Why are we doing all of this?
The problem we observe
When sustainability is discussed within the digital tech industry, the conversation often revolves around electricity use. Typically “how can we reduce electrical consumption in data centres or on end-user devices, and how can we decarbonise it?”
The digital tech industry is primarily composed of engineers, and we are good at solving technical problems. So it’s no surprise that the industry is trying to do what it does best: optimise technical things.
Big tech firms such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon are investing heavily in renewable energy and other high-tech decarbonisation solutions as they embrace “net zero” strategies for reducing their current and historic carbon emissions. They are becoming adept at presenting digital tech as the “clean” industry of the future.
Carbon aware software engineering is an emerging technical discipline that seeks to build the optimisation of carbon into standards and protocols for all software development.
This is great progress, but the industry is in danger of overlooking the big, more difficult questions.
Questions like: what exactly are those paradigms, systems and root causes that have got us into a rapidly warming climate? And how has this industry been culpable? And how does it continue to be culpable? What do we need to change?
Because right now we are faced with a climate that is changing too quickly. A climate that has already changed to make certain geographical areas inhospitable for swathes of the world’s population. Populations in both developing and developed countries who now find themselves unable to meet their basic needs due to the actions of others thinking more about today than tomorrow.
The most marginalised communities are the ones currently taking the brunt of these changes, and ironically, these are the communities who have done the least to cause the problem.
And who are those most responsible? It’s the richest sectors of the global popuation. And amongst those sit industries like ours, the digital tech industry. Three of the five most profitable companies in the world are digital tech companies: Apple, Google and Microsoft.
We are part of an industry that can afford to do more. An industry that can look much more deeply at the part it plays in perpetuating the systems and root causes of climate breakdown.
Why optimisation alone is not enough
Central to our thinking is that optimisation alone can lead to “Jevons paradox“.
This explains that if you alleviate the negative impact of something, then people will simply do more of it. In other words if we reduce the carbon impact of every smartphone, then we’ll just make more of them. If we make the internet require less electricity to run, we’ll just find more ways to use it.
We risk not actually solving the right problems.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus on a particular one of the possible subjects – in my case lowering the carbon of websites and reducing data usage. But there is so much more to digital sustainability in tech.— Nick Lewis, Founder of the-sustainable.dev
Doing the Doughnut.tech was conceived to support people within the digital tech industry to:
- explore a broad definition of sustainability;
- look deeper into the root causes of what is going wrong;
- imagine a better future for the industry.
We are developing ways to break the conversation out from optimising electricity use and decarbonisation, and towards a more holistic appreciation.
Our starting hypothesis is that if we are to build a truly sustainable digital tech industry of the future we need to examine:
- the relationship between the technology we use in our everyday lives and its environmental impact, particularly, but not only, in relation to climate change;
- society’s own relationship to technology as well – and who benefits from it’s existence.
We’re using the excellent Doughnut Economics framework as a vehicle to generate these discussions and understanding.
The idea of doughnut economics focusing on “The Goldilocks Zone” was something I was somewhat aware of, but was really made much clearer to me.— Chris Adams, Director The Green Web Foundation
Our mission is to present Doing the Doughnut.tech to the digital tech industry!