Environmentalism and Software

futurelab default header

by: Sigurd Rinde

Drive a hybrid. Buy carbon-dioxide offset points when flying. Use the bike. Things you and I can do.

Renewable energy. R&D funding. Taxes on fuel. Tax rebates. Stuff our governments can do.

All good, all important.

Then I read Robert’s post about the trend of VCs leaving the computer world and embracing environmentalism – investing in energy saving technologies and the like.

Hang on a second, messieurs les VCs, give the following twist to the issue a think-over:

It’s more than driving my x miles per day in a slightly more efficient way, it’s also about if I should drive those x miles every day.

It’s more than avoiding y percent waste in the production, it’s also about what happens after it’s produced and before I can use it.

Big picture; where does the biggest waste happen?

In the process.

If I need to spend 30% on top of production costs to pester you with "messages" and 50% on top of that to have the product ready for your whim in a store on high street, well then – 49% of that product is wasted.

When I spend on a book or some music about 80 – 90% is not-for-the-product (i.e. the wrapping,  hard media, advertising, retail, running huge organisational hierarchies and not the words or the sound). Again massive process waste.

Let’s do some math. I do two things – I produce (40 hours per week) and I consume (168 hours per week). For the society as a whole, the crucial point is how much I produce of value per unit consumed total – that is what it’s all about.

Increasing that relationship is environmentalism. Produce same with less consumption (current focus) or produce more at same consumption (not so PC) or best, produce more and consume less.

Transport takes about 28% of total US energy consumption, but I have a part in the total energy use by industry (I consume products), commercial (I shop and bank) and household (I live in a house).

And all consumption – from food to transport to entertainment – can be translated into the energy consumption, the smallest screw is a product of energy, as is a book, as is my morning coffee. Even hand knitting is a energy consuming production, the knitter has to live and be kept warm while knitting.

If I have to attend two-hour Monday morning meetings for nothing, well then, that would equal to me and my wife having to save 5% of our energy use to keep the equation balanced.

Give it a quick calculation yourself, how much time of your 40 hours of weekly value creation gets lost in messy processes and managing and ad-hoc crises? 30%? 40%? Could you offest that by cycling to work and install energy saving lightbulbs? Let’s calculate:

If I and my wife changed our SUVs (not that we have two though) for small hybrids with twice the mileage and cut out every second flight? That would account for a 14% saving to our total energy use.

I work, i.e. produce value for the society on behalf of the whole family, 40 hours per week. So the saving from my transport greeness would amount to 2 hours and 48 minutes per week of my value creation on behalf of two transport consumers.
That is one Monday morning meeting and some water-cooler chit-chat.

What would be easiest to attain? Halve my flying or cut the Monday morning meetings?

Let’s increase my attack on the daily waste of time at the office and cut out a bit more than one hour of process waste; dump some meetings, avoid some ad-hoc phones and mails, some corridor walk-abouts and stop waiting for others to finish.
That increase in my "value creation" would have the same environmental effect as me lowering my "energy consumption" to a level where I would no more drive a car and only pedal. And I would have to row the Atlantic for a meeting on Madison Avenue.

What would you prefer? Cut out some panicky crisis management and meetings or row the Atlantic?

Think process and save the world I say. Do not throw out IT just yet, it has more to it than the eye can see, it can do wonders to the process efficiency if you let it.

And yes, I will definitely drive carefully (am using a small diesel), I will cycle more – but I will keep on challenging those ad-hoc inefficient process ways of today. That is also environmentalism.

Just had to mention it.

Original Post: http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2007/03/environmentalis.html