As technology continues to advance, electronics are getting smaller and wires are disappearing. Even electric poles, once a familiar sight on road trips, are being phased out. With the internet now ubiquitous, physical storage devices are disappearing too, and we rely more on cloud-based solutions that seem to happen over the air.
‘It’s no wonder we look up when we think of clouds ☁️, but should actually look down to the earth in the mines!’. - Nagarjun Kandukuru, Global Head of Emerging Services at ThoughtWorks.
Recently, Green Software Foundation (GSF) and Thougthworks hosted a meetup at Gurugram Engineering Centre, and I am sharing my takeaways from this meetup, where likes of Nagarjun Kandukuru (we call him Nāg) opened up our eyes. Last year we focused on measuring the impacts, I talked about Sustainability and XR, and this year we shared various contributions in this direction along with a few others from industry and academia.
🦹 It’s crime to not talk about ChatGPT!
Nāg warned us that if we start a tech session without talking ChatGPT or Generative AI then it’s a crime. I do feel the same in today’s time, 🙇 sorry I started this article with cloud, but let me correct here, while writing this article I am using ChatGPT for brevity, and I will burn 2-3 liters of water during this, read here why. These days, kids are talking to Alexa, and we are socially(-media) connected to the world all the time, our virtual identities prevailing more than us. As technologist, I used to say cloud and AI are behind all this, along with some people building it, until I learn Anatomy of AI by researchers like Kate Crawford. It describes Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources.
In the above image, we don’t see the reality of this, without zooming in multiple times. The state of our awareness on sustainability is not different from this. We need to ZOOM-IN more and more to get it.
Nāg further said that we may be looking up in the air when we say we moved all our computing and storage needs over the cloud. If I can add my personal story here, I paid a huge sum to recover a corrupted disk carrying my personal data, and now I have moved all my data over to the cloud with a nominal fee. However, this doesn’t mean that there is actually no physical thing behind the cloud. Cloud is very much physical, and almost no electronics are made without Coltan, a mineral that is predominantly mined under terrible conditions in Congo.
In fact, 80% of Coltan comes from mines from Congo, with similar stories in other parts of the world for Lithium that powers batteries. That’s why Nāg said, “We should look down to the earth in the mines when we think of cloud!”
The point being that we need to acknowledge the physical realities that underpin our reliance on technology and work towards a more sustainable approach. It’s important to remember that there is something physical burning behind Cloud, AI, and even more with language models like ChatGPT and other similar technologies. Below picture tells it all.
In fact, scientists have already issued a final warning on the climate crisis, as reported in The Guardian. We need to act now before it’s too late. Nāg emphasized that the current efforts from the industry to address this issue are not primarily driven by the sense of doing the right thing, but rather motivated by the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation, and Rewards.
Information Technology(IT) has a significant role to play in reducing its impact on the environment. One approach is to use IT to improve the ecosystem that consumes fewer resources. Another approach is to optimize IT itself, and both need to follow. Currently, IT consumes almost 6% of the world’s electricity, and this figure is growing rapidly. Look at the Optimal Airport, a client story of Thoughtworks, read more here on sustainable solutions from Thoughtworks.
⚖️ Measure, Measure and Measure
As the saying goes, “We can improve what we can measure.”
Last year, Razin talked about Software Carbon Intensity, and Carbon Aware SDKs. We have taken a leap from there, with Mehak and Jayant discussing our work at Terrascope - a smart carbon measurement SaaS platform developed for a Singapore-based climate change venture.
Thoughtworks believe that the future is Green, rise of responsible tech is the way to go. This project is a step towards that.
💚 Sustainable Product and Customer Experience
“What you see is what you act”
Industry is now heavily focused on building customer experience products that encourage people to adopt sustainable habits. Aditya and Anuja our CX Experts have explained it well by employing a behavioral science approach. They highlighted how different types of green nudges can trigger behaviors that motivate us to make better and informed decisions regarding the environmental impact of our actions. Read The Little Book of Green Nudges. To me, it’s like building sustainable atomic habits as described in my earlier article, the experience we get from the environment plays big role.
For instance, Google search displays flights with their corresponding emissions ratings, which can help people make informed decisions about their travel plans.
Great takeaway! It’s important to be mindful of the environmental impact of our choices and habits, and the use of nudges can be a powerful tool in motivating us to make more sustainable decisions. By incorporating sustainability considerations into the design of products and services, and by providing visibility into the environmental impact of our choices, we can make a positive impact on the planet. Building sustainable habits is not just good for the environment, but it also contributes to our own well-being and the well-being of future generations.
In addition, Kunal Malik also talked about building sustainable products in his session, emphasizing the importance of considering sustainability from the very beginning of product development. Kunal shared insights on carbon credits and how they can be monetized. So, it’s time define your product goals, design, and metrics around sustainability.
🤝Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions
Partnerships are an effective way to find sustainable solutions that benefit all stakeholders involved. By working together, governments, academia, industry, and individuals can collectively develop solutions that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. These partnerships can involve sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices, and can lead to more innovative and effective solutions than working in isolation.
In the same spirit, hearing from academician, Dr. Anubha Jain, Director, School of Computer Science & IT, IIS University, in her talk on Green IoT was a great insight into the future of technology. Her presentation emphasized that sustainability should be a priority across all aspects of technology, from software and hardware to networks, physical devices, and virtual environments. As an academic partner, Dr. Jain’s insights and research can help inform industry’s efforts to develop sustainable solutions.
During the summit, Diljeet Saluja, our delivery expert, emphasized the importance of collaboration with government and authority for adoption and co-development of solutions like Terrascope. We also discussed how ESG scores, which are increasingly being discussed in length, need more work and implementation in India. As seen in recent news such as the RBI’s ESG push catching Indian banks off guard, there is a growing need for companies to incorporate ESG practices into their operations.
☘️ It is just a start
“The journey towards sustainability is a long one, but it’s important to take that first step. Let’s challenge ourselves to make conscious decisions, support sustainable products and practices, and create a better future for ourselves and the planet.”
🙋 With this, I come to the end of the article. It’s clear that learning never ends, and after attending the Sustainability meetup, I will be more mindful of the decisions I make regarding technology, products, and everything else in my life. Sustainability will be a key parameter going forward, and I’m excited to play my part in building a better future.
I want to extend my gratitude to the organizers, Akshit Batra and team for making the meetup happen. Their efforts and dedication have enabled a platform to share knowledge and insights and inspire a community of people who care about building a sustainable future. Keep up the great work!