Green I/O
#3 - Elisabeth Mouchy - From hackathon to sprints: how to reduce the carbon footprint of a dating app
May 3, 2022
In this episode, we went to Paris and met Elisabeth Mouchy. In 2013, Elisabeth co-founded Delighted, the Spotify for art in San Francisco. Now, she is now Product Director at Meetic, the multi-awarded dating service. She is super open to provide feedback and insights on Digital Sustainability, a topic she has helped ramp-up at Meetic. We will see how to make sustainable the move toward greener product management. And the way Meetic has tackled painpoints ranging from "Where do I start" to "How to avoid the end-of-the-world versus end-of-the-month dilemna?". This episode has benefited from the support of a dozen of digital product experts across Europe. A warm thank you to them.
In this episode, we went to Paris and met Elisabeth Mouchy. In 2013, Elisabeth co-founded Delighted, the Spotify for art in San Francisco. Now, she is now Product Director at Meetic, the multi-awarded dating service. She is super open to provide feedback and insights on Digital Sustainability, a topic she has helped ramp-up at Meetic. We will see how to make sustainable the move toward greener product management. And the way Meetic has tackled painpoints ranging from "Where do I start" to "How to avoid the end-of-the-world versus end-of-the-month dilemna?".

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Acknowledgement 


This episode has benefited from the support of a dozen of digital product experts across Europe. A warm thank you to them.  Acknowledgement are in this LinkedIn post


Elisabeth's links and other references mentioned in this episode 



Transcript


Gaël
 Hello, everyone. Welcome to green IO, the podcast for doers, making our digital word 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 IT. In this third episode, we went to Paris where we had the pleasure to meet Elizabeth Mouchy. And before we start, I would like to thank all the product experts across Europe who have kindly answered my survey, helping me to prepare for this great interview with Elizabeth. Because Elizabeth has had so many lives and such a track record in digital sustainability that I needed a Joe Cocker's moment: a little help for my friends. So let's start! Elizabeth! Elizabeth owns a master degree in IT engineering with a specialization in electronics, and a management degree in international business. In 2013, she co-founded Daylighted, the Spotify for art in San Francisco. And the Dayglighted technology has enabled viewers and artists to interact on more than 100,000 artworks. Now, she is one of the top product leaders at Meetic the multi-awarded dating service. She is super open to provide feedback and insights on digital sustainability. Like she recently did in a Join Maestro Masterclass for instance, and she is dedicated to this. I must tell you that she blew my mind with the amount of preparation work she did for this interview. Welcome Elizabeth. Thanks a lot for joining Green I/O today.

Elisabeth
Thanks Gaël. So happy to be here.

Gaël
Thanks! First of all, what did I forget to mention about you?

Elisabeth
Nothing at all. Perfect. Thank you so much. One thing that I'd like to highlight is maybe that I'm very interested in the digital sustainability subject and overall the social sustainability in general, but I want to say that, and I know that it's gonna make you laugh, but I'm not an activist. I'm just another normal person who want to do a part in this fight against climate change. So trying to do it with a very hands on approach in my company Meetic.

Gaël
Wow, that's great because we interview both activists and just people wanting to be great doers. [laugh] This is a tagline of the podcast indeed.

Elisabeth
Nothing against activists. Of course.

Gaël
No, but you need both, both profiles for people to get a connection with the hosts. The guests - sorry. but okay, so you're not an activist, but how did you become interested in the sustainability in the first place and the sustainability of our digital sector in that case?

Elisabeth
Yes, of course. So it's obvious to me that we all have to do a part in this fight against climate change and for sustainability. And so everybody usually like me starts small with recycling or eating local organic foods, trying to avoid eating meats, you know, things like this in your personal life. But I think like everybody come at a point where they would wonder “how can I have a bigger impact”?. And for me, as I got more and more interested in the topic I learned that digital is actually a pretty dirty field. [laugh] I know, you know this, but it's typical to present between three and 4% of all greenhouse gas emission in the world. And just a quick data, but and again, I know that most of you listening might know this, but it's already more than a travel industry and it's about to go over road transportation soon as well. And it's growing an incredible speed. So if you're a bit sensitive to sustainability and you work in digital and you know that you have to do something about it, right?

Gaël
Yeah, absolutely. [laugh] Sounds very familiar to me [laugh]

Elisabeth
So that's it, that's basically how I came to it, very interested and “what can I do around me to make it bigger?”

Gaël
But that's interesting because you say, okay, I want to do something. And which is great is that green IO is about sharing hands on experience on how we start ; how to make digital services and Tech more sustainable. And I know that you're part of the productmanagement at meeting. So could you tell us a bit more about the journey that Meetic started toward a lighter environmental footprint? How did it all start?

Elisabeth
Yes, of course. So for Meetic, it's very interesting. Also a few employees were already involved in separate sustainable actions. It really started a few years back when our new CEO Mathieu Jacquier took his office in 2019. Since his first day it made it really clear that we – Meetic - as a whole, as a company could have a bigger impact on sustainability if we put all our effort together. So not only did he stated clear business objective toward a better Meetic, better that's greener, but also a clear message that Meetic is going to try to be sustainable from now on, and not only carbon neutral, but also carbon free.

Gaël
Wow. That, that was a pretty big objective, but how does it all start?

Elisabeth
Yeah, so you have to start somewhere. The best to start is to start with studies to know where you are right now. And for Meetic, the question was “what really was Meetic carbon footprint”? And that was the first thing that we got after our first audit. We were spending 750 tons of equivalent CO2 as a whole company. And while we were measuring that in the meantime, there were also a lot of practical initiative come up, such as incentive to recycle list of restaurants, where you can bring your own boxes. Of course, reminder to turn off the light or the screen if it was not done automatically. So that was really the tip of the iceberg, because it's really like the classical things you see about sustainability. But because Meetic wanted to have an impact, of course it was not only what … we didn't want to stop there! It was really the tip of the iceberg.

Gaël
Yeah, because it was mostly scope ... I mean, it was a scope one audited obviously. Just a side note for the listeners, not yet familiar with the three scopes in a carbon footprint assessment. Scope one is a greenhouse gas emission that a company emits directly while operating. The scope two is the indirect GSG emitted related to the purchasing of electricity and heat or steam. And scope three relates to pretty much everything else must notably all the indirect green house gaz emissions made along the supply chain. And what is important here is that for tech companies, scope three usually accounts for more than 80, if not 90% of the total emissions. And you can easily optimize from scope one to scope three. And for instance, a company can shift from direct car ownership to leasing the car and “poof”, that's magic, suddenly the cars are not in scope one anymore. In IT, of course you can not use your own servers, but the ones of a public cloud provider like AWS. And this leads to another very interesting discussion on how to assess the carbon footprint of your cloud provider. And I'll stop here not to spoil you because we will have a fully dedicated episode on this topic very, very soon. So 750 tons is an interesting figure, which tools and frameworks were used to assess Meetic carbon footprint for the scope one and maybe more later [laugh].

Elisabeth
Yeah, exactly. So for this audit - specific audit - it was done internally with whatever we can find to create it. But then in 2020 we hired an external company called Inside App to help us measure the impact of our services so together - And it's a kind of a process, you know, because it's pretty new - So together we decided on three interesting user flows to be measure on different steps. So for example, the download of the apps or the pages, the usage generated by each scenario and for each one, we then created the carbon footprint impact of data center usage, the user terminals and the network. And so that made up a total of 1,300 tons of equivalent CO2. So about twice what we calculated for office and company alone. So of course you have to realize that this is just a number and this was all quite new, kind of, at the time and really experimental. So when you do that, you have to take a lot of hypothesis and everything in the calculation is of course questionable. But the idea is really to arrive at a numberh so you can improve things from there.

Gaël
Yeah. But I think that's really the idea the life cycle and analysis is still an it's infant phase, but it's way more efficient than just measuring the electricity consumption and that's it and as you said measuring is the first step to improve things. So how did you start improving things?

Elisabeth
So, yes. So in the meantime, during those audits I was actually contacted by the team behind APIdays. I was a speaker at APIdays in the end of 2019, I think, no 2020 sorry. And they asked me if Meetic wanted to participate in their yearly digital sustainable challenge. And as I knew that this was a challenge, very interesting challenge, and it was a great objective for Meetic together. So I've contacted collaborators inside Meetic to try to put together a team for the challenge. So we succeeded in that, we were six persons participating to the challenge. It was really interesting focusing on IT sustainability and really a good level of expertise in the field. We learn tons of good practices and what's interesting too, is to actually talk and meet with like-minded people that want also to have an impact in their company and for the company and also production partners of course. So that was a challenge. And at the end of the challenge you have to put together a pitch to communicate about what you have done during the challenge and what you plan to do after that for your company and to improve sustainability. And so for our pitch, we had practical recommendation around optimizing our apps and website because of course it was not really done before. Also, it was not terrible. The performances were good, but you can always do better, especially when you start to measure, but we'll come back on this point later. We had recommendation around optimizing our data centers. That's also an easy one, and I know you talk about this, so I won't spoil the next podcast. But one thing that was very specific to what we wanted to do, was to evangelize the subject internally, because if everybody at Meetic, knew, or kind of knew how to correctly recycle, the knowledge on sustainable product development and good practices was close to zero also, it seemed and so that was something that we really wanted to do, like the evangelization of good practices to develop according to sustainable best practice. And so the challenge jury really liked our 360 recommendation. And so we were really happy to win the silver medal but we didn't stop there of course.

Gaël
Oh, congratulations for the award.

Elisabeth
Thank you.

Gaël
Okay. So after this silver medal, what happened? Like was everybody at Meetic already fully evangelized through the participation to APIdays, or it was not the case yet?

Elisabeth
It was a start. But we knew that something else had to be done to improve internal knowledge about this. So at Meetic, we generally organize yearly hackathons and employees always love to participate. So the idea suddently popped up, like to have both together, why not organize a hackathon on IT sustainability with the challenge of making Meetic apps greener. And so that's what we did. And it had a great participation. About 45 people participated from all departments in Meetic with a total of eight presented projects ranging from optimizing our customer care answer flows and to integrating new cache tools or optimizing caching protocols, et cetera. And the winning project was a project to make an homemade tool to measure different sustainable indicators called green tool.

Gaël
You're gonna have to tell us something about this green tool, but first, just a quick question. So 45 people that seems a lot, but how many people are working in Tech in the Meetic company?

Elisabeth
I think it's about 150, something like that around this.

Gaël
So you're telling me that almost one third of all the product and tech teams wanted to participate to this hackathon.

Elisabeth
Yeah, exactly. And also, also we are joined also by other teams. They're always like marketing which participate

Gaël
Yes Marketing.

Elisabeth
But yeah, it was a really like a high attendency.

Gaël
Well, yeah, pretty impressive. Congratulations that's say something about the interest of the sustainably topic in industry I believe. Could you tell us a bit more about this green tool? Sounds very interesting.

Elisabeth
Yeah. So green tool is an internal dashboard used to evaluate the performance and impact of our features. We've developed it for different parts of our services, apps, and web apps but also emails, for example that we send like customer management. The idea is that when a developer puts a new feature live, they can check many indicators about it and see if it had an impact. And we have indicated such as data transferred, page weight, loading speed, download speed, but also just straight equivalent CO2 calculated from the usage, actually it's from a scenario usage. That's important because for example, they took different scenario, but one of the sample scenario is a user recently arrived on meeting and visited 50 profiles. And so if you, if you took this sample scenario and through automatic test, they can simulate the impact on the scenario, get the data on the performances, and then you can see what was entitled the scenario before and after the feature. That's very interesting. And so one of the, of green tool impact for example, is that after an update, they realize that with the same scenario of visiting 50 people that on the mobile web app, the weight of the overall flow would increase and would be 66 megabytes. And the story was quite big. And the notice that the image size was the same than the desktop web up, meaning way too large, you didn't need like the same size on mobile app, than desktop app. So they optimize it and now the overall weight of this scenario is just eight megabytes. So that's an amount of 90%.

Gaël
Wow

Elisabeth
Yeah that's pretty good. Pretty amazing actually. And when you start to measure the data around sustainability and around performance, and you start to measure like frequently, there's lots of hanging fruits to get, you know. Another example that we had is that … Sorry, I'm talking a lot, let me know if you want to [laugh]

Gaël
I think the audience wants to hear you, not me. So please [laugh], you're the one having very concrete hands-on feedback to provide, so go for it.

Elisabeth
Another examples that I found interesting is that we had this assumption that photos are the first thing to optimize because you know, like it's visual, you know, it's heavy and when we launched green tool, we saw that we look into it, you know, like we look into the different categories that are loaded on the page, and we were expecting photos to be like super big. Right. And but what you look at the number from green tool you notice is that it's nothing, nothing, compared to the Javascript code which was actually way bigger, way much bigger. And so that thing like this, that you get surprised because you actually don't know until you look into it. And so green tool was really like a really useful tool for us. Today it's mostly monitored by QA manager and it's included in the auto generated test process, but the idea is that it's so easy to use and so user friendly. - that's why we made it - that it could be used by any engineering managers and product owners as part of their monitoring routine. For example, after whole launch. One thing that's important to realize with those measures and tool to measure is that, you know, we talk about an audit at the beginning and that's also good to really know where you are. But then, with Meetic, you know, we deploy updates almost every day on our apps. So there is no way that this audit is true tomorrow. So the nice thing with green tool is that we have the autonomy to check every time we update something on our app, that it's correct, that the performance are the same, and that it's always at the top level and we can always try to improve.

Gaël
Is it fully automated? Like you don't have manual interventions to update the data?

Elisabeth
It's fully automated it's based on auto-generated tests that run automatically every, I would say something stupid, so maybe every five minutes or 15 minutes or half an hour I dunno. But it runs automatically. And then you check the data if you want to see the graph, but you also receive alerts if something's wrong, something had changed.

Gaël
Wow. That's a very powerful tool. And that's a super insightful feedback. You give us about all this Meetic journey towards sustainability. Thanks a lot. And you know, in the survey I mentioned earlier, the top four challenges listed by participants where “top level involvement”, “company-wide awareness”, “how to start measuring, doing things, et cetera” and “prioritization in making sustainable the commitment towards sustainability”. And if you don't mind, I'd like to start with this last point: “how to organize?” To avoid the “end of the word versus end of the month” dilemma. How did you entrench the sustainability criteria in your day to day product operation? Beyond the use of green tool, which is obviously a very massive first step.

Elisabeth
Yes. all of those are very interesting questions. To answer this specific question about how to avoid end of the world vs end of the month dilemma. It had to track back of where we started to put the sustainability in our day to day operation. But one thing that I mentioned is when, like Meetic this is a companywide objective and on top of it that socially engage the company, initiative can come from many places and it all come together at some point to create a big impact. So it's hard to notice where it really started. But if I answer your question a bit more precisely, from my point of view, once the topic is really pushed forward by top executives, it has to quickly move down to the employees so they get familiar with it. That's why the hackathon was a superb opportunity to help employees learn more about the sustainable practices, what can be done and join in with their own expertise, try things, show that we can do things and create a sort of emulation so that everybody wants to do it too, and wants to do their part

Gaël
So once the ball has started rolling, everything gets smoother. If I understand you. Right.

Elisabeth
Exactly. Yeah.

Gaël
What advice would you give to someone willing to kick starts? Because as I said, something like 90% of the respondents in my little survey, not a scientific one [laugh] but have no action planned except for starting to measure and almost all asked for “what are the first steps?”

Elisabeth
Yeah. So the, the measurement is really the first step because when you start to measure, you'll see where you have to start, you know what I mean? It really linked one to another. So, if you really want to be hands-on, there are many tools out there that can help you measure your apps, your site performance, such as lighthouse or Hublot's open source tool which is called scaphandre but some tools even provide guidance into what to improve to be sustainable. And at higher level, there also a few consultancy companies that can run a carbon emission audit for you. You should really start there, you know, like it looks like it's easy, but actually it's not. Even if a consultancy company helps you, it's not easy. You really had to go through it and make lot of hypothesis. And it's really a process and you'll improve it every year. But this is really the first step that you have to take. I'm sorry, it's maybe an obvious answer but...

Gaël
No, no, it's not. And this feedback is super important. I think the example you provided regarding the image size is a very interesting one. Of course, if you are a developer with the right level of awareness, when it comes to a digital sustainability, as the good craftmanship, you will pay attention to the size of the images, but you might miss this Javascript.

Elisabeth
There's another thing that said like “you can change what you can measure”. Something like this. [laugh]

Gaël
Exactly. Yeah, exactly. [laugh] but it has been used some time to postpone change. Like “start measuring, come back two years later and we will see you can do”. And I think what is very interesting with what you shared with us is that you start measuring and you knew that it was not the right measure, but it's still the right things to do. Start measuring, start testing, correcting it. And this is ... it's obvious that in 10 years time, I mean, we will have international standards in digital sustainability, in IT, everything will be way smoother. I bet pretty much that we will have carbon accounting assessor as we have today for financial accounting. And that, you know, actually that will be a huge pressure from pretty much everyone to be sustainable. But do we really have 10 years to wait that everything is set up? No. So starting to measure and knowing that maybe it's between one, two, threefold [laugh] the size doesn't really matter because the direction is way more important than the absolute number.

Elisabeth
Yeah. Absolutely. It's about having the right direction. Yeah.

Gaël
Going back to, to another pain point that was raised, what about company-wide awareness? I mean, you choose a hackathon at Meetic, but would you give other advice on how to turn goodwill into action within teams?

Elisabeth
Yeah, very interesting question. And very applicable to Meetic because we have a lot of initiatives implying our teams. So at Meetic, it also started a few years back with brown bag lunch meetings, BBL. And during those BBL, we used to discuss everything from our product to the obvious administrative subject that I mentioned before, recycling, et cetera. Also we have a slack channel about sustainability where we share from time to time what is done around the world and also what we do in our personal life. So everybody can advance also in their personal life if they want. But I think the first step here, and this is what I mentioned just now is really to create a strong community of people. We really want to push a topic forward. And for example, also around green tool use, we have set up performance committees attended by most tech leads and engineering managers. This is a meeting that happens monthly and it is used to prioritize a backlog of ideas to improve the overall performances of services. And during each committee, they go over the best ideas and try to think of ways to measure them - again the measure - and to prioritize them depending on the impact and the effort, et cetera. And green tool is really key again in that - sorry, I'm talking lot of green tool - because as it's an homemade tool, we can make it evolve at the same time that indicators we need to measure the new ideas that we have. It's really like a good circle in like a positive circle of evolution.

Gaël
And what about top level involvement? Obviously the sponsorship of your CEO is super strong, but was he the only one? In your opinion, is it the best sponsor? The only one possible?

Elisabeth
Two things on the subject. One thing, I think the top level involvement worked at Meetic because it was really genuine, meaning it's never been about external communication or green washing, you know. We were doing things only internally, so it was not for external communication at all but really a better impact on society and on the world. And I think that's why it's taken off in Meetic. Because it was really a... it was really driven by genuine will of changing the world. And second thing is that even before the hackathon, the executive wanted to make this objective a long term objective for Meetic. So let's say that tomorrow, all the executives from the executive committee change. So CEO, CFO, everybody leave whatever. They wanted to make sure that the objective will stay within Meetic. And so that's why they decided to apply for a European standard norm, the norm ISO 14001 that set up an objective of improving every year your process of making the company more sustainable. And we set up high objectives of improving the impact that Meetic has by 10% every year. And so we know that we are in a long run with this. We're not gonna stop tomorrow.

Gaël
Wow. That's very interesting to connect with the overall objectives. 10% is quite ambitious and, actually, it connects super well with another question which is highly related, which is kind of my challenging question: “Beyond beautiful low carbon scope 3, what about the impact on business?” And let me clarify. Several people in the survey clearly stated that sustainability and profit were tradeoff in their company. Thus, nobody at the top level takes it seriously beyond greenwashing. And is it for you a misconception? How come it was different at Meetic, which is certainly not a nonprofit NGO. How was the ROI calculated? Because you mentioned greenwashing earlier and obviously you were not afraid of greenwashing labeling because you didn't communicate that much about what you were doing. So do you think it's a misconception?

Elisabeth
It's a topic that come back often around sustainability and digital sustainability. It's an interesting thing at Meetic because on top of the CEO - and of course the CTO who also run the subject, you know, for tools extra and for development optimization - it is now the CFO who's responsible for running the sustainability topic.

Gaël
Interesting.

Elisabeth
[laugh] yeah. So I know it's always a concern in the field that you have to choose between profit and sustainability, but actually sustainability is often improving your performances. If you take IT sustainability for example - but it works also with recycling or anything - by optimizing your websites or apps for low carbon impact, you often notice that your apps will also be quicker to load, lighter for your users and even often simpler in the product flow, because if you want to improve also the product sustainability, you have to optimize the product flow, maybe remove some features, something like this. And so it's really a win-win for everybody. But at Meetic we don't capture any direct ROI. We know we have to do this and I believe that everybody will do it at some point anyway, so better be the first one.

Gaël
[laugh] Being pionners once again.

Elisabeth
Exactly.

Gaël
I think you answered beautifully the top four challenges that my former colleagues and other experts shared with me. So I'd like to end up now with two more general question. First one being what makes you optimistic about our path toward a greener digital word?

Elisabeth
[laugh] interesting. So to be honest, I'm not really optimistic. You know this, I know this the stats are worse every year and every year scientists, researchers, people who know things give new objectives to limit greenhouse gas emission, and the overall temperature raise but year after year, it's higher and we're further away. So it's pretty pessimistic, sorry. But as there is no way out we don't have a choice, I guess. So we still have to try our best, to do our part and try to optimize and be the cleaner we can, I think, personally and professionally of course. But what we can be optimistic about - because there always something we can be optimistic - is that even if it's still not a main topic in the political world, which it should be of course, there's more and more people, especially in IT sustainability who are interesting in this. And that's of course a good thing because more people means more effort and more impact. So that's what I'm optimistic about.

Gaël
Yeah. The ratio of almost one third of tech and product people wanting to participate to the hackathon at Meetic is clearly a very positive signal as well. And one last question that I asked to every guest, what would be your recommendations to learn more about digital sustainability and green IT, some thought leaders you could recommend to follow, some books, et cetera, et cetera. Elisabeth
It's a really hard question because it's not a main topic yet. I guess I would recommend warmly APIdays sustainable challenge. But also following the mentor there, because it's really like you ask for where to start. And I think it's a good place to start actually for people who can participate. Otherwise I mostly get information from my peer network, you know. IT sustainability is not yet a major subject. There is no major leader in the field that you have to follow absolutely. So like there's not John Cuttler in the product management field of Paul Graham for entrepreneurship. You know. There is nobody like this for IT sustainability yet. And so I see it as an emerging, almost underground topic. And so my main advice would be to build your peer network to get updating for about it and to know what's being done in the world.

Gaël
That's a good advice. This is where I started when I joined the - not that underground – Climate Action Tech community. But you are right. It is still quite under the radar at the moment.

Elisabeth
Yes, exactly.

Gaël
Well, Elizabeth, that was awesome. Super, super hands on [laugh] . Thanks a lot for being with us today.

Elisabeth
Thank you

Gaël
Really. Your insights and feedback, they were just great. Especially on how you run a sustainable product management on a daily basis and all the concrete actions you took. So I'm sure many of our listeners will find inspiration in it to kickstart or ramp up their journey to greener digital services. So thanks again. And next month we will go to Berlin … by train! And meet onsite - it will be my first recording onsite - Chris Adams the green web foundation director and a pillar of the climate action tech community I mentioned earlier. We will talk about green hosting cloud sustainability, and how to reduce carbon emissions associated with digital services in general. I must admit I'm looking forward to meeting such a giant in the sustainability field and that's it for this month … or not yet :) Just a few words about your beloved podcast. In two months time with zero marketing budget, green I/O already has hundreds of listeners. It's a great news. It means that you are not alone trying to build and run Greener digital services and Tech stack. Now my dear listener, I need you to boost it further. Just after you're done listening to this episode, please rate it five stars on Spotify, apple podcast, or any other podcast platform you use. On some of them a nice review would also help. It will make a huge difference in the search results. And together we will reach new people eager to make our digital world greener one by at a time. 

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