Carbon is the mind-killer

I couldn’t help myself but start with this paraphrase. I’ll try to prove a point that just like fear, carbon has stolen the spotlight leaving many other important aspects in the dark. And as of “Dune”, ecology is one of its main themes in what I consider to be its true holistic meaning, so very much in line with the popular ESG topics.

As the leader of Future Technology at Accenture, I was invited to a conference devoted to ESG in technology. I was asked to provide an opinion about how our technology offering aligns with the ESG principles. At first I was baffled. My team and I focus on, optimize, rearrange, reorganize solutions for our clients on a daily basis. We aim to provide more elegant, more robust technology, helping companies earn more money, save time and become more efficient. We hardly ever looked at the ESG aspect of it. Of all sectors, that is really someone else’s problem (honestly, would ESG be publicly debated if all power plants and factories around the world only used green energy?).

My interlocutor helped me out here – “what we’re after is ensuring cloud technologies are applied wherever possible”. At first this made sense to me. OK, the same workload in the cloud is going to benefit from all the economies of scale, sharing hardware resources and scaling as needed, using the most modern and energy efficient infrastructure. Utilizing scaled cooling, submersed servers or even whole datacenters must be more efficient than cooling each chip separately. But how beneficial is it really? What fraction of the world’s carbon problem are we fixing? And cost wise – assume the price tag for a given cloud migration is $3 million. So, imagine having this amount – would you decide to spend it on a cloud migration if your sole purpose is to reduce carbon emissions? I am going to guess there are more efficient ways of allocating such money.

And then the really important thought came – why are we still talking about carbon emissions only? There are 3 pillars in ESG, and carbon related topics belong to the E(nvironment) pillar. But is there nothing technology can achieve across Social or Governance?

Short answer is: yes it can. Take open source for example. It is way more sustainable than closed solutions. Every day, by leveraging open source solutions such as kubernetes, docker, Apache Spark and many more, we take and we contribute. With tens of thousands of people doing alike, the technology we’re building is becoming more universal. With every contribution we make, it becomes a bit better to everyone else and easier for others to approach and develop. And with wide access to the code, it is available to anyone willing to join and get their hands dirty, at almost no cost. I suppose the term “open” really fits well here.

Let’s see how this compares to closed solutions. I’ve mostly found out from the perspective of projects migrating out of such solutions. The reasons would vary. In most cases it was the lack of flexibility, making adjustment to changing market needs. But the list of issues is actually quite long: knowledge and expertise was hard to get, the code had many mysteries and surprises, the logic is hard to fathom, reverse engineering is close to black magic, the policy used by the authors is not always in line with the clients’, and so on. And if for some reason an engineer wanted to master this tech, they would first need to study it through expensive courses (if (still) available).

Final thoughts. I got my peace of mind, we’re champions of ESG 😉 Not because what we build poofs less carbon, but because our solutions are sustainable. Companies using open source make a strong bet on something that will either evolve steadily and remain available, or be easily replaceable (e.g., by a fork). They will find talent easier, their IT strategy will have continuity and remain easily upgradeable.

And if that’s not enough, the same companies can save on migrations from closed solution A to closed solution B or the royalty licenses. And the sad lesson? Fighting carbon emissions has overshadowed many other important topics.