Green I/O
#5 - Hannah Smith - Greening WordPress: it's not all black and white
June 29, 2022
For this episode we went to South England, near Exmoor national park, to meet Hannah Smith aka hanopcan. She is one of the most vocal sustainability advocates in the WordPress community as as in many others from Climate Action Tech to the Green Web Foundation. She will blow your mind with her pragmatic and efficient approach and will help you make almost 40% of all the words websites greener.
For this episode we went to South England, near Exmoor national park, to meet Hannah Smith aka hanopcan. She is one of the most vocal sustainability advocates in the WordPress community as as in many others from Climate Action Tech to the Green Web Foundation. She will blow your mind with her pragmatic and efficient approach and will help you make almost 40% of all the words websites greener.

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Transcript


Gaël: Hello everyone. Welcome to Green IO - the podcast for doers making our digital world greener one bite at a time. I'm your host Gaël Duez and I invite you to meet with me a wide range of guests working in the digital tech industry to better understand and make sense of its sustainability issues and find inspiration together for the next move to green the IT we use or the digital products we build. If you like the podcast, please rate it five stars on Apple, Spotify or your favorite platform to spread the word to more responsible technologists like you. 
And now enjoy the show!  

Hello, everyone. In this episode, we go through the Southwest of England in the beautiful Exmoor National park. We had the pleasure to meet Hannah. Well, this time it was a remote recording, so I didn't have the pleasure to experience the park. But Hannah told me it's a beautiful place and I trust her. Hannah Smith, better known as hanopcan, is one of the most vocal sustainability advocates in the WordPress community. Okay, okay, okay! I hear you. What? Wordpress? A CMS supporting the move toward a more sustainable web? Are you kidding? Just wait to listen to Hannah. She will blow your mind and help you make almost 40% of all the world's websites greener. And she knows what she talks about because she's a diehard developer, having started coding when she was still a teenager sneaking on her dad's PC at home, but also because of all the energy she puts in sustainable initiatives, from having launched the Green Tech Southwest Meet-up in Bristol to being a volunteer in the Climate Action Tech community as well as the Green Web Foundation. And I believe she will tell us more about her recent fellowship in this foundation soon. And there is also another topic Hannah is passionate about... and I have to stop here and let her tell us about it. 

Welcome, Hannah. Thanks a lot for joining Green IO today.

Hannah: Thank you Gaël. It’s lovely to be here with you and super fun to be talking about tech sustainability and Wordpress sustainability as well.

Gaël: Great. So if I want to launch a podcast on snowboarding, you should be my first guest. Is this correct?

Hannah: Hell, yes. Yeah, yeah. If I won the lottery and didn't have to like think too much about money and maybe like sustainability. I just want to snowboard. That would be my like, yes, my top thing to do. The mountains are such fun places.

Gaël: Yeah, you speak from my heart when it comes to snow sliding sports. And you know, I'm using this weird wording to dodge the old debate between skiing, snowboarding, and…

Hannah: I've actually been learning to do both. So snowboarding is where my passion lies, where my heart is but I have been learning to ski as well. And I'm also really good at tobogganing as well. I discovered I can do like proper Mario Car Superpower slides down toboggan tracks as well, which is super fun.

Gaël: Do you throw the turtle?

Hannah: Do I throw the turtle? Yeah, but my dog is normally roaming alongside me actually when I go tobogganing. It's a good way to exercise her. So I don't know. It might be a bit mean trying to throw turtles at her. I'm trying to maybe throw more like the mushroom power ups or something. 

Gaël: that works as well! That works as well! And beyond snowboarding, what else did I miss in your bio?

Hannah: Probably one of the main things is the work I'm doing with the Green Web Foundation at the moment, and particularly the fellowship. I think you did mention a little bit the fellowship that I've just finished with them. We've been exploring the intersection of climate justice and digital technologies, which has been really, really interesting.

Gaël: Could you elaborate a bit on it?

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. So I went into the fellowship having explored digital sustainability quite a bit. And I was very much focused on carbon emissions at the beginning of the fellowship. So very much looking at the energy uses of websites and thinking about optimisation and performance of websites. What the fellowship did for me is give me an opportunity to explore a much broader definition of sustainability and understand what climate justice is. It was an entirely new frame of thinking for me, not something I'd ever come across before. I'd seen it on placards, but I had not really understood what it was. And I think what I learnt really really deeply from that fellowship was that sustainability and climate justice are really complex topics. And within the digital tech sector, we have to be super careful not to try and boil these things down too simplistically because I think if we start doing that, we miss too much of the real depth within these topics. They're not black and white, they're not binary. And I think as engineers we get very used to thinking it's on or it's off. It's yes or it's no, it's black or it's white and it's not with sustainability and it's not with climate justice. It's very, very complex. You get something right on one side and you inadvertently make a problem somewhere else. I think that was one of my key takeaways and it's like, incredibly complex and that you have to be really comfortable with working in greys and you have to be really comfortable with not knowing the right answer. You can only go in a direction, take a journey and hope that that journey is going in the right way. I think that was one of my key takeaways actually. It just really shaped the way I think and feel about a lot of this stuff.

Gaël: That's very interesting because engineers are not used to working in grey areas as you said, and I believe that one of the top challenges today, if we want to succeed in making the world fossil free, is to acknowledge that we need as much, if not more human engineering than purely technical ones. And this is where many people are uncomfortable, I think.

Hannah: Oh, for sure. I mean, one of the things that I really explored through the fellowship was the doughnut economics model.

Gaël: Mmh

Hannah: And I've just come from the Pixel Pioneers conference last week where I presented that to a tech audience for the first time. It was really, really interesting. And one of the things that the doughnut economics model does is it puts humanity in the centre of the story of sustainability. It has a social foundation and that is the centre of the doughnut, and then the ecological considerations of the outer circle of doughnut. And my take away from, you know, the way I ended that talk was “sustainability is not a tool or a code problem. It's a human problem.” We have to human better if we're going to make a more sustainable world. And I mean, I'm definitely an engineer. I want clarity. I want yes - no answers. I want to know my code is working or my code isn't working. I'm uncomfortable knowing that there many different ways to do something or not do something. But as you rightly said, we have to get used to that. That is actually what sustainability is about. It's first and foremost human problems. Social problems over engineering problems.

Gaël: How did you become interested in sustainability in the first place? Did the sight of shrinking glaciers in the Alps play a role?

Hannah: Yeah. I mean, I've always, always been interested in the planet and the environment. I love plants and I love nature. And as a kid, I was always outside. I was always mucking around in the outdoors, building dens, whatever. So I've always had this innate interest in nature and the environment, and I'm a child of the eighties. We grew up at school. We were taught about global warming as it was called then. I remember the body shop talking about deforestation of the rainforest. So I've always had this acute awareness. In my twenties, I went off to work for the Environment Agency for seven years, so I started off doing a degree in computer science and then went off to work for the Environment Agency. It's always been there for me, but I think more recently in the last sort of six or seven years… I mean you're absolutely right about glaciers. I mean, as a keen snowboarder, the places that used to have reliable snow don't have it now. You go up to Mont Blanc and see the glacier up there, and they have these signs all the way up the mountain saying, Oh, in the last 20, 30 years, this is how much the glaciers shrunk. I mean, you can't kind of get away from that. But more recently, within the tech sector, I've started to see more people talking about sustainability. So my own journey really sort of kicked off, I don't know, four or five years ago where I really started to commit loads of my time to sustainability. And it was when I started to organise the Bristol WordPress Group and I wanted the Bristol WordPress meet up to be more sustainable, and I then organised the Bristol WordCamp, which was a WordPress conference in Bristol, and I was looking for ways to make that conference more sustainable. At that time, I hadn't really thought about talks so much to do with technical sustainability. I was like way more focused on the food, the travel, the swag - a real pet hate for the amount of plastic crap people get given at conferences. So I was far more thinking about sustainability there. But I put the word out asking for anyone who would be interested in coming to do some talks on sustainability. And we had Wholegrain Digital. They came along and did a talk for us. And that was in May 2019. And they talked about designing websites to be greener. That was one of the first times I really heard about this stuff. And then So that was in May. And then that June, I went to wordcamp Europe in… It must have been in Belgrade, I think. What was it? No, no. Sorry. It must have been in Berlin. I went to wordcamp Berlin, and Jack Lennox was on the main stage giving a big talk about digital sustainability. I think his talk was called “Is digital killing the planet” or “How to make websites that don't kill the planet”? That was my absolute Aha lightbulb moment that digital tech had a massive issue and has a massive call to action around sustainability.

Gaël: And now you're the onge giving these talks.

Hannah: Yeah, I guess I found my niche, my call to action. I've realised that there aren't enough voices in this space. I actually mentioned going to wordcamp Europe in Belgrade. So that was in 2018. That was the first time I've ever been to like a whopping great big conference. And I remember going to that conference and thinking not a single person is talking about sustainability at this conference.

Gaël: It still happens a lot.

Hannah: Oh, ma'am, it does, but it's better. It is better. But I thought, Hang on. How can the world's biggest tech community not have a single talk or workshop or mention of planetary sustainability issues? Remember thinking all right, back in 2018, I was like, OK, I want to do something about this. Hence the effort I was putting into my own conference that I was organising in Bristol and then, thankfully, Wholegrain Digital and Jack came along the year after and really kind of helped me realise what I could be talking about or should be talking about.

Gaël: Let's talk about what you talk and especially, you know, Green IO is about sharing hands on experience on how to make the Web and take more sustainable. And I wanted to ask you a question. Could you pick one project which you did recently on WordPress, as a perfect blueprint for someone willing to build a low carbon website?

Hannah: Mm. That is a really, really good question. I don't think I can give you a single project that is a perfect example of what you can achieve with digital sustainability. I don't think any client has ever come to me with the perfect amount of budget or the perfect amount of human resource to work on such a project with me. But what we can definitely talk through though, is some different scenarios in which I have done that work. But nothing to my mind has ever been perfect in that respect.

Gaël: Nothing is fully black and white, I guess.

Hannah: Beautifully done. Yes, absolutely. Coming back to that initial point. We don't live in a perfect world, and we're in shades of grey, but there's some interesting things we can definitely talk about.

Gaël: So let's go for them.

Hannah: Okay, so one project that we can definitely talk about is Branch magazine, which is a really interesting project run by the Green Web Foundation. And what that website does is it shows you a different view of the website, depending on the grids carbon intensity for that day. So it's a really interesting showcase of responsive, super responsive websites. The way it does that is it uses a data set from the national grid to the UK data set and if there's loads of solar and renewables on the grid that day, it shows you more images, more high definition images. And actually, do you know what? It was Jack Lennox that actually set up the foundation for that, and I was quite intimidated. I was like… Oh, my God!..like I'm never going to understand what Jack has done because Jack is a really great developer. This is going to be actually super complicated. It's really not. I was really surprised, like a lot of it was done with JavaScript, and the other thing that's built into that website as well is a really heavy use of caching using the redis object cache and the cool thing about that is it set up on the server and essentially, it's turning WordPress into a set of static HTML files. WordPress. That site is basically a simple blog. It's articles. There's nothing much interactive there. So it's a perfect example of what you can do with a WordPress site to make it more sustainable, to make it use a whole heap less energy per page load. Also, I should mention if you haven't seen Branch magazine, check it out because the content is super good and a big shout out to Michelle Thorne because she's brilliant. She's such a good curators of interesting content.

Gaël: Yes, she is. Well, that's very interesting what you mentioned with WordPress and its static site, because that was one of the questions I wanted to ask you -That, okay, it seems that some WordPress projects can be sustainable at heart, and I wanted to ask you what's your position on the debate: SSG versus SSR like WordPress? And for the listeners not fully familiar with the topic, a static site is a website hosted fully on a content delivery network or CDN. That means that it does need a server to render the page. When people visit a static site, the closer CDN to the user responses with a basic HTML file. A static site generator is a tool that helps build such static site pages. And, on the other end, sever-side rendering solutions, which today power most of the web - they build a page on demand each time a user visits the site while SSG does it at build time. And the advantage, of course, is that the pages are always up-to-date. But every page view triggers a call to the APIs, hence a bigger environmental footprint. So what is your take on it? Is it a false debate? Is it a debate we need to have?

Hannah: Oh, interesting. I mean, there's no denying that static sites are better. They are better for reducing the amount of energy use and they're quicker as well. So that's definitely a good thing. In my mind, there's kind of no debate to be had there. The facts on that are absolutely undeniable. But I think as I mentioned when I was talking through Branch magazine, static sites can start to become a little bit unstuck when you've got lots of content going up all the time where you've got dynamic interactions such as using forms or shopping online, they're not quite the right tool for the job in those sorts of situations. WordPress has a business within the ecosystem called Strattic, who have been developing ways of turning WordPress into a static site generator. And the issue is that when you edit stuff, what happens to the content? How often do you refresh the whole build of the site in order to create the static files? And I think that's been the big issue that Strattic have been grappling with - how does the site know when to refresh all the HTML files? Because if you make a typo on a page and you change that, you don't want your entire site to rebuild, which is what some static site generators do. So there's you know this idea of kind of how often and how do your files get re-cached essentially or recreated into static files? You know, if you make a change to the nav, top nav, all your files have got to update, and you know you maybe sort of get into a conversation about “Is that a good idea?” “How sustainable is that?” Especially if you've got a team of 10 people making changes all the time, then you're just constantly recreating all the files. I think for a site that is large and what I mean by large, I mean has a lot of visitors,  it's a really good option to look into. I really, really do think that static site generators and making WordPress do more of this stuff out of the box, it's got to be the future direction for us to go in. I really, really do. And I'd love to see us talking about that more within the WordPress community. At the moment, the conversation seems to be, well, you're not using WordPress well, you're stupid, you should be using static site generators instead. Here's a load of other CMSs that do that for you? And I kind of think again, you know folks, it's not black and white. It's not one or the other. We can kind of get WordPress to do some of this for us or start to move in that direction as well. We don't necessarily have to switch CMS in order to achieve that.

Gaël: And I reckon this not black and white position of yours is kind of rooted in the way you work on a daily basis with small medium businesses. They don't have, like, the biggest budget possible that will enable them to do a big migration every two years to change the entire technology stack. So maybe this is also where you could provide us a bit of a feedback regarding how do you help these kinds of customers using WordPress becoming greener without having the means of, you know, multi-billion unicorns companies obviously?

Hannah: Absolutely. And I think I mean most, a lot of people in the WordPress space are working with SMEs working with small to medium enterprises. So I mean, at the moment, I've got one client. We are still using the WordPress Classic editor. So, we haven't switched to the Gutenberg stuff. Their site theme is Oh, my gosh. We must be approaching eight or nine years old with that. Do you know what? Gaël, it still works. We can still deliver what we need to deliver. The developer in me is desperate to re-engineer it all but the sustainability advocate in me is quite happy to keep working with them on a step by step iterative basis to keep what we've got going. So one of the big things I've been doing with them is helping them get their heads around images. Small to medium businesses don't often - the people within those businesses perhaps don't often - have a dedicated content manager. It will be, you know, a number of different people from within the business adding content. So, getting the images, you know, media is one of the biggest causes of your file size to grow. And actually, what we want to be doing is keeping the file size of each page load as small as possible. And images are a fantastic focal point for making massive, massive reductions. So one of the things I've been doing is helping them learn how to optimize their images, helping them learn when a 2000 pixel wide image is appropriate and when it is not. And I've also done a few things on the back end to help change those images, say to Web P format. So, I love to use a plug in called Smush. I also like to use a plug in called short pixel in order to convert images automatically to smaller formats. You can't just upload Web P images directly to WordPress because if you do that, you've got backwards compatibility issues. Putting plugins in place helps do that on the fly.

Gaël: And what about video?

Hannah: So video is massive for file size, as I'm sure many people will be aware. So auto playing videos are just a no! no! Like please, can we just not have auto playing videos unless there's a really, really important reason for it? But auto playing videos people don't like them. You know you're on the train or you're at a cafe, and suddenly you've got a video playing. Nobody really likes that experience. And the other thing is, it just sucks up loads of bandwidth and therefore electricity almost straight away. So auto playing videos are a big red cross. Do you know what? I'm not generally binary about things. This is definitely a theme of our conversation. But you know what? When it comes to playing videos, I actually would just say that's a big red cross. Don't do it. Full stop. Find a better way. And otherwise animated gifs. So this client has got a very, very old website. I've been using a tool called Cabin Analytics and I've plugged cabin analytics into the site to help me see what are the biggest pages in terms of file size. I found this one page that was like eight megabytes. I was like, okay, wow, what's going on here? Like that's quite large, because everything else is generally 1.5 to 2 which is bigger than we'd like but, you know, we've got to be pragmatic about what we're doing. I was like: OK, this is a massive outlier - the eight meg. What's going on here? And basically I'd realised that they had embedded an animated GIF into the page and it was massive. It was like a 1200 pixel wide animated GIF. And it was nice but it wasn't really doing much. I kind of said to them: Hey folks! You know, if you realise this is basically six megabytes, that's loading every single time that someone views that page and they went on, we did wonder why it was slow we hadn't realised. And so all we did was swap that out for a static image. And now we've got that page back down to more like two again, which is, you know, better, definitely much better.

Gaël: That's a very interesting point, because the last green IO episode with Chris Adams, you know, focused a lot on hosting and infrastructure etc. and green powering, the data centres etc. but everything starts with design. The greenest possible Watt is a negaWatt.

Hannah: So I'm glad that Chris was on that previous episode. Because just before I sort of answer your question, one of the quick, quick and easy wins for any SME is switching from a hosting provider to a hosting provider that runs on green energy. And it sounds like you and Chris have had a really good conversation about that. So we can park that for now and direct everyone to listen to that episode with you and Chris. In terms of design, fonts is a really big one that people can think about. Custom fonts are very nice, very beautiful, but they do slow the performance of the site down and can add quite a bit of page weight in. So I would say to people, try and limit your use of fonts. If you can use the system font for the text, great! And maybe reserve the more beautiful artistic fonts, perhaps for your headings, where it will matter where it will really make a big difference. So fonts is definitely something useful to look at. We've talked about images. Big images that take up the whole of the screen are a real problem because we have screens these days that are huge, absolutely enormous. My screen, my main one that I use is 2400 pixels. So if you want to deliver a nice, full screen image to someone using a screen that big, you're going to have to put in a really massive image. And unfortunately, Gutenberg isn't really helping us at the moment with something called image source set. I won't get into it now because it's more of a developer question than a techy, than a design question. But it means we're in a slightly harder position for delivering more responsibly sized images. It's kind of one of my bugbears for Gutenberg and what WordPress has done with that. So we want to, you know, you might have a justification for a massive image across the screen somewhere. But if every single page has it and maybe several of them across a page, I think you're going to give yourself some sort of sustainability headaches basically. It's really cool seeing the recent trend with designers doing more with SVG and Vector based graphics and even drawing things with CSS as well. And that can be a really great way of creating interest across a wide part of the screen estate, but without having images. So that's definitely something worth looking into as well. And then I think the last thing is “Search”. Don't be afraid to incorporate search into the design of websites. Search is actually really good value in terms of the amount of energy it uses to conduct a search. If you think that somebody's coming on your site to look for a particular piece of content, if they have to load five or six pages in order to find what they're looking for, that's quite a lot of wasted data transfer. But actually, if you use a search filter, sorry, a search mechanism, someone can find what they're looking for a lot more quickly. And I think in design search is a real saviour actually. Yes, there's a back end implication for someone running that search on the service side. But again, such results don't use a huge amount of energy if you've got a well optimized search function in the site. WordPress search function is okay. You can definitely optimize it and make it better. So that would be my fourth pillar: stick search on your site. It doesn't cost as much as you might think it does and it will really help your users.

Gaël: So in a nutshell, if I dare to wrap up what you've said, you will have four pillars which are images, video, font and search. And I would say more generally speaking the way we use CMS today are, most of the time, not sustainable but the tool itself remains very, very powerful, if used properly. With these changes you talked about in design, but also in hosting and even in deployment. Am I getting it right?

Hannah: I think so. I think it's very hard to say WordPress is or isn't sustainable. As you know, it is about how someone uses the tool and how the tool is set up. I think another really important factor to consider with the choice of CMS is around how backwards compatible the software is. And I think that's something we haven't really touched on in this conversation. WordPress has been around for a long time. It's just had its… is it 15th or 16th birthday? And that in itself makes it a sustainable choice. The fact that it's been around for a long time, the fact that a website has been able to run on WordPress for 15 or 16 years and hasn't had to re platform, that's not just an energy cost to re platform. It's also a human cost. You've got to get your head around a new platform, you've got to rebuild all your content. So I think there is also an argument to say that, you know, if you look at it from that angle, WordPress is actually doing remarkably well for sustainability.

Gaël: And the WordPress community has now a dedicated Slack channel on sustainability and it has already been joined by I guess almost 100 people. So thanks a lot to all of them.

Hannah: Would you know the people that were behind it? So, it's Nora Ferreiros who is a Spanish wordpress designer. She came to one of those workshops that I run, Gaël, which is where I met you where we are exploring a wider view of sustainability.  So Nora came along to the third of my workshops and she was brave enough to stand up in front of everybody at WordCamp Europe which just happened in Porto and asked the directors, Matt and Josephina, questions about sustainability. And kudos to her because that could have been something quite a bit scary but she started something there. So, well done Nora! And I think it's been bubbling up for a while. That was going to happen. So, I'm really chaffed. Well done WordPress!

Gaël: Indeed. Hannah, you are a pillar in both the Climate Action Tech and the Green Web Foundation communities. Hence, I would say, a privileged witness of the ongoing trends in digital sustainability. And I'd love to get your perspective on them and to start the discussion you mentioned in an episode of the podcast “This is Human Centred Design” that developers need to slow down to be less engineer and more craftsman. Could you elaborate?

Hannah: Absolutely. I think that, so I've been teaching at a coding boot camp for a few years. Unfortunately, in the pandemic, the boot camp closed down. But what I observed in that boot camp was just how phenomenally hard it is for any new developer to get up to speed with all the tools and everything that we have available to us, as developers. It's kind of an impossible task if you're at ground zero and you're trying to learn it all. And I would also say, as a developer myself, trying to keep on top of all this change, all these new ideas, all these new tools that are coming out. I mean, it's a day job in itself, just keeping on top. Let alone, you know, actually learning how to use them and developing the skills. And I have to sort of take a step back and just ask myself: What are we doing here? Why are we creating so much new stuff but more specifically throwing away stuff that we've built new tools, new frameworks and things like that? Why? Why do we have this mentality within tech that we need to keep throwing stuff away and creating new stuff all the time? Can we not just, like, slow down a bit, and let people come on the journey with us and let people learn these things? Can we give tools a little bit more settling time to actually find their place? I think within the tech industry, we've just sort of forgotten how to slow down a bit, and I think there are so many negative impacts as a result of us moving too fast. I think it locks too many people out of joining in. So, it's essentially a form of gatekeeping. I think… this speed with which we move.

Gaël: And it's funny because what you've just said really resonates with a very famous speech that Uncle Bob gave. It was already… several years ago about the fact that our industry was doomed to be a junior industry and that it was going to create a lot of issues, because when you've got too many junior people in a position, obviously the quality is not here, and you can have dire consequences. His reasoning was a bit different of yours, which was that we had such needs, increasing needs, in the number of developers across the globe that even if you train them, you always need to hire new ones and that will be only junior ones. And now it really resonates that actually this is still absolutely true, and a big kudos to him up to have dared saying something like that. But actually, if you add what you've just said with his opinion, it's kind of complementary in the wrong way that we have to hire a lot of junior people because the demand is just crazy for code everywhere, and on top of that, we don't help them to be productive super soon and to be efficient and to be able to keep up because we load them over and over with new technologies, etcetera, that we could really question sometimes, whether it's just pure hype or something very valuable.

Hannah: Yeah, you said that so well. Did you say it was Uncle Bob?

Gaël: Absolutely.

Hannah: Thank you,Gaël. That is something for me to have a look at there. It's a people issue, and I do think this is why we have such issues with imposter syndrome in the industry as well. It's so hard to feel good at anything because the minute you get good at something, it's all changed again. And for what? I just… I don't know, is it? I think part of it is a bit of an ego thing, and part of it is a bit of a…I don't know, people don't like the way some things are done, so they're just going to go off and do it the way that they want to do it. And to some degree, that's good. That's innovation. That's to be celebrated. But in some other ways, if we all just slow down, we could spend more time learning what someone else has built and learn how to use that tool ourselves, rather than having to create another flavour of it or another version of it. And this comes back to my point about why I celebrate WordPress. Why I'm actually incredibly proud to tell people that I work in WordPress because WordPress has been around a long time. WordPress gets a bit of flack for being slow to change and slow to develop new features. It's not exciting. It's not seen as exciting because it's not constantly changing. I actually think that's something to really celebrate and to really treasure. I have a website that's been running on WordPress for eight years. It's the same thing that was built eight years ago and only with a few small modifications that still works today. There's not many frameworks that you can say that's the case for.

Gaël: Thanks, Anna, for sharing your insights and, more generally, what are the latest evolution that you see in digital sustainability?

Hannah: I think at the moment there's a really interesting school, a new discipline, I suppose, new school of thinking called sustainable software engineering. I think that's a really interesting trend. So you know, I was mentioning about Branch magazine how it actually uses the data from the grid as to how carbon intense electricity is at a given point of time. There's a really interesting field there. I'm looking at perhaps more service side, service side operations and shifting operations around different times of day, different times a week, different times of year, depending on how much energy is coming onto the grid at one time. I think that's absolutely fascinating and a really interesting trend, and I think another trend I would like to see, I'd like to see us connecting humanity with technology a lot, lot more. I think it's starting to happen. But I think in terms of the trend that we need to see within sustainability, that's what we need to see. This connection of human and tech and humans being at the centre of all the tech that we're building, not the engineering mentality. So it would be good to see that happening more.

Gaël: And are you optimistic today about both of these trends happening?

Hannah: True to false? I cannot answer yes or no because in some respects I am optimistic.

Gaël: That's the entire idea of this episode. That… no black, no white, it's all grey.

Hannah: No black. No white. Exactly, it's all grey. So I am really optimistic to see so much effort, so much willingness, go into developing sustainable software engineering and the Green Software Foundation are doing a fantastic job there. I'm optimistic about that. What I'm worried about, though, is that engineers are going to continue to try and optimize things that shouldn't exist and things that we don't actually need. e.g. There are a whole raft of digital text things that exist that I just think if we really care about sustainability, we'd just switch them off. I've got to say the Metaverse that Facebook are developing is one of those things for me. We can optimize that until we're blue in the face, but I'm actually not sure that that should exist at all.

Gaël: That's a very interesting comment you just made, because I love to ask a question that I call the Beyond scope 3 question, which is always a bit hard to answer, which is what about the Why? And my point is, did you find yourself in situations where making tech greener was not enough? Where you had to question the purpose of some digital services to be built, if not, an entire company? Do you sometimes refuse to work for some company and you mention Wholegrain Digital? And that's very interesting because Tom Greenwood, in an episode of the “Techologie” podcast, one of the very first podcasts about Digital Sustainability, mostly in French but a great great podcast, he explained how Wholegrain Digital would actually score all of his potential customers to agree or not to work with them? So what about you? Did you find yourself in such a situation that you had to say no to a customer because of this “Why” question?

Hannah: 100%. Absolutely. I think perhaps my process is not nearly as robust as Wholegrain Digital's because it's just me.

Gaël: Well, that explains a lot, and you're one woman show so... You don't have please do not to create big processes.

Hannah: No, that wouldn't be very sustainable at all. But no, I mean, that has always been central to my thinking ever since I started as a freelancer, you know, all these people that I want to work with. Do I care about their cause? Do I feel that I could be using my skills to further something that I don't believe in or don't think should exist? I mean, absolutely! I think that's really a really important thing to do. Digital tech people, we have skills to accelerate solutions. That's essentially what we're doing. We're accelerating processes and systems that could exist without our digital tech skills. So we have to think, what are we accelerating and why? So I think it's a really, really important question for us as techies to think about.

Gaël: I do think so as well. Hannah being mindful of time I would like to close the podcast with one final question, which is - what will be your recommendations to learn more about Digital Sustainability and Green Tech? I know that we didn't speak that much about Green Tech, but that's a subject keen to your heart. It could be books, people to follow, videos, conferences, et cetera.

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think there's lots and lots of resources out there. I mean, one of the things that I run is Green Tech South West, which is a meet up specifically designed to grow people's awareness of what is possible out there and grow their awareness around what sustainability means. I'm obviously going to give a shout out for that.

Gaël: And you should.

Hannah: Yeah, we run our events online and so even if we have an in person event, we always have an online option for people to join in and listen to our awesome speakers that way. So I'd say there's Green Tech South West. I think a lot of the work that we're doing through the Green Web Foundation as well is super interesting. And I mean, I just have to give a massive show out to the ClimateAction.tech community. If you're really interested in kind of seeing what people are talking about, meeting people, finding out about what's going on within this sector, I think you can't do any better than joining the ClimateAction tech community and really getting involved. You know, there's a running Meetups. There's lots of great discussion on Slack, and there's lots of super interesting people you can meet as well. And Gaël, I think you and I met through Climate Action Tech.

Gaël: Absolutely. That must be half of my podcast guests, so far.

Hannah: Absolutely. And I mean, I know on your show, you're also interviewing a lot of really interesting people. I think if you want a warts and all real stark view of what's happening within the digital tech sector, I don't think you can follow anyone better than Gerry McGovern. I think Gerry is absolutely brilliant. He just says it how it is. There's no sugar coating. Gerry is just an absolute fantastic mirror to reflect back what is going wrong within our sector. So I definitely say follow Gerry if you want to learn more about what's going wrong.

Gaël: This is what Fershad said. I think. He opened his interview talking about Gerry’s book being an eye opener. Thanks a lot, Hannah. That was a great ride. Not a one on snow, but toward a greener digital world.

Hannah: Oh sad... It's lovely to come and talk to you 

Gaël: Thanks a lot. I'm sure many of our listeners will find inspiration to green the web, starting with this very pragmatic and efficient way to use WordPress, but also the way you take a step back and look at the entire picture on how we do our job, what the tech does, should do and should not do anymore to our society. So that was very, very useful and thanks a lot for taking the time to be with us. That was great. Thanks a lot, Hannah.

Hannah: Absolute pleasure, Gaël. Thank you for inviting me and thank you for everything that you're doing in this space as well. It's really great. I love your podcast.

Gaël: Thanks. And for our next episode, we will go back to Berlin and meet Chris Adams again for the long overdue second part of his interview. The executive director of the Green Web Foundation will tell us more on the latest trends in digital sustainability and all the initiatives popping up around the world. And that's it. Thank you all for listening to Green IO. If you have liked this episode, please share it on social media or with any friends or colleagues who would enjoy or learn from it. Green IO being a non-profit podcast, our dear listeners are true communication power, and you are a scout as well. So feel free to share with me your idea for new guests who want to make our digital world greener one byte at a time. 


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