Government Digital Service Podcast

Government Digital Service Podcast #29: Role of Product Teams in Greener Delivery

April 22, 2021

Vanessa Schneider: 

Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service Podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I'm Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. 

 

Today we will be talking about how product teams can play a role in greening delivery. While digital ways of working often mean moving away from paper-based processes, there's still plenty that can be done by professionals in the public sector to contribute to environmentally sustainable practice. The government has recognised the role it can play and set out its ambition in the 2011 Greening Government ICT Strategy. The strategy provides a vision for a sustainable digital delivery and ways of working.

 

Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is also known as DEFRA, published the newest iteration of the strategy covering the government's approach until 2025. In it DEFRA identified opportunities across the government estate to deliver energy-saving benefits, for instance, in server utilisation and software design, or to include sustainability criteria in procurement. 

 

In today's episode, on Earth Day, we'll explore this important issue and hear from colleagues who are taking steps to make their delivery more green. Joining me now are Adam Turner and Emily Labram. Thank you both for being here today. Would you mind introducing yourself and what you do to our listeners? Let's start with Adam. 

 

Adam Turner: 

Hi, everyone. Yeah, Adam Turner. I work for DEFRA. And for my sins, I am in charge of sustainable ICT across all government departments. So to, to make that happen, basically I-I-I write the strategy and I chair the cross-government group. So manage the governance to make this kind of stuff happen and help and advise departments on delivering all that goodness.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Brilliant. Thank you, Adam. Emily, how about you?

 

Emily Labram: 

Hi everyone, I'm Emily Labram. I'm a Lead Product Manager at the Government Digital Service. Right now I'm working in digital identity, which means I'm helping make it easier for users to access government services online. And previously I worked in the world of infrastructure at GDS, so I got very interested in how sustainably we were hosting our services. And that's where I also met Adam and worked with him on improving the sustainability of our hosting.

 

Vanessa Schneider:

Perfect, thank you. 

 

So Adam, at the top of the episode, I shared a bit of information about the Greening Government ICT Strategy, but would you mind giving the listeners an explanation that's not quite so amateur?

 

Adam Turner: 

[laughs] Not amateur at all, Vanessa. Yes, so the tagline for the strategy for the new one that we published in September 2020 for the next five years is: responsible and resilience. I don't actually use the word sustainable or green in the title at all, but basically what I'm trying to say through the strategy, what we are trying to say, is that all our ICT is is delivering goodness. It's part of the solution to the climate crisis and not part of the problem. 

 

So within that, we have broken it down really into 3 key areas. So this is around firstly net zero ambitions, obviously tied into government ambitions for net zero by 2050. So it's linking your ICT sustainability targets with your departmental or organisational sustainability targets.

 

The second one is around circular. So everything around what we would used to have called waste, but now we more commonly talk about resources. Because if you're using less of the world's resources and you're using, for example, remanufactured ICT and you're taking ownership of that stuff potentially at end-of-life and thinking about where it goes, then you've got more control over the system.

 

And then the third one is around that kind of social aspect. And, yes, much of this is in the procurement space. But there's also a need to understand this from a design perspective as well. The Prime Minister set out a statement on modern slavery last year that highlighted ICT as a high-risk area. So we need to make sure we're squeaky clean in that area. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

That definitely brings it much more to life. Your [laughs] examples seem much more practical than sort of the high-level stuff that I mentioned, so thank you for that. 

 

Yeah. So, Emily, as a Lead Product Manager I believe you are, and an advocate for sustainability, I was wondering where you see the opportunities to improve sustainability in your area of practice.

 

Emily Labram: 

Yeah, so a couple of years ago, I started to wonder what the role of Product Managers and digital teams was in bringing down our emissions in line with our net zero targets. And I realised that actually getting a working knowledge of where emissions actually are when it comes to building and running digital services was the first step.

 

I realised that because services are called digital [laughs], and because they're hosted in 'the cloud', that it's quite common for Product Managers, especially people like me who didn't have a technical background, misunderstood that digital services and the cloud are something almost immaterial. That was the first shift that I made when I started realising that actually [laughs] to host a service, keep it up and running, involves these vast data centres. They are very real, they are very material, and they are kept running by electricity and water [laughs]. Electricity which you know could be produced in any number of ways, some of which could be by burning fossil fuels. And all of that was something of a kind of revelation [laughs] for me a couple of years ago. 

 

And I do think that that started to get complex pretty quick [laughs]. But just to get started by thinking, all right, let's get a working knowledge of the sorts of emissions that my job actually produces was a good first step.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Oh ok, interesting. We actually spoke with Mohamed Hamid, or Mo, from the Chief Digital Information Office in Cabinet Office, and he has some more insight into server space and the impact it can have on the environment."

 

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Mo Hamid: 

So my name is Mohamed and I'm a Lead Infrastructure Engineer at the Cabinet Office. What that means is I look after the connectivity and the backend of infrastructure that supports the services that we offer to our users. So for us and for me, our users are, are the Cabinet Office staff that consume and use laptops, IT infrastructure, wireless connectivity, internet, access to the internet from offices and then things like-like the VPN, for example. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Great, so we're discussing how to green delivery in different parts of ICT within government, so I was wondering where can it go wrong - is there something such as "overengineering" in your line of work perhaps?

 

Mo Hamid:

That's a great question...for me you know, just over-engineering: it is possible. In today's world, there's a big drive to move things to the cloud. So traditionally you'd have your data centres on sites in the office somewhere and you'd have a server room and that's where you would host things like email or applications. But however, there's a big trend to moving offsite to the cloud. And often what I find, and from experience is: the, you know, looking at it from a green environmental perspective is often not thought about and the reasons for that is varying. But one of the reasons would be that isn't really thought of with the requirements. There's all--the requirement seems to be, 'yep, we need to shift, lift and shift, migrate into the cloud'.  

 

‘Do I just simply migrate all the servers and create virtual machines in the cloud in the very same way as I would do in a physical server room?’ No, you wouldn't do that. You would make use of the cloud tools that are out there and and finding out you know, how do I make use of those tools to better serve the users and the environment.  

 

So to delve even further, what that means is: so in the traditional server room, you might, you might have a lot of servers running and some storage behind that, and that all requires power, and that's all producing CO2 gases, somewhere in the lifecycle there. You, you, you don't need to just have servers running all the time in the cloud. You can only have it running at a minimum level. And then when demand increases, for example, you can then spin up more servers. So this is, we're talking about scaling here. Do I need five servers running 24/7, you know, 30 days of the month all the time? Probably not. You probably, you know, at night time, your demand may decrease.  

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Having flexibility in a contract so that you can scale up and down is quite handy. Is there any other sort of best practice advice that you have to pass on to anybody else who might be working in infrastructure engineering and is listening to the episode?  

 

Mo Hamid: 

Yeah, sure. I mean, I mean, I don't think I can cover everything, but I think one of the things you need to look out for - and it's best to do this from early on - is to not use tools that will get you locked in to one particular cloud provider. Perhaps in the future you may want to migrate from cloud provider A or to cloud provider B, or you may want to host in A and B together simultaneously. So being locked in one isn't a good thing because you-you-you might have other players in the future, or we might have a player that are more, more, are more green.

 

Number two, when you're designing your your IT, or your infrastructure, whatever you're looking to-to provide, security I think also plays a part. Not just because you want to protect your-your services obviously, but also from-from your services being used for other malicious things. 

 

So I had a friend who was running a couple of servers in-in the cloud infrastructure, and then one day he realised that one of his servers was running at 100% CPU consistently all the time. So he logged in and checked you know, what's going on here, had a fiddle around, looked throughout, looked through his server environment and then realised his server was being used for bitmining. So, you know, cryptocurrency, finding the next Bitcoin and his server had been compromised, there was some malicious scripts running. And therefore it was running at full CP, 100% CPU. Imagine that at scale. And then that again is bad for the environment. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

That is fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing all of these like pieces of information from a world that's so different to what I'm used to. I was wondering if there is anything final that you could think of which relates infrastructure engineering to sustainability yet mentioned?

 

Mo Hamid: 

Yeah, I mean, a final thought for me is probably on a more personal level, I think everyone can probably follow this is: things like clearing out clutter in our emails. And I'm, I'm, I'll put my hands up first for this - I'm, I'm the worst at this. I think I've got about 10,000 emails in my personal inbox. So clearing the up helps because you're, you're, that doesn't need to be stored anymore and because it doesn't need to be stored anymore, eventually down the line that will get deleted. And think of you know, zoom out a bit, in the, that data centre thats running that email server will have it deleted and have more storage space freed up. And then that, if we all do that, there's less storage space needed. So these are little things that we can do. So clear up your emails if you can.

 

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Vanessa Schneider: 

So that was Mo. I was wondering, is there anything that you particularly connected with what he was saying or is there anything that you found particularly noteworthy that you'd like to explore?

 

Adam Turner: 

Well, first of all, go Mo. That was [laughs] that was awesome. It's really heartening for someone like me who's been working in this for over a decade to hear someone talking so passionately and eloquently and usefully about this topic. So fantastic.

 

I'll just pick up on a few of his points. Absolutely, sustainability's a non-functional requirement. People forget this. It should be thought of in the same way as accessibility, availability, security, safety. All of those are-are the same, and you need to think them at the beginning. The challenge is in infrastructure is that industry will be saying we're getting greener by default.

 

Across government, we've got this thing called Crown Hosting, who are super efficient, and in terms of energy efficiency and green energy and the way that they run things. So y-you move there and it's going to get greener. But the, but the reality is in lots of ways--well there's few things [laughs] going on.

 

Firstly, we forget to turn off the old stuff. So that carries on running. Because of complications, because it's often not as simple as you've just got a single service sitting on a single set of servers right? So you turn off bits of it, but you've got to leave all the rest of it going. You just lift and shift your-your stuff and you carry across those requirements. And, you know, as again as Mo was saying, you-you don't need to be running this stuff 24/7 in the cloud. You only, you only need to spin it up when you actually need it.

 

But to do this takes a bit more work. You need that sustainability thinking in there as a non-functional requirement with some expertise right at the beginning of any projects and programme when you're looking at the infrastructure, when you're making the choices so that you know that you go to the right place, you don't end up with that vendor lock in, you-you are controlling the service that you are consuming in the same way that you're managing the costs, you are tracking your use of carbon, and you're getting that data back from those service providers. Because we all need this as increasingly the world will be looking on digital to prove that it's providing a net gain, and not--as I say not being part of the problem.  

 

The-the bit about bit [Bitcoin] mining was-was fascinating. That's--it's a really good classic example of an you know, unintended consequence [laughs] of digital being this huge, huge energy consumption, which is currently estimated to be on par with the consumption of Argentina. So it-it's absolutely incredible and currently unmanaged. 

 

Emily Labram: 

Yeah, I totally agree with-with all of that, and yeah go Mo! [laughs]. And Mo reminds me of several very conscientious Engineers that I've worked with in the past. And it's been a process as a Product Manager to learn the role that every member of the team actually plays in simplifying the services that we build on a continual basis, rather than just going super fast and optimising to deliver the features that you know, are user-facing.

 

So to Adam's point about the non-functional side: reliability, security, sustainability, all of that, it needs to be made, time needs to be made for it. As a Product Manager, I've learnt [laughs], I've learnt to understand that actually I do need to be managing and tracking things like infrastructure cost at the same time as all the other perhaps more shiny user facing metrics that I might otherwise be tracking. So something I've learnt as a Product Manager is to track those as what I might call what we call health metrics. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

It's great to hear reliability standing out to you folks so much, ‘cause it feels like that coincides with our next clip, where I'm talking to Matthew Hobbs, or Matt, who’s a front-end developer working on GOV.UK. So my understanding of this area is pretty rudimentary but from what I know front end is pretty important in providing that reliability of services - but clearly there's also scope for sustainability!

 

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Matt Hobbs: 

Sure, my name is Matthew Hobbs or Matt Hobbs, I'm the Head of Frontend and a Lead Frontend Developer at the Government Digital Service. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

So for someone who doesn't know, like myself, what front-end is, can you please first explain what falls under front-end, and then, because I'm not [laughs] asking enough of you, how can it be used to support our ambitions of becoming more environmentally sustainable?

 

Matt Hobbs: 

That's a big question. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

It's a big one. 

 

Matt Hobbs:

It's a big question, yeah.

 

So essentially, a lot of the computation that happens in a user's browser happens within the frontend essentially. So what you see as a person coming to our website that is essentially the frontend - the pixels being drawn to a screen - is the frontend code essentially. So there's a lot of computational power that goes into that. So by optimising the frontend, you can actually make things better from a-an environmental point of view and from a performance point of view and from a user interaction point of view as well. So that's essentially where fron-frontend comes into this piece of the puzzle. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

So do you have a practical example where you have perhaps optimised the code in order to improve the performance and make it more sustainable when it comes to website content?  

 

Matt Hobbs: 

Yes, so probably the, the one that I always go back to is, is from around about 2018, 2017-2018, where we were delivering our fonts for GOV.UK in a very specific way. It was quite an old school way of delivering fonts that was actually making it heavier, as in the page weight heavier for users. And we reworked how they were delivered to users, or delivered to browsers. And therefore it sort of streamlined the experience and actually cut down the amount of data that was actually being used on the frontend. And it, overall, it should have improved the experience for-for the vast majority of users. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

So I was wondering on that front, does it matter what kind of equipment the user has when it comes to how you code it? Or should the code work for anything, whether I've got an old Nokia phone or the newest iPhone? 

 

Matt Hobbs: 

So where, how we approach frontend development at GDS is using a methodology called progressive enhancement. So essentially we build the lowest minimum viable product first and then layer on additional features as they as, as you work through it. So if, if you're using a modern browser and it supports modern features, it will get a more modern experience. Whereas if you are on an old, old browser on an old device, they will, users with these devices will receive an experience that works, but it won't be all the bells and whistles essentially. 

 

As you are on more modern hardware and you are on a more modern browser, it's able to cope with that. Whereas if you are on an old device or an older browser, there's the assumption that the actual hardware involved in the device won't be able to cope with that additional code. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Brilliant. So if we have anybody who is a frontend developer listening, is there any way that they can access this kind of best practice?

 

Matt Hobbs: 

Yes, we have, we have some guidance in the service manual and we also have some guidance in the GDS way as well.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

So if they’re working on their own and are faced with a huge project, do you have any words of advice or motivation? 

 

Matt Hobbs: 

Well, yeah, I mean, the, and as you would say around improving accessibility for a website, the it's important to realise that it doesn't always need to be solved at once as long as you are improving it a little bit every day. And it's better than it was the day before. That's essentially the best you can do. And that's essentially how you should look at web performance optimisation as well as the sustainability aspects is: have I improved it today? Yes. Then we're going in the right direction.

 

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Vanessa Schneider: 

Right, that was Matt.

 

Emily Labram: 

Yeah, I love what Matt said, and I always, I've discovered how important Frontend Developers and Designers are in the effort to reduce complexity, to reduce cost emissions and also the beautiful like win-wins that Matt was talking about.

 

So I love the fact that in improving performance that Matt would also be making it possible for users who have older phones to carry on having a good experience, which means they don't have to throw their old phones away, which is something that I with my old brick really [laughs] appreciate, and also makes a service more equitable, inclusive. Which is something that, because we're in government, we have to care about making things work for everyone, making things accessible for everyone. And it's also something that makes working government super exciting because we get to care about this. So, yeah. Thanks, Matt. Very cool.  

 

Adam Turner: 

Yeah, e-equally loved what Matt said. The-the things, we've talked largely about greening ICT so far, but, but what Matt's picking up on there is that sustainability is about all three pillars - you know, it, it's social and environmental, and about cost savings as well. And, and those three things in balance.

 

So if you're making a service, if you're designing service, making a webpage as easy to use as possible, and as Emily said, you can still work on a Nokia 3310 - although that wouldn't actually be possible, would it? But I think that's really, really important because those end users have a better experience: it's quicker, it's slicker.

 

And often to remember from a sustainability point of view, often in-in terms of government services especially, we're replacing older sort of paper-based systems or manual systems, which, which of course has that saving as well. So you want something that works crisply and cleanly and, and it needs to be simple.

 

And obviously the-the more simple it is and easy to use, the happier the-the end user is and who ends up using less energy. And you've got happier people and they've saved time and the whole thing's costing you less to run, and it all fits together really nicely. But it's a massive growing area that isn't really appreciated yet. And if you spend a bit more time, a-a bit of thought into what you're delivering, you're going to end up something that's going to keep everyone happier and, you know, will run more efficiently and cost you less. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

So there's definitely something about taking your time and getting it right the first time to make it last - so the way Matt was talking about progressive enhancement, it's nice to know that you know, nobody will have to go back to the code and redo it from scratch as innovations come and go, like it’s, it's built up in a simple way, a bit different from the way that teams will occasionally accumulate tech debt because there are urgent deliverables.

 

Emily Labram: 

Yeah, I love that too. And as I've got more senior as a Product Manager, I do see now that my role as a Lead Product Manager is to push back sometimes and to create space for teams so that they do have the time, they have the time and the freedom to do things in the right way, to do that hard work that we always talk about at GDS to kind of make things simple for users. 

 

And...it's really a delivery thing as much as it is a product thing, but it's about the way that we work: and the, it's iterative, we use the Agile approach and that that means that we do reduce waste because we test early and often, we find out what works from the riskiest first. And that means we can deliver little bits of value early and often continuously, and that we waste less. So that's a kind of key, key part of how, as digital people, we, we help in the effort to kind of reduce emissions. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Yeah, it, it kind of reminds me of the reuse, reduce, recycle mantra actually. 

 

Adam Turner: 

Yeah, there's an awful lot of research out there from, from universities showing now that, you know, that kind of law of ever increasing performance of things and increasing capacity - is it Moore's Law? Can never quite remember. But yes, the, basically you can go, you can use refurbished servers and they are performing, or even outperforming new servers. And obviously, if you're buying refurbished kits, that stuff hasn't been dug out of the ground, sort of virgin resources, you're re-utilising as well. So embedding that kind of circular thinking into your hosting et cetera, it, you know the, the pace of development is not something that's scary anymore. It's quite fine to use a more sustainable alternative. 

 

Emily Labram: 

On that point about circularity as well, I also wanted to recognise Product Manager's role to, to sometimes notice that we can retire things, whether that's even just a feature that no one's really using or whether it's an entire product or service and then, and continually retiring things from small to big as well as continually building that circularity also helps, I think, to kind of minimise the amount of energy that we are using to keep the stuff that we have up and running.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Yeah, yeah, definitely good points. I know that we've been talking sort of about the physical quite a lot. But actually the thing that the user most interacts with when it comes to government services is the written word - so we have the good fortune [laughs] of one of GDS's content writers sharing their perspective with us.

 

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Rosa Ryou: 

Hello, my name is Rosa and I'm a Content Designer with the GOV.UK Accessibility Team. But what that means is I help other Content Designers make sure that everything on GOV.UK is as accessible as possible to everyone who visits GOV.UK. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Brilliant. So it's like guidance, attachments like PDF or HTML preferably, of course. And I think would, would easy reads fall into content as well?

 

Rosa Ryou: 

Easy read does fall into content. And that is to do with accessibility. So there, there is some guidance on that. But it can also be simple things like heading structures and using images and how to make that accessible, how to make your videos accessible. And all those little things also help save the environment as well, because it means people will spend less time looking, looking at things.

 

We do follow a style guide. So that there is consistency in how any piece of content is-is presented to our users. All our content is about making it easier for for people to find the information they need or to complete a transaction that they need to do to get on with their lives.

 

A good piece of, good content design is almost something that you don't actually notice. It's just there. And next thing you know, you're like, 'Oh, I know the information that I was looking for' or 'oh wow, I've just applied for a new passport. Didn't even know that was going to be that simple' kind of thing. So in that respect, you-you're making your users save a lot of time on whether it be their desktop, on mobile. And I think that has to be good for the environment because they're spending less time. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Definitely, yeah, I think there's so much that content design can influence on the user end of things with reducing their electric consumption. Another thing that I was thinking of that falls into content design is also sort of the-the guidance that you give on use of images, for instance, or trying to apply plain English, is that right?

 

Rosa Ryou: 

Yeah, yeah, that is very right. I mean with images, we are very clear that you really shouldn't be using images for decorative reasons. And I think you will, you'll probably have noticed that a lot of the times people like to have an image on a page just because that's what they're used to doing it. But if it adds absolutely no value to the content, then there's no need for you to add an image.

 

But of course, there will be instances where you may need to have an image: for example, if you're showing graphs or charts. But even then, we make sure that it's not, it's not a massive file size so that it takes a long time to upload or anything like that. And but we also make sure that any image used in GOV.UK that there is enough description within the text so that if you don't have the image, you'll still be able to understand the whole content. 

 

It's a bit like, it's a bit opposite to your university days actually. You know how you-you have a word limit for your essays [laugh from Vanessa] and you write 100 words and you're thinking, well, how can I make this like 500? I think in content design you start with 100 words and you end up with 20 words. 

 

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Emily Labram: 

Oh Rosa's so brilliant. Yeah, well, that was all about the beauty of doing away with anything unnecessary and getting to something incredibly simple. And I think it just speaks to the role that every single person on a team, in fact, every single person in the organisation actually has in cutting away that kind of cruft, that waste and getting to the simplest process or the simplest experience for users. And in that process, getting rid of unnecessary electricity usage, waste, et cetera, and therefore emissions.

 

Adam Turner: 

Yes, I-I loved what Rosa was talking about. I've-I've fallen foul of-of these guidelines, I must admit, so I've learnt things the hard way, despite working in sustainability for as long as I have developing strategies and, and reports that I've laboured over, created fantastic diagrams only to have the GOV.UK style team say: 'really? [laughs] Do you need that? And what it makes you realise is yeah, actually a lot of it is just fluff. So you just read the facts and boil it right down. 

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

I think one of the things that makes me really excited about Rosa's contribution is also a lot of the time people maybe get told that, you know, words don't really necessarily have the same impact. But in this case, the words are making the impact, you know, by thinking about how you phrase things, thinking about being able to be more concise or making things easier to understand. It then means people are spending less time on the page. They're able to go-get ahead with what they're doing much faster. And that that has that, that effect that people are essentially using less electricity and contributing less to emissions. So, yeah, I don't know, I just sort of like that cheesy thought of the pen is mightier than the sword. 

 

Adam Turner: 

Hey, it's, it's not cheesy at all. Like I say, I had to learn this the hard way. It's so easy when you're designing a-a website or creating a document or a, content or whatever to say refer to diagram, you know, reference image one or something. But you're not actually explaining it. And it really makes you sit down and think about what it is that you're trying to get across. And there's some really, really great people across the content teams across government that have, that have got this nailed in, in how to make this simple and effective. And you're right, it takes up less space, got less servers running in the background, and people can access the information quicker and more efficiently. And that has to be a good thing.  

 

Emily Labram: 

Also on that, it's about getting the right trade offs, I think is what you know, the-the great skill that the Content Designers have is that they're able to, to get to that 20 words, but those 20 words are actually the right ones and they get across exactly what's needed, even though there's hardly any words there at all. I think what you're pointing out, Adam, is these trade offs are quite painful sometimes. You-you might have invested loads of time in-in kind of perhaps it's a particular feature or it's a piece of content or it's a you know, a user journey and, and then having those brave, difficult conversations to kind of challenge and go: actually, do we need all of that? How does that actually work in user research in practice, and being ready to sort of kill off stuff that isn't working.

 

I think that's why you need highly skilled people in these disciplines in order to help make the best possible trade offs between you know, for example, the amount of bandwidth that the NHS service is using for video and the amount of usefulness of that video to users and getting the amount of bandwidth for the, the exact decision right, and, or iterating those over time.

 

Adam Turner: 

So I'd like to make a couple of little plugs, if I may. Firstly, the, the strategy that we mentioned right at the beginning Vanessa, mentions the idea of a responsible digital citizen. And the idea behind that was me trying to get across - and I've been engaging with the DDaT profession across government to try and make this happen - is that every single role across the Digital, Data and Technology profession across government recognises that they need to think about everything through the sustainability lens. And I think personally that's really important. And I think what we've heard today is even in the most unlikely places, like how, how we put things on a webpage and you know, how we think about the phrasing of those words to replace a picture, and actually that's going to be better, is, is having a huge sustainability benefit. 

 

So the other quick plug I'd like to mention is the professional body of IEMA, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, and their basic drive is that everybody in every profession should think about sustainability. So that's just as relevant to us here in Digital and Data as it is to everyone else.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Yeah, so obviously we've heard from three colleagues and we've had Emily as well in the podcast, giving us these practical measures that maybe people who are listening who work in the digital space could apply or convince their colleagues to apply. I was wondering whether we can maybe pull back a little bit and think about sort of like what effect we're hoping this will have. And maybe that's something, again, for you, Adam, to talk about. But I know, Emily, you're quite invested in in sustainability work as well and it might be an opportunity for you to reflect on why this is important to you as well.

 

Adam Turner: 

Sure. So, as I say, the most important thing for organisations out there to, to, you've got to understand where you are at the moment. And the most effective way of doing that is to look at your current ICT footprint. So there's numerous ways you can do that. But effectively it's your asset register with a bunch of assumptions tagged to it. And then once you understand that and then you start looking at your ICT waste, you get this, this picture of where you're at. 

 

Now obviously increasingly we've been talking about the move to the cloud. And the big chunk of the work we've been involved with for the last couple of years has been working with our cloud suppliers to try and understand our footprints in the cloud. We've been working really closely with our key service providers in public cloud, private cloud and more traditional hosting to try and get to the bottom of that. Once we got all of that - and we are publishing a new report in the next couple of months - and we've got the last 10 years worth of reports up there, you can see the government footprint for our hosting.

 

All the stuff that we've been talking about today you would hope would help bring that figure down and it would get lower. And then all the other benefits in digital that kind of, that we've all experienced through COVID, you know, all that reticence that was out there for using tools like Zoom, with cultures that told people that they had to go to offices, they had to commute - suddenly that's all up in the air.

 

And you can see all of the savings across, carbon savings from travel, from hopefully flights - we'll see where that one goes - from...well, other areas as well. And y-you can see all those coming down and they've been enabled through digital. But we don't want digital to keep rising up. Data growth is rising exponentially. But the hosting of that is not rising exponentially because we are managing to green the grid and operators are greening.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Great, thank you, Adam. Yeah, Emily, any personal reflections regarding why, why you want to have this positive impact on environmental sustainability?

 

Emily Labram: 

I think what motivates me is to know that I am doing, doing my bit in my role, that I know how my role connects to the commitments that we've made as a nation. And that's taken two forms now. 

 

First thing is hampioning the commitments that we have made and making sure that as an organisation, that we are tracking, we are managing our emissions in the same way as we manage the other things that we care about. And so I have pointed to Adam's work and pointed to the tools that are available and asked questions at the relevant moments. [Laughs] And we've made some good progress there.

 

But the other thing I think I've realised is that it's about really focussing on what I can do within my craft and within my role and how I can become a more deep expert on what it means to do Product Management in a sustainable way, what it means to lead Product Teams and enable them to do, to build products in sustainable ways. And that's where my effort and my interest is now.

 

Adam Turner: 

I think it's important to recognise where IT and digital has moved from. And it's moved into the centre of organisations and therefore vital to deliver their corporate agenda and their commitments. So whatever organisation is out there, it-it, it's unfeasible to say that you, you can deliver the objectives of your organisation and your commitments whoever you are, whether your sustainability organisation or not, you can't do it without digital and tech.

 

But I think it's very important to know that we're, we're at the beginning of this journey in recognising how everyone can get involved. And it's great, the, the momentum’s there. Everyone's really passionate about this. Everyone's recognising that they need to cut down on their flights. Think about, you know, the meat they consume. Think about where their energy is being sourced. And slowly but surely, we're waking up to the role of digital and tech in that. And as we learn more about this, we as a profession can share expertise. And it's been wonderful to hear all of these examples today. And get this as part of training for everyone and share best practices and really start to create the momentum to push this forward.

 

Emily Labram: 

I was going to recommend Designing for Sustainability by Tim Frick. And I would say if there's any digital folk listening who want to just start to get a more, a general understanding of where emissions are and how they can be managed and reduced in digital team, that's the book that's helped me out the most.

 

Vanessa Schneider: 

Gosh, it's so exciting [laughs] hearing you respond so positively to what's already happening in government. I know it's Earth Day, which of course will be a reminder to many to think about the impact their actions have, but much more encouraging that even when it's not Earth Day, these efforts are underway here.

 

So on such a positive note, I want to say thank you so much to all of our guests for coming on today and sharing all this best practice and giving us motivation, hope, advice to do our best when it comes to greening in government, especially in the digital space. So you can listen to all the episodes of the Government Digital Service Podcast on Apple Music, Spotify and all other major podcast platforms. And the transcripts are available on PodBean. Goodbye. 

 

Adam Turner: 

Bye. Thank you.

 

Emily Labram: 

Bye everyone. 

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