Green


I have been to many, many software conferences, but I’m especially fond of the HR tech conference in Chicago. It has a good mix of vendors and practitioners, and is well worth a visit.

Over the years at conferences around the world, I’ve strolled the vendor booths, and seen all sorts. Some, just a desk and a couple of chairs, others vast multi-story gaudy edifices. They are all a bit of a blur. 

This week, at the HR tech conference I saw the best booth ever.

It was designed to

  • draw attention
  • bring delegates into an area where they couldn’t escape easily.
  • be eco-friendly
  • be participative (you could write on it)
  • relate to the company culture and marketing message
  • be 100x times cheaper than a typical stand

I give you the sonar6 minimalist box.

image

 

There is a software metaphor here too.  There is goodness in a common practice done uncommonly well.  At the event I saw evidence of some vendors starting to build simple applications that bring a consumer simplicity to existing, rather bloated, HR processes. 

For those that doubt global warming, and the role that well executed global conventions  can play in helping address it, I suggest you have a look at the case of the ozone layer.

Via Chris Rowan’s blog,

Paul Newman (no, not that one) of NASA’s Goddard Centre (who have a nice write-up) and his colleagues play a game of climatic what if: what if the discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroyed stratospheric ozone had been ignored, and were not phased out in the decade following the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987?

You can see more on the NASA Goddard Centre site, but here is the simulation via youtube.

Now of course global warming is more complex, but if we are going to leave this planet in a decent shape for those that follow us, sitting on the fence isn’t really an option. Because sitting on the fence is the same as denying it.

I continue to be impressed by Sun Microsystems.  Until I met James Governor and then started reading Jonathan’s blog, Sun wasn’t really on my radar.  Now I follow Sun quite closely.  It strikes me as a very innovative organisation.  I saw this announcement today about Measuring Green.  I’ve just been over to the openeco.org site.  Goodness indeed.

According research on cited on Nick Carr’s blog, Roughtype, a considerable portion of the earth’s energy consumption is from computer usage.

a global basis, Sarokin estimates that the computing grid consumes 868 billion kWh a year, or 5.3% of total consumption

There are other estimates that put this higher.

It not at a Moore’s law level of growth, but as we continue to consume more and more services, buy more and more software, the word will require more and more hardware, and unless things change, use more power.

About a year ago Carr wrote about Frugal Computing. He picked up this quote.

 The computers we love so dearly,” wrote Timothy Prickett Morgan in 2004, “are among the most inefficient devices ever invented”; most of the electricity that goes into them is released “as heat, noise, and light”:

The heat of computers comes from chips and mechanical components, the noise comes from fans and disks, and light comes in the form of blinking lights and monitors. Once any kind of computer makes its heat … the energy cycle doesn’t end there. That heat has to be removed so the computers and the people near them can continue functioning properly. This, ironically, takes more fans and air conditioners, and therefore more electricity … And while the electricity bills for running and cooling computers are generally not part of an IT budget, a company with lots of computers has to pay for all that juice

I think it high time to add the role of the software vendor into this discussion.  I believe the software industry ought to do three things.

1. Start designing software that has a lower energy consumption footprint. After all people buy hardware to run software.  The equation is a simple one.  I like the concept of the Green API. (tip James)

2. Build software that helps others reduce and measure energy consumption. I’m thinking here of supply chain monitoring,  for instance, enabling customers to make buying decisions based on green criteria.  When I buy my next car, I’d be prepared to wait longer for delivery if my order was optimised for lower energy consumption in the production process.  I’m probably not the only one.

3. Ditch the fallacy that software is a clean industry without externalities.

So when I read about Sun’s involvement with a community to help cut greenhouse emissions,  I say brill and fab.  There is a goodly dose of 2.0 community is this too.  Making it open source also helps drive it out as a broader initiative-

Our goal is to lower the barriers for companies to measure and report their environmental footprint,” says Sun’s vice president of eco-responsibility, Dave Douglas. “For a company like Sun, figuring out how much energy you’re burning is pretty complex. So we’re trying to use open-source software development ideas to take the tools we’ve developed internally and make them publicly available.”

Forbes nails the significance of this when it noted.

Innovators in the green information-technology movement reap good publicity from their ever-higher standards of energy efficiency. The real goody two-shoes, however, inflict those standards on their competitors

Measuring environmental impact of a business becomes and important factor in evaluating the risk profile of investments, so investment bankers and the like are demanding more transparency on environmental risk.  This is already starting.  Look at Ceres :

The SEC exists to make sure that investors have the information that they need to make smart decisions,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a group that promotes environmental standards among private companies. Ceres and the Calvert Group, an asset management firm, said in a January report that more than half of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index “are doing a poor job of disclosing climate change risk.”

SAP is getting its act together, but I think we should learn lots from what Sun is up to.  Part of this is about beefing up the GRC strategy to include a stronger environmental element, especially in the areas of risk management and disclosure, but a bigger part of it involves looking closely at the broader social implications of software.

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