How to start with Green D&A in a tech company?

At Rabobank, I feel that sustainability is at the heart of our organization by defining clear sustainable ambitions. However, Sustainable Development & Operations (DevOps) is a relatively new concept for most of us and it can feel like it is a “buzzword” thrown here and there in meetings and presentations. But how to get started is what most people wonder? In a series of blogs, some interesting lessons learned are provided on how to start from an Area lead, Engineer and Project perspective. In this blog, I look at it from an Area Lead perspective.

Robey de Jong
Robey de Jong
Analytics WoW Standards Manager
4 minutes
May 1, 2023

The development and operation of data driven products consume a lot of energy and therefore emit Co2. Therefore, I started investigating which initiatives within my D&A environment I could contribute to. After some time, I learned that the role Data & Analytics departments could play in reducing the bank’s footprint and thus investing in Sustainable DevOps was still under exposed. I started doing a lot of research within and outside my organisation and drafted a Sustainability Development and Operations plan also called Green Data & Analytics (D&A) plan for the bank and specifically for my Tribe to get ‘Green D&A started’.

During my research, I found some small Green D&A initiatives, but especially working with an engineering team who was dedicating time to the topic already was fruitful. They were able to provide me with evidence and thus examples of how Green D&A could reduce our footprint and costs spent within Rabobank today! With these fact incorporated, I presented the Green D&A plan to my Tribe lead and a wider audience in the organisation. That’s how the ball started rolling. Green D&A was put on the agenda of the Tribe’s Obeya session and in doing so, I succeeded to create a Sustainable Tribe goal.

What can an innovator learn from it?

Some lessons learned for Innovators, Area Leads and Developers

Exchange views and understand current situation - Speak to as many people as possible inside and outside the organization to exchange views and to understand what (small) initiatives have already been started. Besides extensive market research, the information collected were the foundation of the Green D&A plan and it will position you as one of the leading figures on the subject.

Show your passion and start learning together - Nobody is yet an expert on Green D&A. So the story should inspire people to get started with the topic and convince them that it must be explored further. This can already be done by asking simple questions like: ‘How did you make sustainability part of your Tribe goals?’ or ‘How are you going to invest in/work on Sustainable DevOps the coming years?’. These questions trigger your colleagues and make them realise that they do not yet know much about the subject yet. Together you can invest time in Green D&A to reap the benefits.

Make the word Green D&A tangible and fact based - People find it difficult to make Sustainability tangible. You should have a lot of examples worked out describing what (small) activities people can start working on today. Those activities must be backed up with facts and success stories (preferably internal ones). However, most people do not know what 1 ton of CO2 emission represents. I discovered that 1 ton of CO2 emissions represents for 250 Big Macs prepared and eaten. By translating the Tribe’s emission into the number of Big Macs eaten and prepared, our audience could better understand their footprint.

Inspire top-down and bottom-up at the same time - Invest in a top-down and bottom up approach at the same time. If you have convinced your Tribe leads and peers, therewith you activate a big portion of people within the organization who get motivated by top-down priorities e.g. Tribe goals. At the same time, you need to fuel the passion of your colleagues to show bottom up the willingness to work on the topic and have some success stories ready engineering teams started working on. If both come together, you created the required momentum for the topic.

Have you ever asked yourself how much energy data and technology uses?

Find out more about IT's hidden footprint

What can an Area Lead learn from it?

Emission and cost reduction have a 1:1 ratio – Basically, you have two types of people you need to convince. Someone who is intrinsically motivated to reduce their economic footprint (reduce emissions) and someone who get enthusiastic by looking at the return on investment (reduce costs). Fortunately, investing in Green D&A leads to a reduction in both.

Don’t call your Green D&A initiative a transformation - I soon learnt that the words ‘new’, ‘transformation’, ‘personal investment’ lead to resistance. Therefore, I rigidly brought the activities leading to the Sustainable DevOps north star under the current priorities and themes. Which led to the first Sustainable Tribe Goal being added by our Tribe.

Configure your systems to measure emission at individual level - For most systems, it is difficult to estimate what the usage of a system is at a squad and individual level. A platform is provided and shared by multiple applications, making it really difficult to identify what is causing the most emissions. When people have an individual or project overview of their own footprint, you create instant awareness of the issue.

Watch out to not Green wash running activities - While doing extensive research, I found the term ‘green washing’. It means that people falsely claiming or define untrue actions about the positive impact that e.g. a service has on the environment. Green washing has not happened within our span of control, however I foresee it as a major risk. It’s the ideal way to get other activities ‘sustainably’ washed and therewith completed.

What can a Developer learn from it?

Keep it Simple – The engineering team used the Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering tool provided by Microsoft to analyse and understand the project they operate. Even though these principles seemed complex at the beginning, it did help them to point out issues and improve on the sustainability aspect of their projects. One major takeaway from this journey is that simplicity is key! By analysing and focusing on simple solutions, the engineering team managed to pinpoint quick wins, easy to solve solutions and were able to present and acquire the right priority.

The right priority – As I mentioned earlier, both a top-down and bottom-up approach should be followed. During my collaboration with the engineering team, they acknowledged the importance of the management teams buy-in. In this way, they could ensure the right priority during their planning sessions and obtain focus on the practical implementation of Green D&A. As a side effect, the performance that came from the results of the implementations also increased engagement and motivation in the team.

Dedication is key – The engineering team was fully committed and devoted to delivering better and greener application. Because of their dedication to the topic, they managed to allocate time and resources. Our final goal was to reach a structural change in our way of working so that in the future they should be proactively focusing on Sustainable Software Engineering principles! Read more about it in this blog. Dedication to sustainable development comes with a lot of added benefits, maintainability improved, more resilient systems, less complexity, but the primary reason to practice sustainable engineering is sustainability, all the others are just added bonuses.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while implementing Green D&A, a couple of lessons learned: show passion, make Green D&A tangible, inspire both top-down and bottom-up, and configure systems to measure emissions are key steps in achieving this goal. Area Leads can also benefit from understanding that emission and cost reduction have a 1:1 ratio and avoiding calling Green D&A a transformation. 

About the author

Robey de Jong
Robey de Jong
Analytics WoW Standards Manager
Robey de Jong’s experience in different types of Data Science organizations has given her a clear understanding of what steps need to be taken to be compliant and successful in developing analytics solutions. She has incorporated these steps into an Analytics Way of Working used across the bank. Her team actively supports development teams and works closely with policy makers to make a difference for the benefit of Analytics Practitioners and the bank. Besides Data & Analytics, one of her passions is sustainability. And she has decided to become a leader who empowers Analytics Practitioners to reduce their Carbon footprint. She will actively support them in their way of working to act accordingly and she is currently researching how to measure the carbon footprint per project and how to benchmark the results. Besides work, Robey enjoys doing sports and exploring new things with friends.