Sustainability

The Digital Sustainability Challenge

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If it wasn’t crystal clear before, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how cloud technologies are essential, if not critical, to our society today. From homeschooling to remote healthcare appointments to working from home and staying connected to our families – none of this would have been possible without the strong, global cloud technologies available to businesses and citizens. These technologies solidified their importance by helping to organize emergency responses needed for healthcare workers, such as 3D printing masks and making global data on the virus instantly shareable.

However, if you take a step back, it is clear that the IT industry bears responsibility for some societal issues as well. According to the Report on Digital Sustainability by the Shift Project, a French Think Tank advocating the transition to a post-carbon economy, greenhouse gas emissions from the IT industry represent 4% of global emission with an alarming 8% growth rate per year. If the biggest part of the environmental impact (CO2 emission, soil pollution, raw material extraction, etc.) comes from the manufacturing of devices (smartphones, computers, tablets, IoT and so on), a growing part of the problem comes from the design, the architecture, and the development of software. Today, due to their ever-increasing resource consumption, websites, APIs and softwares are becoming more and more obese. We use the term Bloatware to describe how these programs are slowing down our hardware with their increased use of more memory, disk space, components and processing power. Nowadays, we don’t replace our computers and smartphones when they are dead, we replace them when they are slow.

Unlike today’s developers, software developers in the 1970s had severe limitations on disk space and memory. Every byte and clock cycle was taken into account, and a great deal of work went into making the programs fit into available resources. Achieving this efficiency was one of the highest values of computer programmers, the best of whom were often called “elegant”, a term used by mathematicians to describe a proof which is tidy, parsimonious and powerful. Today, in the Cloud Computing era (with virtually unlimited resources available for developers), our industry has forgotten the concept of “elegant software”, thus, making our industry less and less sustainable each year. 

All stakeholders involved in creating a more sustainable future agreed on two things:

  1. Manufacturers need to extend hardware lifetime
  2. Resources needed to run softwares and APIs must decrease

In addition to improving the environmental impact, making more sustainable hardware and software will ultimately bring better long-term performance and reliability.

We should also stop blaming individuals for the impact related to using existing technology, such as employees having OOO emails or persons watching YouTube, Netflix or other on-demand services. At the individual level, people are using these technologies to be more efficient at work and improve their quality of life. We should be thinking more broadly and avoiding any form of greenwashing.

We should bring all stakeholders together – API practitioners, designers, developers, architects, entrepreneurs and consultants – and build a community of GreenOps or Green Hats willing to document, share and apply known best practices to reduce the negative impact our APIs and softwares are having on the environment.

Earlier this year, we called upon multi-disciplinary IT teams composed of designers, architects, developers and product managers to join a 3-month challenge to apply best practices and tools to lower the environmental footprint of their products.  This was made possible through the guidance of mentors and experts in eco-design, cloud architecture and code optimization and with the support of Google Cloud, Fabernovel, D2SI, Le Laptop, Tech in France, and The Maintainers.

We gathered their experiences and feedback in this White Paper to put our community to the test. Not simply the test of change and scale, but also the test of ethics and responsibility for a more sustainable industry. 

We hope it will challenge your thinking and provide insight on how you can have a positive impact on our environment. Have a good read!

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Oury Thomas

Oury Thomas

COO at apidays Conferences
Entrepreneurial-minded and passionate about technology with 10+ years in large and international events management worldwide (Europe, Middle East, Africa, China & the United States), I am an accomplished marketing executive for the tech industry with extensive experience in event production, content marketing, lead gen strategy, partner programs, and creative experiential marketing campaigns. I started my career working for the video game industry with the Paris Video Game Festival, 4th biggest video game convention worldwide. I, then worked with the World Economic Forum on their annual event in Davos and regional events across the world. This opportunity led me to work for the tech industry by joining ChoYou, a leading marketing agency in the IT world, where I was managing large accounts such as Salesforce, Oracle, VMware, Box, Accenture, SAP… to finally move to the Bay Area in the heart of Silicon Valley to continue sharing my experience and marketing skills to startups and people changing the world on various segments such as SaaS, Enterprise Software, med-tech, 3D Printing, FinTech, IoT…

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