21 Jun 2024

Carbon vs Cost: Can you 'Retrofit Digital Services for Sustainability? Webinar Roundup by TransformUK

You can change the world with your code

Following the success of our ‘Carbon vs Cost: Can you ‘retrofit’ digital services for sustainability?’ webinar, we wanted to give a huge thanks to our experts for such an interesting discussion. Here’s our roundup of key points and links for further reading if you’re interested in the topics we covered.


The measurement bit

We kicked off the session with Navveen Balani outlining the SCI metric and the three core principles of creating energy efficient software, using less hardware and ensuring apps are carbon aware.


If you’re interested in delving more deeply into this, check out the resources below:
SCI Specification
SCI Guide


Anne Currie outlined the use case for SCI is more of a like-for-like metric, comparing a service against itself rather than comparing services to other services, which makes it better for benchmarking and showing improvement.

Claire Robinson warned against blindly using cost as a proxy metric for carbon when evaluating Cloud estate. Even though the agendas of reducing cost and sustainability are often perfectly aligned, doing so can definitely mask the environmental performance of cloud providers. If you want more on this topic, we recommend following Mark Butcher at Posetiv.

Gerry McGovern warns that single metrics are dangerous and advocates working towards a ‘total cost’ to the environment approach when measuring services, including the water used to cool data centres in certain regions and all materials used to create hardware. Follow Gerry, who is a prolific LinkedIn poster, podcaster and veritable hosepipe of facts in this space.

While researching Gerry, why not also check out his book, World Wide Waste and the Top Tasks methodology.


The Interventions bit

Anne kicked off with practical and sage advice, saying you don’t need to rewrite everything in Rust; start simply by getting rid of waste. Audit your existing estate – turn off unused machines, pointless processes and review overprovisioning, which can save up to 50% of hosting costs. This is best done when moving data centres but can also be done with a virtual move.

For more resources from Anne, check out:
Building Green Software book
Strategically Green Training courses
Maturity Matrix from the Green Software Foundation

Gerry’s recommended intervention is to focus on reducing waste (in his experience, up to 90% of data stored by organisations is waste!) and extending the life of devices. Considering 80% of carbon is embodied in the manufacturing process, it’s super important to increase lifecycle of hardware and ensure software compatibility.

Training a single AI model can have the same impact as five cars on the road, so Navveen recommended pruning and filtering out irrelevant data, particularly in the training of models to ensure downstream is more efficient. He referenced a number of the ongoing projects and communities at Green Software Foundation with some really practical information and resources to use:

Impact Engine Framework
Green Software Practitioner Course
Carbon aware SDK
Patterns project


The Culture bit

Anne and Navveen agreed we're moving in the right direction culturally - especially when even just five years ago, people were cautious to acknowledge climate change. However, there's still work to be done to educate people about technology’s impact on the environment. But, if we know anything about the tech industry, it's that we love to solve complex problems and this is the biggest one on the table right now.

Gerry cautioned the use of language in the tech industry – particularly ‘efficiency’, as it neatly conceals the concept of generating growth at all costs. He sagely advises a reconnection with the world, to get back to a state where humans work with nature instead of against it, respecting planetary boundaries.

Our panel agreed that awareness and education are still the first steps toward positive change, as a gap remains in peoples understanding around the impacts of technology on the environment and that ‘digital is physical’.

Once this lands in everyone's minds, there are lots of resources for people of all disciplines to understand what they can do to help, which moved us to the most uplifting and positive message of the session; that software developers can help save the world.

Claire rounded out the session by recommending that organisations adopt a Net Positive approach, enabling customers and employees to understand their broad impacts across social, economic and environmental factors, helping them make the right choices and connecting them to the good they’re collectively doing. This is the most motivating force for change - read more on this approach in Transform’s Net Positive paper.


  • Free

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