Terminology and climate commitments explained by Microsoft to Devoxx UK

As a side effect of the accelerated transition to the cloud, the software industry is increasingly contributing to global warming. Companies have made various commitments: Net-Zero, Carbon Neutral, etc. Asim Hussain, Green Cloud Advocacy Lead @ Microsoft deciphers them during the Devoxx UK keynote. Understanding them will help developers move the needle for each type of engagement.

Global warming is linked to the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. But even though there are several GHGs (methane has an impact 40 times greater than CO2), the most common is carbon dioxide (CO2). For the sake of brevity, this is normalized to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq or CO2e), so 1 tonne of methane can be called 40 tonnes CO2eq. The Green Software Foundation, an entity chaired by Hussain, focuses on software as part of the climate issue, aiming to reduce carbon emissions from software.

As everything emits CO2, the goal of green software engineers is to create the most carbon-efficient software possible: to extract the maximum value from every gram of CO2 that applications are responsible for emitting. And since you can’t improve if you can’t measure, Hussain pointed out two methods of measurement:

  • GHG protocol: – calculation of the total carbon footprint:
    • Scope 1: Direct emissions from on-site fuel combustion or fleet vehicles.
    • Scope 2: Indirect emissions related to the production of purchased energy emissions, such as heat and electricity.
    • Scope 3: other indirect emissions from all other activities in which you are engaged. Including all emissions from an organization’s supply chain, employee business travel, and electricity customers may consume while using your product.

Nevertheless, it is above all a question of reducing emissions, because the neutralizations are not permanent. It also highlights the four ways emissions can be reduced:

Based on these four strategies, the different paths towards zero emissions are:

  • Emissions 100% eliminated – not really feasible
  • Carbon Neutral – 100% of emissions are neutralized/compensated
  • Net-Zero: 90% eliminated, 10% permanently neutralized

Their goals are to achieve 45% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. But to turn this into reality, it is important to have the right perspective on the amount of cost in eq. CO2 of your application. Hussain encourages using cost per user rather than total cost: 6g CO2eq/user rather than 90 tonnes/application. And that way, it might just become another Service Level Objective (SLO) for your app.

With truly competitive mid-century goals, Hussain identifies himself as:

someone who worked at the front line of the business organization trying everything they could to get investment into the right businesses, at scale

On top of that, he’s part of a campaign to raise awareness about the impact of the code we write on GHG emissions and how we can design and build more sustainable software.

Gordon K. Morehouse