Green I/O
#2 - Sandra Sydow - Using collective intelligence to raise awareness
March 31, 2022
For the second episode of Green I/O, I met Sandra Sydow. She is a natural-born European: borned French, having studied in Sweden, worked in Germany where she married and now living in the UK for almost 10 years. Sandra has an impeccable track record at PHD as a Managing Partner where she thrived making complicated things easy to understand in digital marketing and working for global brands like Airbus, HP or Expedia. 2 years ago, she decided to dedicate her communication and pedagogical skills to fight climate change. She co-founded the climate pitch and became a Board member at the Digital Collage. In this  episode, we did not deep dive into a specific area like Green Hosting or Green AI but we focused on the most important asset in any Digital Tech company: humans! And the challenges we face when it comes to raising awareness about the increasing ecological footprint of our digital world. And transform it into concrete actions.
For the second episode of Green I/O, I met Sandra Sydow. She is a natural-born European: borned French, having studied in Sweden, worked in Germany where she married and now living in the UK for almost 10 years.
Sandra has an impeccable track record at PHD as a Managing Partner where she thrived making complicated things easy to understand in digital marketing and working for global brands like Airbus, HP or Expedia. 2 years ago, she decided to dedicate her communication and pedagogical skills to fight climate change. She co-founded the climate pitch and became a Board member at the Digital Collage.
In this  episode, we did not deep dive into a specific area like Green Hosting or Green AI but we focused on the most important asset in any Digital Tech company: humans! And the challenges we face when it comes to raising awareness about the increasing ecological footprint of our digital world. And transform it into concrete actions.

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Transcript


Gaël
Hello everyone. Welcome to Green I O, the podcast for doers making our Digital World greener one byte at a time. Whether you work in Tech, Product, Data, Design, Marketing, you name it, you will find inspiration with us for your next actions in Digital Sustainability and Green IT. In the second episode, we will not deep dive into a specific area like Green Hosting or Green AI, but focus on the most important asset in any Digital Tech company: humans! From Ops to Design, from SEO to Data science, from UX Research to Webdev, we are all facing the same challenges when it comes to raising awareness on the increasing ecological footprint of our digital words and transforming it into concrete actions. And to get meaningful insights, we went to London and met Sandra Sydow. She is a natural born European, I would say. Born French, having studied in Sweden, worked in Germany where she married and now living in the UK for almost ten years. And yes, my British friends - disregarding any political agenda - you are still European to my heart. Sandra has an impeccable track record at PhD as a managing partner where she thrived making complicated things easy to understand in digital marketing and working for global brands like Airbus, HP or Expedia. Two years ago she decided to dedicate her communication and pedagogical skills to fight climate change. She co-founded the Climate Pitch and became a board member at the Digital Collage. Welcome Sandra. Thanks a lot for joining Green I/O today.

Sandra
Thank you again. I'm really pleased to be here.

Gaël
Thanks. And first of all, what did I forget to mention about you?

Sandra
I would say maybe you have forgotten to mention that I'm doing musical Theater too, in my leisure time. And I just want to specify this because this is something I changed in my life when I decided to quit my old life to my new life. And it's about the importance of getting creative and reminding ourselves that we are creative every day in a world that is highly automatized. And I think it's super important to reconnect with our true values.

Gaël
That's amazing. How did you become interested in the sustainability and especially the sustainability of our digital sector in the first place?

Sandra
Well, it's a bit of a story here again and I'm okay to share it with you. It's a bit of a personal one. But five years ago I was really thinking heavily of what I should do. Is my carrier the right one? Should I continue? And I had a little bit of an increasing dissonance with what I was doing, the aim of what I was doing. I was in advertising to remind, so pushing for consumption. And then at the same time, my son, who was teenager back then, was asking himself a lot of questions about his own future. And he asked us as well a lot of questions. And one day at dinner time, he looked at me in the eyes and said, Mom, I don't understand what you're doing. This job, I never do it. And that was the first lap in the face I had. The second was when I went with him to the Greta Thunberg demonstrations. And I swore to myself that day that I would be the one wearing, carrying those posters and not him in the future. So that was a big point in my life where I decided I need to change something. I need to put my skills to the benefit of positive missions. And this is when I decided to quit my job, my comfortable seat, and then dedicate all my time to positive missions. So at that point I was still completely lost and it was a complete blank sheet of paper. And I decided then to go back to study and understand better the sustainability world, which I did. And then step by step, you explore and you explore and touch what you maybe you want to do and you're good at. And then I discovered that it could be awareness, it could be communicating. I mean, I was 20 years in communication, so it's not a surprise. And then I always dedicated, I was always passionate about digital. And on my way, I had the luck to meet wonderful people working on the digital sector sustainability. I discovered their tool we talked about after and I thought, it's brilliant, I can do that. I can be an ambassador of this. I'm pushing for more questionable and more frugal ways of doing digital.

Gaël
That's a very impressive story. The wake up call coming from the children. Not the first time I heard it. I think it's quite interesting in our generation that it's our children pushing us to our limits and making us realize that we might have some stuff to change for the second half of our professional career. But you also became an entrepreneur?

Sandra
Yes, Totally. You know you would have told me five years ago, you will become an entrepreneur one day I would say no. I would laugh at their face and say, no, I'm not an entrepreneur. And then I realized during that whole change of life that you need to explore and you need to be open to everything. And I realized that actually stone after stone, I met brilliant people, really inspiring people. And I discovered that I could also create things myself. And in the awareness space, I thought, there is so much to do because we are facing a world where scientists have tried to tell us that it's urgent, that the world is burning, that we need to do something but without having a real impact. So how do you do that? And I thought, there is a big space here also with scientific matters to simplify it and to make it so accessible to the people that they actually recognize has a space, especially a space within the business environment. And this is when I met someone great, Frederic. And we created a tool we were absolutely convinced of, because it was missing for businesses to address climate change. So we developed a conference format, and this is where it all started. And I said, okay, now I need to build my company and set up my own company then. Yeah.

Gaël
It's very interesting because I remember Ollie Burch giving a lecture at the climate action tech community and enlisted the three main issues when you talk about sustainability and the very first one was like humans are super good at solving simple problem and they're super bad at solving big complex problem and they need to split it into smaller pieces to make them actionable. So I guess when you face something as big as okay climate change, how you split it into smaller pieces of chunk, how you make it understandable without

Sandra
Being two scientist. Yeah. Well, we developed we have few ingredients in our format or conference format, and one is the visual storytelling. So visualization, first of all, we work together with a creative director who's highly involved into sustainability topics. He lives actually in Vancouver, he's brilliant and he's doing a lot already in this. And we love the way he drew. So it's a big drawing that we've got. And then we use storytelling to go through this drawing. This big drawing with our audience and the other ingredients is about interactivity. It can't be anymore a descending lecture to get people close to the knowledge and also let them recognize that they actually know already something and be part of this learning path together. So the format we've developed is actually interactive, so interactive that people can't really relax and they always need to be with us and respond to questions. So they are simulated every two to three minutes roughly.

Gaël
Whoo

Sandra
And it's very important. And also the subject is very serious. So it's very important to tackle the right tonality. We don't want them to have a slap in their face. We want them to have a click and then to enclench an action, to have a motivation to go after that. The main aim of the conference is that they go out and they're totally and fully motivated. So we include our client in this and we say, okay, once we have described what is the context, what is exactly the problem or the challenge we've got with climate change, then the client can expose where they are at in their strategy of transformation, in their low carbon strategy, to their employees in a very macro level. But still explaining, we're en marche, we may be not there and we're maybe not perfect and that's important to say, but we are en marche and you can be part of this. So we are action this during the conference. So at the end, people feel empower. They feel allowed actually to be part of this story and of this fantastic transformation ahead of them. So that's the aim.

Gaël
Becoming actors.

Sandra
Becoming actors yes.

Gaël
You know, Green I/O is about sharing hands on experience and how to make our digital world more sustainable. And of course, for this to happen, we need teams to be aware of our ecological footprint and then ready to take actions which lead me to this very simple and hard questions. Which means do you use to achieve this outcome, how do you concretely tackle raising awareness regarding the footprint of our digital your word?

Sandra
Well, coming to digital in particular, I think, first of all, it's important to know the macro picture. So it's important to understand the problem around climate change. That's the first thing. And we say to our participants, but then go into the sector, in the digital sector. And what I say always is the first step to change his awareness. We are here at the very first funnel of a path and we also encounter lots of people who think they know about the matter because we hear so much about it around us. But we never grasp exactly the details of it, the interconnectivities, the overall big topics that are running in the background. And there is a reason as well why we're talking about a digital rucksack, for example, it's because we usually like to see the top of the iceberg, but we don't see what's behind, what's in the water. And I think it's very important. So awareness is the very first step. And get to know what's the problem makes you understand why and how you can act. That's the very first step.

Gaël
Could you maybe explain to the audience what is the rucksack of a digital device?

Sandra
Yes, of course. So we tend to think about digital as the solution. We tend to think about digital that it's great, it's cool, and it will give us a lot of possibilities in the future. And that's true. As I said, I'm a passionate of digital. I was part of digital transformation. I helped clients to set up whole bunch of teams around digital and help them being more efficient. However, there is a lack of understanding of what is the reverse side of it if we're not questioning what we're doing. So the rucksack is also there to represent that. It might be positive, but actually the negative impacts might overweight, outweigh, the positive impacts. And that's what the people are not aware of. And therefore in the workshop we're proposing - this Digital Collage workshop, - is really to understand it themselves and discover that oh yes, I love digital, but actually, if I don't question what I'm doing, we're going to the wall. I mean, it's just you talk about exponential growth. Well, it's great and always being faster. And this is the fastest growing sector as we know. However, if you narrow this to the emissions, carbon emissions, then this is exactly the same and it goes exactly on the same trend. We are not in a decelerating trend here in this sector. We're accelerating and this is where we need to question what we're doing, how we're doing things, and how we're using digital.

Gaël
You mentioned the Digital Collage workshop. Is it one of the tools you use the most?

Sandra
Yes. So I use the Digital Collage a lot for specific requests. When people want to know more about the digital impact on the environment. Digital Collage is part of an organization. This organization is between a social enterprise and a charity. I think there isn't a real word in English, it's a French organization. And the mission of this organization is to raise awareness around the digital impact of their environment as quickly as possible. And this is based on a very interesting system actually because as I said, descending lecture is over and now it's really about tackling this with a more fun way and collaborative way. So it's based this workshop on collaboration first and on collective intelligence. This is very interesting because people realize during the workshop that they know something and when they put all this knowledge together as a team, they can actually crack the clues of what we're giving them as a game. So it's a set of cards they need to put in a certain order and they discover themselves then the knowledge. And that's really helpful. So yes, in this context it can be team building. It can be perfect as well for IT Departments looking to set up a green IT strategy and they don't know where to start. That could be the first step, for example, to understand all the different bits of digital impacts on the environment. What does it mean when people are coming to us? They are a bit lost and confused because you hear a lot about different things. You can hear about the mental health elements of digital, but you can hear also about the emissions and then you hear less about the materiality of the digital impact. And this is where it hurts actually. This is this materiality that hurts our planet right now.

Gaël
Thanks a lot. And full disclosure for my audience, I am also a Digital Collage facilitator, but I was not part almost from day one of this beautiful adventure like Santra was with Aurelianiva. So that's why I'm very happy that she will explain all of this in detail. And I was wondering, how do we avoid the information dump as a coin by Timothy Morton in “Being Ecological” that we tend to push a lot of scientific facts, mostly anxiogenic and with a short lifespan into people's minds, then we push for technical remediations. But there are not that many true aspirational triggers like I have to do it to solve a problem rather than I have to do it because that will make my life better or life of everyone better. How do you see the digital collage working on this issue?

Sandra
Well, what's great, I think in the Digital Collage developed by Aurélien Déragne and Yvain Mouneu and that they have dedicated a whole part on actions. So the first part of the workshop is about understanding by playing. So that's the set of cards where you discover those eventually disturbing big key facts. But they are needed. They are needed for a wake up call. They are needed as well to understand - because there are a lot of myths that we need to break during a digital workshop. There are a lot of false thoughts around data centers, for example, or the impact of the Cloud. And there are things that are not really known about recycling and the low level of recycling in this sector or the resource intensive part. So you really need to make that clear so that at the end, when you come into the action part, at the end you have 20 or so cards that have been detailed to give you ideas on how does that connect to what you've just seen and how simple it can be sometimes? You know, there are some actions, it just tells you to keep your devices longer, try to take care of it. You know, it's not the world, what we're asking. The actions are very pragmatic and very close to the people and very easy to implement and it might make your life better. That's what we call the co-benefits of having a more frugal way of running digital

Gaël
It's not asking for life changing decisions, but more a step by step approach into being more eco-conscious.

Sandra
Exactly.

Gaël
And you also mentioned that the digital collage can be used to embark people when you start a green It strategy or sustainability strategy. What are the specificities in that case? Because some people might have to join the workshop rather than volunteering to join the workshop. How do you deal with that?

Sandra
Yes. Well, you just have to be warned that when people are coming to a workshop on a mandatory basis, it's a very different situation in spirit and that's why you're asking the question. So they're not necessarily from their own wish there and they're very reluctant from the beginning. So you see, they're not necessarily very open, but then that's a workshop which is based on collaboration and they need to work out with their team, the set of cards and the interconnections. We as facilitators, we are there to help them understand the game, but we're not the one really or necessarily giving a lecture because we're not there to give lessons and it would be a wrong signal too. We're not the one knowing everything by heart either, or the absolute most expert. And it allows therefore the team to understand that here we are all together in this and we are not lecturing anyone. You are actually discovering something that exists and then you take it with you and you express it as you want. So there is a lot of freedom on how to discover this knowledge. And because of the dynamic of the group, we talk about groups of six to eight people per team and you can have multiple teams in a room (it's better to do it in person), you see that evolves and where people with their body language are outside of the table. So we put the chair out so nobody can sit really, and they really need to be active around the table with the cards and really exchang together. So we as a facilitator, we're not part of their discussion. We are coming back in each set, but we're not involved completely. They have to crack it themselves and they have a certain amount of time. And during the development of this first phase, you see that through set by set, arrives set three of cards, people are much more involved and engaged and they realize they understand the game, how it’s played. There are only bits of knowledge written on each of the cards that they can discover. It's not overwhelming, but then in the discussion with their colleagues, it makes the whole much more interesting because they all have their own opinion on their own part of the knowledge. And at the end of that understanding part, you see that people are much more open and then, at the end, they're really engaged and they really want to action and they really want to take action themselves.

Gaël
Because it's a peer to peer communication process rather than a top down.

Sandra
Yes. Yes, absolutely.

Gaël
So tomorrow let's say I'm product manager, tech leader, head of design, and I want to start a discussion within my team or with my hierarchy. I'm aware of the situation, but I'm also aware that my colleagues or my hierarchy are not that much aware beyond the usual let's green the data center. What advice would you give to her or him?

Sandra
Yes. I think what's really important is what is the level of understanding of the problem altogether around you, how the people are interacting with topics like climate change, for example. How are they interacting with sustainability, what are the levels of knowledge and that's the very first audit I would do around me. Another thing is that to find your allies within your company. If it's a company. Find people that are like minded things like you and want to push further that topic. The third advice I would say is that you need to embark as soon as possible your leadership. The best results we've seen so far is when leadership is on board, they understand the matter. When I say on board, then at least they are addressing as well. When the workshop is proposed to the employees to frame it, to introduce why do they do this and put credibility on this step that is important to their company, to them and to their company, and to the transformation and the future of their company. So if I have advice to give, it's really those ones: don't be on your own, find the allies internally, it's much easier then try to embark your leadership. There is also another thing. Digital workshop is great and the digital impact on the environment is one part of the big picture. And if you don't understand the big picture first, then you might have some problems to grasp also the part of digital in there. So always my first recommendation would be, well, let's understand first, what do we talk about here and it's climate change. And then why is digital taking such a big part in this? Because it's part of the whole. So that's another thing. I hope it answers your question.

Gaël
Yeah, that's super interesting. And that leads me to two other questions. The first one being we tend to see the ecological impact as equal to carbon emission and of course climate change it creates. But we also are facing other planet boundaries today, especially the biodiversity crisis, the resources exhaustion. So in your mind, would you say that we should have workshops about, of course, first and foremost, climate change, but also biodiversity crises and maybe some other crisis before starting any awareness program specifically dedicated to digital? Or is there any shortcut?

Sandra
 Well, it would be “crème de la crème” to be able to acknowledge the people around the climate change crisis so that they really understand what it is about. Biodiversity can be addressed within the climate change topic too. So we are addressing it in our climate pitch, in our conferences, because it's equally urgent and important to understand now. It's the ideal picture. If you don't have the time, you can of course go short and do the Digital Collage workshop. That's absolutely fine. And then during the workshop there is a possibility to discover also the link to climate change and how is actually digital part of the climate change. So that's fine too.

Gaël
Thanks. And my second question was, so, how do you pitch your boss?

Sandra
How do you pitch your boss? Well, as I said before, I think first you need to know from what you're talking about. So you have to have a certain level of understanding even if you know about the urgency. And it's great. I think it always helps to be backed up of things that you've done or you know already. So that's one thing. Don't be on your own with that. I think it's always great to go not on your own and not addressing this on your own, but already know and point people around that think like you; have lots of key facts and boss rely on facts and what your advancing needs to be backed up. And also I think, and this is from my 20 years working in business, you need to make the math in terms of what does this mean for the company? What does this mean in terms of finance and actually digital and applying a green IT strategy might help financially, will help financially because you will make some savings. So maybe go that door and show that actually if you reduce your IT park and you use longer every device, for example, then you will not have to renew every other year your devices. It will make a huge benefit or saving to the company. And if you think like this and if you draw actually all the benefits that are connected to this type of step, then it's much easier.

Gaël
Absolutely. There are huge savings to be made. And I think another point might also be that especially for pure players like digital, pure players having the first mover advantage.

Sandra
Absolutely.

Gaël
We know that at some point some regulations will come. We know that at some point some awareness will happen to very critical segments within the entire customer. And that also might be a trigger, don't you think?

Sandra
Yes. So we talked about the risk/opportunities because it can be a risk, but you can change it to an opportunity as a company. And this is where we talk about talents for example. If you have the right … - You know the new generation is looking for purpose and they're looking for missions where they understand that the values of the company are what they embrace and are within our planetary limitations. So there is a challenge as well here to retain and to attract talent. And this is one part of the risk/opportunity you can have. The other part is your client, your client base. Clients are more and more now aware of what's happening and they want and are looking more and more for sustainable solutions. If you're able as a company to make it credible and to embrace this transformation towards your clients, then you will win. So it's what you said as well, having this competitive advantage, if it's about competitive advantage here and it's the same when you want to work with great suppliers, for example, that are thinking alike. And then you enter a kind of ecosystem, which is the good type of ecosystem that pushes you into the right direction

Gaël
A virtuous loop rather than a vicious cycle...

Sandra
Exactly.

Gaël
Going back to my product manager or tech leader or anyone working in the digital industry. What will be your recommendations? To learn more about digital sustainability and all that is really.

Sandra
I think the most difficult thing to grasp at the moment is that this rucksack, this digital rucksack ,is not really known. And also it's bits and bobs. So you will read something about mining and extraction, you will read something about recycling, you will read something about the cloud, the data centers. But there isn't a proper source where it encompasses everything. And this is what the French have done so far. And after working now almost two years on the Digital Collage workshop and also contributing to the international expansion and looking for sources outside of France, it has been a challenge. So it means that really talking and understanding the span of green IT, sustainable IT is hard or you have to read different things. So what I can actually suggest to the people here on this podcast, if you have 30 minutes to spend, then there is a great mooc which has been done by the Institute of Sustainable IT, INR in France. And we're lucky it has been translated in English and it goes over all the key topics that you need to know when you start your journey on digital sustainability. And if you have more time, then you can dedicate 4 hours to it. There is the longer program on this and you can go back to it whenever you want because it's a mooc so it's available to everyone and it gives you a really good idea on all the topics that are linked to this responsible practices to apply in digital from every single aspect. So I think that could be a good start to it if I may. And then this is about more looking into diverse projects. I have a great case studies. I can advise you to our audience. Decathlon has done this. Decathlon I follow closely as well. I think they're really smart in the way they approach the sustainability topic. And when it comes to digital, they have actually applied the green IT strategy. And I can give you the link, but there was an article written by the head of IT back then to explain the six steps all companies should follow to decrease their digital impact. And also at the end you discover that they have developed their own measurement tool on their carbon footprint and they opened source it so everyone can have access to it. And this is really the end here. So reading case studies also helps, I think.

Gaël
And just for my dear listeners. As you know, all the links, all the reference to everything we spoke about will be put in the landing page. So don't worry. Thanks a lot for these two very valuable pieces of information. Would you advise some influencers, some leaders, to be followed? Because that's how the game is also played today. So if you got two or three names,

Sandra
Definitely. I think there is a young engineer called Corentin de Chatelperron. I'm not sure you heard of him. “Nomade des mers”. He created this “Nomade des mers” initiative. He went on to a trip to Bangladesh and he decided to sail there and he did his sailing with minimalistic entrepreneurship. He had the ambition to be on his own and to be completely autonomous. And then he decided to build the “low tech lab”. And the low tech lab is great because it's a mission to share solutions in the spirit of low tech with as many people as possible. And the last one I could advise as well. And actually this is a Lady I've met in my earlier life, Jane McGonigal. Jane McGonigal was actually a fan of gamification, so she actually researched gamification as a positive way to develop projects. And actually she showed by research that it can help tremendously to solve complex problems. In the medical research, for example, they have been able to develop new vaccines within only a couple of weeks instead of ten years, for example. And you go on. And this lady has now published a new book and has also initiated a new movement called Urgent Optimist. I love this idea of optimism because we really need optimism to go on. The gloom of the situation doesn't help every day. But what helps me is this type of organization. There is another one from Christiana Figueres called a Stubborn Optimist, or she's called a stubborn optimist. And she has created the global optimism movement as well. And it helps because sometimes it's daunting to be faced every day with this picture of the world and you still need to carry on.

Gaël
That's so true and that's great sources to share because I didn't know about Jane McGonigal so I think I'm going to jump on her books. That was awesome. Thanks a lot Sandra for being with us today.

Sandra
I was very pleased to be invited. Thank you very much, Gael, for inviting me.

Gaël
You're more than welcome. Your insights and feedback were just great, especially on the Digital Collage but also on how to pitch your boss and your colleagues.

Sandra
Our main motto should be never give up right now. And you're not on your own so be in community really. I think you had this in your first podcast, but the Climate Action Tech group is really great for that, too.

Gaël
Absolutely. So thanks again. And next month we will go either to Seattle, to Berlin or to Paris depending on the agenda of my three next guests. I'm so sorry to tease you. It was not intended but great doers tend to be busy people so subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss the next episode and that's it for this month. Thank you all for listening to Green I/O. As you surely have noticed in this episode, Green I/O is a nonprofit podcast so we rely on you to share it and rate it five stars on your favorite platform. My dear listeners, you are our true communication power and you are our scouts as well, so feel free to share with me your ideas for new guests who want to make our digital world greener one buy at a time. 

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