Green IO
#42 - Decarbonizing Tech: 2 CTO share their paths with Ludi Akue and Owen Rogers
July 2, 2024
💭Decarbonizing tech stacks and platforms? This is the challenge many CTO face these days. 🎙️In our 42th episode, 2 CTOs with different backgrounds and operating in different lines of business cross share their experience in reducing the environmental footprint of their operations. Ludi Akue, former Lunii’s CTO, and Owen Rogers, .eco’s CTO meet Gael Duez to share their insights and reflect on each other journeys in sustainability. Some Takeaways: 🌐 pro and con of migrating infrastructure to a lower carbon region, ⚙️ how to leverage technical debt to boost decarbonization, 💰 when does optimization pay for decarbonization, ⚠️ the pitfall of creating a separate program to steer sustainability, and much more!
💭Decarbonizing tech stacks and platforms? This is the challenge many CTO face these days. 

🎙️In our 42th episode, 2 CTOs with different backgrounds and operating in different lines of business cross share their experience in reducing the environmental footprint of their operations. Ludi Akue, former Lunii’s CTO, and Owen Rogers, .eco’s CTO meet Gael Duez to share their insights and reflect on each other journeys in sustainability.

Some Takeaways:
🌐 pro and con of migrating infrastructure to a lower carbon region,
⚙️ how to leverage technical debt to boost decarbonization,
💰 when does optimization pay for decarbonization,
⚠️ the pitfall of creating a separate program to steer sustainability,
and much more!

❤️ Subscribe, follow, like, ... stay connected the way you want to never miss our episode, every two Tuesday!

📧 Once a month, you get carefully curated news on digital sustainability packed with exclusive Green IO contents, subscribe to the Green IO newsletter here



Learn more about our guest and connect: 


📧 You can also send us an email at contact@greenio.com to share your feedback and suggest future guests or topics.   



Ludi and Owen's sources and other references mentioned in this episode:





Transcript 

Intro 00:00
With regard to organizations prioritizing sustainability goals, a big part of that, in my opinion, is ensuring that those goals are publicly stated so that there is an element of accountability around that.

Gael Duez 00:24
Hello everyone, welcome to Green IO with Gael Duez - that’s me! - Green IO is the podcast for responsible technologists building a greener digital world, one byte at a time. Twice a month on a Tuesday, our guests from across the globe share insights, tools, and alternative approaches, enabling people within the Tech sector and beyond, to boost Digital Sustainability.

And because accessible and transparent information is in the DNA of Green IO, all the references mentioned in this episode, as well as the transcript, will be in the show notes. You can find these notes on your favorite podcast platform, and, of course, on our website greenio.tech. 

Decarbonizing a tech stack, or a platform, or a full information system. This is the challenge many CTO face these days. And beyond carbon, more environmental indicators are taken into consideration. Far from being just a few technical choices to make, it often implies multiple decisions at multiple levels with multiple stakeholders to succeed. Hence, this episode where I wanted CTOs to share and exchange about the strategy they choose to achieve the sustainability goals their company committed to. 2 CTO with different backgrounds and operating in different lines of business are welcome today. Ludi was CTO at Lunii for three years, a highly successful toy maker in France, and she's now digital CTO at Bpifrance. But she's also part of a vibrant community, tech.rocks which gathers French CTO in Paris and beyond. Owen is CTO at Dot ECo, a company operating the registry ECO and has successfully run decarbonization of its tech stack. And he's also part of the climate action tech community. And this is where I've had the pleasure to meet him. Ludi Owen, thanks a lot for joining Green IO today. It's a pleasure to have both of you in different time zones making the effort to be in the show at the very same time. So thanks a lot and welcome to the show.

Ludi Akue 02:41
Happy to be here. Thanks for the invitation, Gael.

Owen Rogers 02:44
Thanks for the intro, Gael.

Gael Duez 02:48
So without further notice, I would like to ask both of you the same question, and it's a highly complicated one. What was the impact, or in another word, what were the goals you were aiming to achieve when you started to reduce the environmental footprint of your technical operations or your tech stack? Maybe, Ludi, you want to start?

Ludi Akue 03:16
Yeah. Thank you for the question. So the goal was pretty big. It was, we need to change the way we produce everything. So it's a big, hairy goal. Not clear at all. That was the goal I had in the beginning, knowing that the company Lunii was a toy maker. So as you said, a hardware toy maker. And I managed both the hardware teams and the software teams. So the challenge was just clear. Very clear that we need to change things. We need to be impactful, but we don't have a clue about the KPI's to get there.

Gael Duez 03:59
It was kind of top down. It was like a big strategic enterprise goal and in a very sort of OKR approach, like we've got something very ambitious to achieve, I guess not in a single year. Make something with it. Am I correct here?

Ludi Akue 04:19
Yeah, I think it's much more subtle than that. There were some key results, let's say more on the supply and the manufacturing side. The first model of the toy was made in China and brought back the manufacturing to France. For example, you have big goals but after those goals, when coming to the tech stack, everything about the tech operations, architecture, there was a blank page. Like, I needed to build a plan with my teams, of course, to measure and to reach the goal of changing, be more responsible.

Gael Duez 05:05
I guess this is a moment where I have to admit that, a) my daughter has bot histoire, b) actually, I know this because the one my daughter has has been made in France on top of it, but the one my nephew has, which is one year older as still made in China. So I was like, oh, my God, they made it. Congratulations.

Ludi Akue 05:31
But, yeah, I just want to add something very quick. I was really impressed by the vision of the founders. It's like they wanted to change things as they are growing a growing company. They now have a working business model. I can share some figures. At that time, there were about more than half a million customers, more than a million of toys sold all over the world, in France, in Europe, North America. So they had this strategic vision to say, we need to measure and change our impact. I was really impressed by that.

Gael Duez 06:15
And what about you, Owen? What were the goals when you started this sustainably journey at .eco?

Owen Rogers 06:23
So I would say for us it was pretty different in as much as it was more bottom up instead of top down. And we are purely virtual. We just deal with digital products, so there's nothing physical for us to have to worry about optimizing. So my job, I think, was probably significantly easier than Ludi's in that regard. So for us, we operate the .eco top level domain in partnership with the global environmental community in the face of increasingly dire climate effects that we are seeing in the world around us. We were feeling like there had to be something more that we could do some way that we could have an impact ourselves. But it wasn't totally clear how we could do that. Being a company that focuses strictly on digital products, we started to learn about the climate effects of technology and realizing that there was in fact, a lot that we could start to do to reduce our impact. So we wanted to understand what was our carbon footprint. None of us had any expertise in doing carbon life cycle analysis and carbon footprint calculations. So we went and spoke to a number of auditors that will evaluate the carbon footprint of organizations. And the response that we got for most of them was, we're super busy right now, and perhaps there's some work that you can do on your own in order to understand your own footprint, compile the data, and then perhaps we can come and assist you later. So we started to do that ourselves. We started to work with our vendors, with our partners, and pull together whatever data we could to understand our own carbon footprint and realize pretty quickly that this is not complicated. Doing basic carbon calculations is not a hard thing. It's certainly something that you're doing some pretty rudimentary mathematics, and it's something that most software engineers should have no trouble with. And so that enabled us to calculate the carbon footprint of our company, and that served as a basis for optimization. So we did our first carbon footprint calculations in 2020, and we established a goal of reducing our overall, that's our Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3, carbon footprint by 4% for our 2022 fiscal year. And a lot of that was through optimizing our digital services.

Gael Duez 09:23
But just for clarification, Owen, your goal was to reduce by 4% in two years.

Owen Rogers 09:29
Within one year. So that was for our 2022 fiscal year. We were quite close to achieving that objective. We managed to reduce our overall carbon footprint by 3.7%. And we have a similar target for our 2023 fiscal year. We actually have no Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions because of the fact that we're a purely virtual organization. So during COVID we gave up our office space, so we work entirely remotely. We also don't ourselves run any data centers. We don't have any office space. So everything for us is Scope 3 emissions. 

So we've tried to be fairly broad in terms of including as much as we can within our Scope 3 footprint. So one of the things that we account for is 100% of the energy used in the homes of our employees within our footprint, which actually is quite a significant portion of our footprint. But the recognition being that's where work is happening right now. And so we should account for that footprint. And our employees are not otherwise attempting to account for their home. Any emissions associated with energy use in their home.

Gael Duez 11:09
Fair point. By the way, Ludi, did you have the same approach? And what can you tell us about the carbon footprint of a toy maker?

Ludi Akue 11:23
Yeah, that's a very interesting question. Yes. We had the approach of measuring the carbon footprint. And for Lunii at that time, we have the three contributors that we have. The first one is everything related to supply logistics. So transportation, production, and manufacturing. So it's big. If we need to address only one point, we need to address that. So the first contributor, I think it's something about maybe 40%, I think. I don't have my figures. I don't have the figures here. And the second one is the operations like customer service. And the third contributor was the tech. So they take about 6%. I remember the figure because it was 6% of the whole. So as a hardware company, the real job is to tame the production before the other one.

Gael Duez 12:32
Right. That's true that you're a CTO, but you're a CTO not only in the way you were a CTO at Lunii, but not only in the way we think about it in the digital sector or in the IT industry, because you are in charge of the IT infrastructure, obviously, and we will talk about it. But you were also in charge of the entire designing and building of the toys itself.

Ludi Akue 13:00
So the first thing is to measure. So we have these carbon footprints measurements with the leader in France. It's Carbo, hellocarbo. So we found out that our… So we have pretty much more Scope 1 than everything else. Even if we needed to help our suppliers to comply with our mission, our goal said. So we had a supplier code of conduct to do that. And the key results were bottom up. So we had this high goal. We have this big result, like relocating in France, co-designing the product, and for the rest… So the operational teams come with the key results they need to address, they need to tackle. So you had all the production team, the production is supply and everything. The real job here is to tackle the Scope 1 carbon emissions. So the production teams managed to has the carbon emissions. So it was a great win that we can have carbon emission.

Gael Duez 14:18
That's very interesting that you say that actually the IT itself was only 6%, because that's, I guess, a challenge that many CTO and CIO, they face, that they don't weigh that much within an organization, but if we gather all of us together, we weight sometimes as much as the ROT freight transport worldwide. So that's quite significant. And that's what I call the green IT curse, which is you're small within an organization, but eventually you're super big at that global level. So if we focus on this more IT side of things, Ludi, you mentioned at the beginning that you had a very aspirational goal. How did you manage for IT operation and also the firmware, as you mentioned, to make it something tangible, something actionable.

Ludi Akue 15:13
The first thing to do is once we have the measurements, like the carbon footprint, we have something to reduce. You have a goal, you have something to reduce, like a salesperson, let's go differently. And how we tackle that is to identify where we are not very good. Like for example, something that I want to stress here is imagine it's a fastly growing company. It's a scale up. So the scale up, as every scale up has some technical depths. And so here the technical depth is an opportunity to think differently. We need to rebuild something, so how can we rebuild it? For example, let's go mobile first to reduce, to optimize the web pages. Some indices were like, let's move into the cloud. So I decided to move into the cloud and to use managed services and to benefit from the calculation. Even if the calculators are not really reliable, they can show you some trends. So that's interesting. You can measure that. Let's be simple in the way we move to the cloud too. Taming technical labs is when we had an existing microservice architecture, but we don't really need a microservice architecture. So it's like, it's to say like the vision, technical vision is to go back to a modular monolith, for example. It was a strong choice. Our job is pretty simple. So for the scale, everything was homemade. Like you have an e-commerce platform that is homemade on a microservice architecture. Lunii also has a mobile application for the usage of parents and kids can recall their own stories as well. And you also have an application, a usage application, I will call that, that you can download stories, you can buy stories, you can download stories, manage your toy. Right? So the technical vision here is, okay, everything was built for growth. Right now, what is the company’s job? The company's job is to make toys and audio stories. So we don't need to continue to build an in house e-commerce platform. So a strong decision was like, we need to stop building the e-commerce platforms and buy an e-commerce platform like Shopify. This was a strong decision, so we don't, don't need the whole infrastructure that comes with building an e-commerce website.

Gael Duez 18:13
And that's super interesting, because to make sure I understand it well, your main point here is leverage technical debt, because you were in a scale up company, so you had the opportunity to redo things and you, like, technical debt becomes an opportunity to rethink everything and rebuild everything in a more sustainable way. And the way you did it was a bit counter intuitive regarding state of the art architecture, etcetera. It was more… So, obviously, you had like, let's try to eco-design, let's try to move to the cloud. I will have one question about it, but it's maybe we were too ambitious with our architecture and a good old fashioned modular monolith. And buying more off the shelf stuff will actually help us to reduce environmental footprint.

Ludi Akue 19:05
Yes, absolutely. It's like, it's just technical debt was the leverage we needed to do things differently. It is simplicity [and] optimization, simplicity and automation.

Gael Duez 19:21
And just for the sake of understanding this e-commerce platform that you've chosen, was the sustainability criteria taken into consideration?

Ludi Akue 19:33
I think that, no, we didn't include that. Maybe we did, because we have a supplier code of conduct. I'm sure we have those because we have a companion wide supplier code of conduct. It was a matter of simplicity. So I think the first thing is simplicity and automation. Yeah.

Gael Duez 19:54
And what about you, Owen? What were the technological choices you made to achieve the -4% reduction? Was it cloud migration or anything related or a very different approach?

Owen Rogers 20:10
So, like Ludi, our digital services accounted for only 10% of our overall Scope 3 emissions. So not too far off from the 6% at Lunii. The 4% reduction target was going to be entirely achieved by optimizing the efficiency of our digital services. So really what that meant was we were looking to reduce the carbon footprint of our digital services by upwards of 40%. 
So for us, we are running entirely in the cloud. So it didn't entail a migration from physical data centers to a cloud environment. We were already there. But one of the key things that we did was moving our infrastructure from one region to a lower carbon region. So we ended up migrating our entire stack to Quebec, Canada. Electricity in Quebec is entirely generated through hydropower. It has one of the lowest carbon emission intensities in the world. So that was definitely a positive move in reducing our footprint. Otherwise, we did quite a bit of work in terms of optimizing the footprint of our website and services similar to what Ludi was talking about doing work around optimizing images, JavaScript, CSS. Our sites are currently already static. Not entirely, but most of them are already static. And that's definitely a huge win because you're not running any servers or we're not running any servers on the back end. But my approach architecturally is actually a little bit different from the solution that Ludi was suggesting. I can definitely understand why with a microservices architecture you may end up with a very large fleet of instances depending on how you distribute that work, cross compute. But our focus is more on trying to eliminate servers altogether and ensure that everything that we're building can run through serverless. Serverless is, I think, the current end state or optimum for virtualization within cloud providers. It enables them to maximize multi-tenancy so that you can have the most compute being run through the fewest possible instances. So that's the direction that we're moving, at least for the parts of the tech stack that we have under our control. We were already using serverless and we're continuing to use serverless, but in terms of architectural direction, that's where we're headed. Anything new that we're building, we're trying to make it serverless first and move away from having to deal with any infrastructure that we need to manage ourselves.

Gael Duez 23:10
Did you use a specific tool to measure the carbon footprint of your tech stack or how did you tool up? And maybe the answer is not at all. We didn't need to.

Ludi Akue 23:22
We used a tool, Carbo. Carbo is a French tool. I think it's hellocarbo.com. It's a bit of calculation and declarative, also measure. We also use the cloud calculators. So you have a lot of calculators with the major cloud providers so you can have an estimation of your carbon footprint. Something that works great at Lunii is we build external accountability. How do you do that? Is like we sign the global compact. So the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN we signed that we needed to provide every year some reporting on how we are advancing the mission. We are also signed with a collaborating company, Lucie. So Lucie 26000, we needed to have a clear goal in our OKR to have a Lucy label by 2022. So we build external accountability to make it work like it's not just us with our OKR, but we need to report to the UN that we measure everything that we build this, we build that, so this helps us move forward.

Gael Duez 24:48
But as far as I know, hellocarbo is a generalistic carbon accounting tool. So you didn't have the need to tool up specifically to measure anything regarding your IT stack except the data provided by the cloud providers, as you mentioned. And what about you, Owen? Did you use any specific tool or not that much?

Owen Rogers 25:14
So for us, we followed the sustainable web design methodology as the foundation for our carbon footprint calculation. For our digital services, that methodology uses data transfer as a proxy for calculating energy consumption, and then on the basis of that can be converted into carbon. It certainly is not perfect, and unfortunately, there aren't really perfect measures at this point in time in the cases where you don't own the infrastructure. But it does have the benefit of relying on data, data transfer that is relatively easy to obtain. So what we did for our digital services was look at data transfer, whether that be transiting via the content delivery networks that we were using, or load balancers, etcetera, and estimated our footprint on that basis. So that's the tooling that we used. It's not a specific third party tool. A lot of this data was just aggregated in spreadsheets, and then the calculations were being performed there.

Gael Duez 26:33
And there is nothing wrong intrinsically with using proxy metrics, as long as we don't claim that it helps us understand absolute values. And for anyone following Gerry McGovern's work, I think using data as a proxy, it's far from perfect. There is a question of embedded carbon, etcetera, etcetera, but it doesn't lead people in the wrong direction. That is simply not true. Maybe we will have better metrics, better tools, as you say, Owen, but a company strongly engaged in reducing the amount of data produced they manipulate the exchange is not going in the wrong direction when it comes to reducing our environmental impact. Now I'm fully convinced of it.

Owen Rogers 27:23
Well, in general, data transfer is correlated with energy consumption. But if you look at most organizations in terms of how they're calculating their carbon footprint, especially for their Scope 3 emissions, it's almost entirely based on spend. So whatever their expenses are, they're using some sort of a general metric that is converting dollars spent for this category of product into carbon intensity. And personally, I think the data transfer is going to, at least within the technology space, be better correlated with energy use than spend. And spend also gives me nothing. I mean, I can try and optimize my spend, but it may point me in the wrong direction, like what we were talking about before. I could move all my infrastructure to a high carbon intensity region, reducing my cloud spend and therefore, under that basis of calculation, reduce my overall carbon footprint. I mean, it's just crazy. It leads to the wrong types of outcome, at least with data transfer. Plus, one of the nice things about the sustainable web design methodology is that it is somewhat component oriented. In cases like for my infrastructure, I have a better way to calculate the footprint because I know the number of instances that are running and I can estimate the infrastructure and I know what the carbon intensity is of where that infrastructure is running, I can get a better estimate for that component. But if I want to have a broad scope that includes emissions associated with the use of our products, so the energy drain on end users devices as a result of using our digital services, I can still estimate that under the umbrella of the same methodology and use data transfer as a proxy for that. 
I'm hoping there's going to be a revision to the sustainable web design methodology. The better accounts for what we're learning now about the energy use associated with the various components involved in the end to end journey for digital services, so as to better discount the network component. 
But I do want to underscore the importance of something that Ludi was talking about, which is with regard to organizations prioritizing sustainability goals. A big part of that, in my opinion, is ensuring that those goals are publicly stated so that there is an element of accountability around that. So Ludi was talking about the UN Global Compact as establishing a requirement for a public report around sustainability. Similarly for us, we publish our Annual Impact Report and part of our impact report is setting targets for the upcoming fiscal year around sustainability and impact. And so that means that you have an element of accountability there to your customers, to the community you serve, to the general public. And I recognize that that is hard, especially in cases where we're relying on data that we know isn't perfect like there… I know that the sustainable web design methodology has flaws associated with it and that I'm sure in a couple of years we will come up with some sort of more comprehensive methodology that will enable us to produce more accurate carbon footprints. But I don't want to let the imperfect be the enemy of the good. I think it's much better for us to try and get in front of this and be transparent about what we're doing with the data that's available. Recognizing that at some point later we're going to have to say, okay, we're going to need to revise these estimates of our footprint and our impact, because this is where the state of the art is now.

Gael Duez 31:35
Ludi, Owen mentioned not the cloud migration, like you had to do at Lunii, but relocating within the cloud operators in Quebec, which has tremendously low carbon electricity, even if we include embedded carbon from the hydropower. When you talked about the migration you did to the cloud, did you consider the region that you wanted your services to be hosted to make sure that actually you might not migrate from a very old data center with a PUE of 2 to a brand shiny cloud providers with a PUE of 1.2, even a bit less if you listen to their marketing communications, but hosted in an area where the average carbon intensity of the electricity will be at time five or six higher, which is very classical case with a very famous three letters hyperscaler. But I will stop here. So my question, sorry, I'm rambling a bit, but my question is, did you have the opportunity to consider the intensity, the carbon intensity of the electricity grid from the region where you relocated your cloud activities.

Ludi Akue 32:56
Not directly. We were on a pass before. We didn't pass. Like I said, we had this microservice architecture, and it was really ineffective in terms of management, in terms of billing, bills were very expensive and ineffective. Like, we cannot really measure things in fine-grained speaking. So the first thing is we consider green goals when moving to the cloud. This was really clear. We work with a provider that helps us migrate because they're green objectives while moving to the cloud. We also consider GDPR goals when moving to the club. So we were more like, we want to stay close to our customers. And at the same time, our customers were kind of everywhere. But our big, you know, huge base of customers were located in Europe, and we chose to locate our clouds in Europe. So privacy was first, the closeness to our customer base was second, and then ended in green objectives.

Owen Rogers 34:24
For us, we migrated from Ohio to Quebec. And so Ohio, the grid in Ohio is largely powered by coal and by gas, and so there's a 200 times difference in carbon intensity between Ohio and Quebec, so it's significant. And Ohio is not the worst in terms of carbon intensity within the United States. So there are much worse places to be and many of those places operate large data centers. So I think it's absolutely something that technologists should be taking into account when they're considering a cloud migration or when they're looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

Gael Duez 35:14
And just a side note, that's something really to pay attention to, because unfortunately, sometimes carbon incentives and financial incentives are not well aligned in the hyperscaler industry. And that's really a shame, because obviously, the dirtiest place should be the most expensive. And that's not always the case. And sometimes a CTO faces a very difficult challenge to explain that he wants an increase in 5, 10, 15% of his or her bill, because that is to achieve a target of decarbonization, and that shouldn't be the case. But that's okay. So that's something to pay a lot of attention to.

Owen Rogers 35:50
Well, it did increase our bill by moving to Quebec. It is a more expensive region for us to operate in, but not significantly so. So that was a price that we felt like we were quite comfortable to pay. But to both your point and to Ludi's point, as a CTO, it's essential to find alignment between overall business objectives and your environmental objectives. Now, fortunately, in many cases there is alignment. There are ancillary benefits that can be achieved as a result of reducing carbon. So specifically, a low carbon intensity website is generally going to be a higher performing website. So you're able to pitch this type of an initiative under the guise of performance improvement, which will boost user experience, hopefully boost retention in sales. So there are these ancillary benefits. 
Similarly, a low carbon intensity infrastructure, so relying on serverless or higher levels of virtualization, is generally going to be more cost effective. So often there is alignment between an infrastructure cost reduction program and reducing carbon intensity. At the very least, you can find it if you look for it. It's not to say that reducing spend within the cloud is always going to lead to lower carbon, but you can find and make the case for where those two things are going to be aligned, and then that gives you a lever to push on.

Gael Duez 37:30
And what a wonderful transition. Because I wanted to ask both of you the question of process and strategy, like how you connect, how you align with the business strategy, and what were the process, what was the organization that you set up to achieve these goals? Because we discussed quite a lot the technical side of things, but it's more a human thing than a technical thing. So maybe, Ludi, you want to share also how you actually created something from the wide statement. And of course, how did you manage to align them, as Owen just said, with the overall business goals?

Ludi Akue 38:11
My context was easy, because you have these big goals for the company, so everyone is aware it's a strategic goal. And I recommend that green initiatives should be taken at a strategic level for everybody to be aligned. Right. So once you have that, the fact is, as you are a growing company, you scale up, don't have time, do not really have time… the tech team didn't have really the time to build the product, ship the product, take a technical debt and also take into account something to reduce the carbon footprint. So for a long time, it was kind of a failure to add some green initiatives to the backlog. Something I learned is adding some green initiatives to the backlog is the failing mode. You should be able to initiative into the existing backlog. And the first thing is to work with the teams is to come up with the optimizations. So optimizations pay for the business. That's the first thing. So if you have optimizations, if you have your website that respects the providers, for example, it's good for the SEO, it's good for the user conversion. So you can show the business your optimization strategies. Link to the ARR of the subscription number of the user that will convert it to buy a product, to use your service more so you can showcase that your optimization is aligned with the business. Right. When taking the example of the cloud migration, for example, is to show that the existing is very complicated, it is costing us. So the hidden cost that we have with the existing systems and to show the return of investment with the migration to the cloud. So it is the same thing. And it is to make the business case of when you can make the business case and for the rest, as it's the whole company initiative, to show that you are working towards the goal of reducing carbon footprint.

Gael Duez 40:42
If I understand well here, there are two main takeaways of what you've just shared with us. One is optimization will pay for decarbonization. And I would love to comment on this one. And the second one was do not try to create a separate track, a separate program about sustainability. Just add it as a new criteria in the definition of dawn or a new type of task or sprints in your backlog. But do not try to run something separately, which is, as far as I know, kind of now a state of the art approach. Also, when it comes to cybersecurity or accessibility, for instance, don't try to create things on their own. So same applies to sustainability, am I right?

Ludi Akue 41:33
Yeah, you are correct. You need to shift left on sustainability.

Gael Duez 41:39
When Ludi mentioned in our previous talk that there is a sustainability manager, or at least a sustainably reference at Lunii, was it the way you were organized at .eco? Did you have someone kind of running the show? Or did you have some sustainable reference in the different teams? How did you make sure that the key results, we're not talking about the overall strategy, but the day to day operations embedded in the sustainability goals.

Owen Rogers 42:13
We're a small organization, so there's not the same level of challenge associated with communicating and disseminating these types of objectives throughout the organization. In general, we have a set of KPIs around impact that are pretty well broadly understood. We review them on a monthly basis, along with how we're tracking towards our other goals for the organization. So I think it's pretty front and center for our team.

Gael Duez 42:45
Would you be able to share this KPI? Not the numbers, but what they are?

Owen Rogers 42:50
Well, I think the main one in terms of climate impact is our overall carbon footprint reduction target for our fiscal year. So again, we're aiming for another 4% reduction from our baseline target. We also have an objective to register through SBTI. And one thing that we have achieved recently, which is not directly related to climate, but all kinds of plays together, is that we are now B Corp Certified. We will be certified as a B Corp. And that touches on a lot of different pillars around sustainability.

Gael Duez 43:29
So if I understand it well, it was a very bottom up approach. You're a small team, so the communication was pretty straightforward the moment you had the right goals and not that much of an issue on how to incentivize people. Ludi, if I get it right, it was more a top down approach and your organization was scaling at the time where you were trying to reduce your environmental footprint. So what about the human side of this? Did you face challenges to get the sustainable angle adopted? How did you convince people to join?

Ludi Akue 44:10
Yeah, so we have these goals, these top down goals, but I think in the same test, even if you have 100 people, you have the people who were at the company at that moment were really aligned in terms of their own values. So you have these top down goals, but you also have a bottom of approach. Like the teams were responsible for their key results and their key initiatives that should align with the goal, like, because they are doing the work, so they know where to look at. And something that really works, in my opinion, is having a sustainability manager reference. I think it's something really powerful because she did a lot of training. 
So first, the whole organization has champions into the teams. So every department has sustainable champions. And the champions help spread the world, spread the culture, spread the training, the information. The challenge was not on the human side, the challenge was on the workload side. Picture, scale up, growing fast. We need to build 10,000 things in parallel. And we want teams to focus on sustainability. That's not going to happen.

Gael Duez 45:41
And how did you manage to get some positive arbitrage towards sustainability.

Ludi Akue 45:47
We learned to make it right at the executive committee level. We needed to come up with priorities first to tell the teams that, okay, now we don't have 10,000 priorities to chase. You have five ones. And sustainability is one of them. So make room for that. So when we started to have those ok in place and to have these priority likes, every executive committee member has the priority to make sustainability happen.

Gael Duez 46:22
I've got one last question. What about the trend that you see in our industry? And for that, it's very interesting to see that you've got two different perspectives. Because, Ludi, now you don't work for Lunii anymore, you're at Bpifrance and you see dozens of different startups, scale ups, companies, and you've still got this sustainable young angle at heart. So I'd like to ask you the question first. What is the trend that you see today regarding digital sustainability?

Ludi Akue 46:55
What I'm saying is sustainability is not anymore an option. It's not. I can build my company and I will figure out that later.

Gael Duez 47:08
Can I borrow your statement that sustainability is no longer an option? To make it the title of the episode?

Ludi Akue 47:18
With great pleasure.

Gael Duez 47:21
And what about you, Owen? You're in the heart of the web hosting industry in particular. More generally, is the digital technology sector sustainably an option?

Owen Rogers 47:35
I think that for the time being, it is an important consideration for anybody looking to get into the technology space, whether they're launching a new business or an organization, is to think about how they can do so in the most sustainable way possible. At a certain point in time, I don't think it's going to matter. I think that with the rapid decarbonization of our electricity grid that we're not too far away from a scenario where most data centers are going to be powered using renewable energy, or at least low carbon energy. But I think that we have a role to accelerate that transition as much as possible by helping to educate the general public that their choices matter and that there are options out there that will reduce their climate impact and it won't cost the earth that there are cost effective solutions out there. One of the KPIs that I didn't talk about earlier that we have established for ourselves is the proportion of people using eco domains that are using sustainable web hosting. So on an annual basis we go and evaluate every .eco website and run it against the green web, check from Green Web Foundation to see whether or not they're using sustainable hosting. And what we're seeing is year over year growth pretty significantly. I believe that last year we saw an increase from 33% to 40%. Now, some of that is hopefully due to our education, but I think a lot of it is actually due to the changes that are happening in the overall industry where more and more hosts and data centers are working on ensuring that they offer a sustainable solution to their customers.

Gael Duez 49:43
So that's excellent news, because once we will have achieved decarbonizing the data centers on the energy consumption angle, we will have to open the even more complex and complicated question of embedded carbon and making sure that we use equipment as long as we can and not change them every five or six years. But that's a different debate.

Ludi Akue 50:10
Yeah, but it is the... I think that it's... When we are looking at the statistics, it's the huge problem ahead. It's a huge problem you need to tackle. Like, we went talking about community, we also have. We are also responsible not to like having heavy websites, heaven applications that will need people to change their mobile phone, for example. So we have many things to do on that side too. And for me, the end device is where the problem meets the core problem. It is something we need to fix what we can fix, the decarbonization, like you are talking about, Owen, to move to the real problem. The real problem is there. The end devices and the raw materials also. I mean, together.

Gael Duez 51:16
Yeah, agree. And that's true that with your angle of being someone who also had to produce hardware, you've got this, I would say some awareness about the fact that end user equipment still accounts for the largest part of the overall digital sector, carbon footprint. It's true that with an episode with a CTO, we tend to focus on how to decarbonize a tech stack, and how to actually reduce the environmental footprint of the tech stack. But if you look at the entire digital sector, the data centers and networks are not the places where the majority of the impacts happen. It's still a very significant chunk of these impacts. But the end user equipment is even worse, that's for sure.

Owen Rogers 52:08
I'm optimistic that that's what's coming next is that we'll see a real revolution in terms of e-waste management and like a cradle to grave approach with regard to electronics manufacturing because of the fact that they're. They're full of valuable minerals and it's... At a certain point it's going to be a lot more cost effective to reuse those minerals than it is to continue to extract it. 
I'm on a bit of an optimistic kick right now because I've been reading Not the End of the World by Hannah Ritchie, who I think would be a fantastic person for you to invite on the podcast. I know she's been doing a bit of the podcast tour lately, but I think it is important for us to ensure that we're also telling positive and optimistic stories about our future because it's too easy to get drawn into some of the fear and negativity around climate change.

Gael Duez 53:11
So two fun facts when I'm seriously considering, but I don't know if I can afford her, but to have Hannah Ritchie as a keynote speaker, or at least as maybe a keynote speaker. 

I would like to thank you again, both of you, to join, to make the effort to find a way to accommodate our different time zones and to be that precise when it comes to the goals, what you did and what you didn't do, and the process and the the human side of things as well. So thanks a lot for joining. It was a pleasure to have you on the show.

Ludi Akue 53:51
Thank you, Gael.

Owen Rogers 53:52
Thank you and thank you both. Thank you, Ludi. Great to meet you.

Ludi Akue 53:55
Yeah, great to meet you too.

Gael Duez 53:59
Thank you for listening to this Green IO episode! If you enjoyed it, please share it on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter (if you are still there)! We are an independent media and word of mouth is the only way to get more listeners. I don’t ask you to rate it 5 stars on Spotify or Apple podcast because of course you already did it, didn’t you?  

In our next episode we will talk about Japan, not because the country used to be super dear to my heart. Yes, before the K-pop wave, another generation - mine - discovered Japanese animation and was crazy about it. Anyway, we won’t talk about manga but how a super techno-centric country is now considering sustainability and the potential limits that the ongoing ecological crises might create to our digital world. A fascinating discussion with 2 experts who have been living there for ages: Paul Beddie and Trista Bridges.
Stay tuned.  
BTW, Green IO is a podcast and much more, so visit greenio.tech to subscribe to our free monthly newsletter, read the latest articles on our blog, and check the conferences we organize across the globe. The next one is in London on September 19th. Early bird tickets are not available anymore but … you can still get one of the 90 free tickets for Green IO listeners using the voucher GREENIOVIP. I’m looking forward to meeting you there, to help you - fellow responsible technologists - build a greener digital world, one byte at a time [Roxane’s voice]



❤️ Never miss an episode! Hit the subscribe button on the player above and follow us the way you like.

 📧 Our Green IO monthly newsletter is also a good way to be notified, as well as getting carefully curated news on digital sustainability packed with exclusive Green IO contents.