionate about. And one of the reasons why I joined cat and like working with cat is that I really wanted to help others be aware of this issue. And make it more of a talking point, because it's it's not. So I'm a WordPress web developer. WordPress is a massive community. And there are just a handful of us that talk about this topic, and raise awareness around this topic. So let's go in the web was a campaign aimed at getting more conversation around this stuff and raising awareness and simply saying, Hey, did you even know that your website has a carbon emission? Are you even aware of that, and the vast majority of people are like, not really. So that obviously the campaign was really aimed at generating awareness and conversation, and really starting to bring some of these awesome tools that are being made by loads of people in cash, and just bringing them into people's awareness and saying, Hey, you know, if you're at the beginning of your journey here, here's a load of amazing stuff that you can dig into make use of

Tom Raftery:

superbe. And it's one thing to raise awareness with people that their website, for example, has a carbon footprint, but there also has to be the kind of flipside, okay, now I'm aware of it, what can I do about it? So what can I do about it?

Hannah Smith:

Well, so it depends who you are in that question, because there's obviously different things that different disciplines can do. So if you're a designer, there's going to be a whole set of considerations that you can can make. If you're a developer like me, there'll be considerations around technically how you're implementing said website. And if you're a content creator, there's going to be different things to think about too. But broadly, to sort of be a bit more specific with the answer, there's kind of four key areas to think about. The first area is where's your hosting? Or who who is your hosting. And as Sandra mentioned, you know, thinking about what energy that hosting is, is using. So we are very much in favor of encouraging people to switch from hosting providers that are running on, OK, dirty energy for want of a better term and encouraging. And instead, you're looking for hosting companies that run on renewables. So there are a number of companies out there that provide rock solid hosting solutions, but they run on green energy, renewable energy. So that's one lens or one sort of facets, and the cap. Center also mentioned deleting stuff. Oh, my goodness, yes. We could really like just delete stuff. There's a chap called Gerry McGovern, I don't know. Maybe you've heard of him, Tom. And other people have to tundra. And so Jerry has written an awesome book called Digital waste. It's all about how, hang on sorry, worldwide waste. There we go. Sorry, had a little brain brain Blip. That's got the name of the book. Yeah, it's on my bookshelf over there handy. And Jerry talks loads about waste that we have within the Digital industry. And there is like some amazing facts like that, Kate, that I discovered through Jerry's books, saying things like 90% of data is never even looked at, or analyzed, but it's collected. And all that data has an impact associated with it. It's got to be stored on infrastructure somewhere. And as Sandra said, you know, our devices and the infrastructure has a huge amount of embodied carbon in it. So can we just like delete 90% of the internet, please. And, or, you know, I'm being a little bit flippant, but Sure. Coming back to your question, there is a point here about something that people can really do to reduce their impact is take a long, hard look at what they're storing. Do they really need all that content on the website and pass stuff down, you don't need to be a developer to do that, that that's a tough that anybody can do. So that's two of the four Sorry, I'll just let you let you let the conversation flow again. So the third point is around looking at your media. So images and video, generally make up the largest proportion of your file of your page weights. Page weight is a sort of more technical term. So let me say page weight, we basically mean, how many bytes of data needs to be sent across the wire for you to load your page. And so

Tom Raftery:

Luckily podcasts are weightless.

Hannah Smith:

They just float around in the cloud. Wonderful. But as you know, every byte of data that we send has an energy requirement, and that energy has a carbon emission impact, or a carbon emissions associated with it. So looking at your media, images and video, and thinking, How can I optimize my images? Can I make use of better formats of images? So can I use JPEGs? And some PNGs? Can I even push it further and use some of the more modern image formats like web p, or I think JPEG 2000 dose of the eye is lots of funky names. And there's lots of new formats to look at. And then also, of course, look at your video requirements to say, do you really need that auto playing video on your website, because every time someone knows your website that's like, bytes and bytes in bytes of data being loaded. So that's the third thing, excuse me to look at is your images and media. And then the last thing, if you're a techie, like me, is looking at caching. So actually, this is how your server is set up. And how I won't go into caching now unless you want me to, because I feel like I've talked quite a while. But caching is a way of, of basically making your server more efficient. So it's doing less work to serve every request, and actually can have some amazing impacts through tweaking your caching, or setting it up correctly in the first place, as well. So there's those four areas to look at Green hosting, delete, delete, delete, media, and caching.

Tom Raftery:

Is there some kind of resource available? Or are there some kind of resources available for people that they can, you know, see best practices around this kind of thing? Because, as you said, At the start, it depends on who the person is, whether they're a designer, or a developer, or content creator, whatever, everyone comes at it from their own lens. So what, where can people go to find out what best to do or what actions they can take personally,

Sandra Pallier:

that's one of the great things about cat is the fact that we actually have members in all of those different disciplines and in different levels in those disciplines as well. So we have people who run their own companies and people who are basically at the junior entry level, or just out of university or still in university. And we have an internal knowledge base that we use to kind of store information from our community. But we also have action guides on the website, and let's bring the work was a great campaign to kind of force us to put those up on the website. Finally, because we had a lot of knowledge in our, in our community for a long time, but didn't really publish it out properly, right. So we're working on getting more of that content up in the next few months. And until then, if you join the community, you have access to a lot of brains that you can pick, and all of the resources that we've gathered internally as well.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and so when you say join the community that's join the climate tech community, you have, what is it like for our discussions on a Slack channel or something like that?

Sandra Pallier:

Yeah, so it's a slack community. And we have different channels for those different in disciplines as well for example, so we have a greener design channel, a greener data and AI channel, greener infrastructure, greener web, Perth, greener leadership, all of those channels are there for us like communities of practice so we can learn together from each other and and then also share that knowledge with the world.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, I was just thinking about this this morning, because for example, I like like probably many of us I use, you know, a bunch of different browsers on my machine. And I typically have, you know, three browsers open and multiple tabs per browser, which is obviously terrible. And I shouldn't be doing that. But I want to think that the machine is caching the content of those locally, and that not drawing them down each time. But, for example, edge is one of the browsers I use. And when I open edge and do a search, it opens being which opens with this beautiful image on it all the time. Whereas, you know, Google or Dr. Go open up with just a white page. So you know, while the while it's really nice, seeing the big one there with, you know, the beautiful image, which is, you know, which changes all the time, it's not the same image, you know, they're constantly updating, and they're always gorgeous images, but it certainly occurs to me, course, that's putting down quite a high definition definition image. And that obviously has a bandwidth and associated energy cost associated with that. Now, I know, Microsoft are pretty good on the climate front, from their initiatives, and they're going carbon negative. But that's, you know, that's not to say that my energy provider, my energy provider, happens to be renewable energy, you know, but for anyone else who's using being their energy provider, and all the routers between them, and Microsoft, and so on, there's a long chain of things that has to happen to get that image to their machine. So yeah, and that was just the example that brought it to my mind. But there are loads of to your point, other websites as well, that, you know, are very image heavy. And yeah, how, apart from turning off images in your browser, how do you fix that?

Sandra Pallier:

I think there's a large change that we need to have in design education, around this. And in I mean, this is this is very much me speaking as a designer, because I've been learning so much about this for the past two ish years. And, and I just wasn't taught any of that, at school, or at university I was taught to PNGs really high res are perfect for the internet. That's what I was taught with no consideration to carbon footprint, or any of that. And the same goes for design designers, or in general tech workers in their workplaces right now. So that's why with cat, it's so important to us that tech workers push from within their companies in their projects and ask those questions of, can we make this green? Is there a way where we can not have a really big header image or an autoplay video and still make it look good? Like, what? What kinds of changes can we make to to make it more carbon efficient, basically,

Tom Raftery:

okay. And that's there's, there's kind of a, an inbuilt thought process, you have to imagine, in people that says, online is better, because it's not a physical thing. So it's, it's lower energy to do my shopping online than it is to get in the car and drive to the shop. So that's got to be better. I suspect that many people, you know, to your point Anna, initially, you know, because they're not turning a key and an engine and having the fumes come out of the exhaust. they suspect that, you know, there's no carbon footprint associated with doing stuff online.

Hannah Smith:

Well, it's definitely better to be doing stuff online than in the physical world. So I think, you know, I do a lot of speaking on this topic. And this is something that comes up a lot. You should not feel guilty for using the internet, the internet is to say, though, because, you know, there is a school of thought that if we want to solve climate change, we, I do not agree with this school of thought, by the way, that there is there is the school of thought that we should just get rid of technology and go back to a simpler existence, and, you know, being flippant to that, you know, become cave people again, which is just the biggest pile of nonsense to think of ever heard. And I can't get on board with that at all. Technology is amazing. Technology empowers so much stuff that really can't happen in any other way. I mean,

Tom Raftery:

And it dematerializes stuff, which decarbonizes stuff.

Hannah Smith:

Exactly, yeah, you know, large extent, yes, it can do that. So, I mean, if you were running an online consultation process versus a consultation process on paper, the amount of paper and the amount of energy from people and machines to make that happen is far far, far, far greater than running the same exercise online. So I think it's important for us to talk about because it can be misunderstood when we talk about this topic that people think we're trying to say get rid of technology. Do I have to be ridiculous? I'm a developer, what would I do? Crazy Crazy. Um, I've lost my train of thought I've gone on a rant tonight. Sorry,

Sandra Pallier:

I think basically, because I think what you were, what you were getting to is that the entire point of this is to not put the burden on the user, and instead put the put the burden on the tech workers basically, and, and take responsibility. That's, that's the main thing of just thinking about our roles in the climate crisis. And where we can have an impact. And the impact we can have at work is phenomenal. And if we can make the internet not only a beautiful place, but also a very energy efficient place that thinks about the future of the planet and the people, then then all the better.

Tom Raftery:

Right? Yeah, very good. I mean, I suspect one way to say it is the internet is good, because it does dematerialize stuff and does reduce the amount of carbon. But it could be better.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah. It's hugely, hugely wasteful at the moment. And I think if that waste is clearer to people, if there was some way of visually representing that waste, I think people would want a generally when you give them stats and statistics about it are very, very shocked, and have absolutely no idea of what's going on. And I think that's something within the tech community, we've got to address and help people understand that. To me, it's very much an education piece, I think,

Tom Raftery:

right? And it's not like you can, you know, have a carbon label on websites, the way you have labels on food, because I know. But what I was, what I was getting to is, you, okay, maybe you can, but that doesn't account for the traffic from the website to your computer, which also has an impact,

Hannah Smith:

So there are a number of tools that allow you to essentially put badges on the footer of your website. So we have one on the climate action dot tech website, just scroll to the bottom of our footer, you'll see this badge. And this badge is provided by the website, carbon two, oh, it's called a website carbon calculator run by whole grain digital. And it is a Tom, as I know, you know, it is incredibly complicated trying to estimate the stuff, you're never going to get an accurate estimate, because there's so many crazy variables, how far your data is traveling, what device you're looking at it on how well it's encoded, how many different routers and switches, it's got to go through to get to is it sent wirelessly, or by wire? It's not completely. But there are people out there making some sensible assumptions about this stuff, and providing some figures that we can use to measure stuff. And as I say, the website carbon calculator is a really good example of that. It's not perfect doesn't take into account for example, caching, which I mentioned was one of the four things that you really need to look at. But it's better than nothing. That's for sure. And this is what I mean by the education piece. I mean, wouldn't it be cool? If instead of all these flippin cookie banners that we have everywhere? Can we just get to those, please? And have everybody have a pop up that says this is how much carbon your website is producing? I mean, that would be cool, wouldn't it?

Tom Raftery:

It would be great. In terms of websites, you got to suspect that the biggest source of carbon is the data centers that they're hosted in. So if those data centers are 100%, renewable, if they're using 100%, renewable energy, does that get rid of a large part of the problem?

Hannah Smith:

I think it only get sort of about 10% of the problem. So it's, again, these numbers are tricky, depends on sort of what kinds of computations the data centers are running. For example, if they were running Bitcoin stuff, then you know, we know that that's hugely energy intensive, but let's just keep it about websites. websites and web applications generally, I believe are the data centers account for about 10% of the overall carbon emission from there, so it's a significant amount, but it's not really the highest, highest proportion of energies, but definitely, definitely important to look out.

Tom Raftery:

And so the other 90% comes from

Hannah Smith:

transferring the data so actually sending it across the wire. Right, especially as we have more wireless technologies now, so 3g, 4g, and oh my goodness, 5g, very power hungry, very, very greedy indeed. And then the device itself. So things like giant televisions, and giant screens are using lots more energy than they used to be. And also, we have things like JavaScript, where, you know, JavaScript actually gets your device to use a lot more energy, because it's processing on the device, right? Rather than, say something like PHP, which is processed on the server. So you've got all these devices, then kind of running that stuff. So it's, it's a combination of those things that are actually more similar. I understand from various academic research that that's, that's where the energy is being used, sending it and then actually bringing it up on your device. Well, yeah, it's changed a lot. So it used to be the data centers, but data centers have done amazing things to get more efficient.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Bottom line, isn't that Yeah, no, I co founded a data center back in 2006. So yeah, it's a topic I used to know a little bit about. But obviously, things have changed to your point since then. Very cool. Very cool. We're coming towards the end of the podcast. Now, folks, is there any question I've not asked that. You wish I had any topic? We've not touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Sandra Pallier:

I think one thing that I forgot to, to mention a little bit, and that would have been a nice question is who was actually behind the lead scoring the web campaign because it wasn't just Tana and it wasn't like, just myself behind the entire community, either. We have. Chat is a volunteer on community and the entire campaign was completely run by volunteers. The entire community is organized completely by volunteers. And I think, yeah, just a shout out to all of the volunteers who helped out in the lead screen, the web campaign and who also just help out within the community.

Tom Raftery:

Lovely. Thanks, Sandra. Hannah, have you anything to add?

Hannah Smith:

Um, nothing. I mean, I could talk about this topic all day. I think he's absolutely fascinating. I really do. But no, I don't think there's anything major to cover. At this point. I can't think of anything.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, super. If people want to know more about Hannah or Sandra, or climate tech, or any of the things we discussed on the podcast today, where would you have me direct them

Sandra Pallier:

for climate action tech, and the website is climate action dot tech. I spell that fairly straightforward. And yeah, to follow me, I can be found on twitter at tweets of Sandra. If you are a Twitter person, I only recently kind of dipped my feet into that so it's not like I'm super active there but

Tom Raftery:

okay, and Hannah.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah, so I'm Hannah Smith, as you probably are aware is quite a common name. There's at least three people in my local area with the same name so I tend to use up cam OPI ca n, and variations of that on social media on Twitter. I'm Hannah opcom. And actually on our as Sandra mentioned, on our website, we have a community page with all the volunteers and organizers there so you can pop onto that page and you'll find Sandra's and mines, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, so you can make friends with reached out say hi.

Tom Raftery:

Perfect, perfect. Ladies, that's been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast

Sandra Pallier:

today. Thank you so much for having us.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah, it's a pleasure. It's lovely to chat. Thank you.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about climate 21 Feel free to drop me an email to Tom Raftery at SAP comm or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you'd like to show please don't forget to subscribe to it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast it really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.