In a climate of corporate do-gooding, how can we make real change?

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In a climate of corporate do-gooding, how can we make real change?

Corporations these days are engaged in a fair amount of do-gooding.

From Pepsi’s ‘anti-police’ campaign featuring Kendal Jenner to Gillette’s divisive take on modern masculinity.

And though ‘twas ever thus’ is as true here as it ever ‘twas, today, there are a few exacerbating circumstances.

Firstly, Generation Z are shaping up to be the most socially conscious generation for over 50 years.

68% of them say they expect brands to contribute to society.

And 54% say they will spend more on products and services with sustainable bona fides (10% more than millennials asked the same question).

Add to this the speed with which social media can spread information (and disinformation) and you have a clear reason as to why today’s big businesses must talk the talk on hot button issues.

Which is all many of them do.

Sadly, it’s often these same companies whose social media channels are awash with support for George Floyd or Black Lives Matter who’ll ruthlessly suppress unionisation, avoid tax, and maintain exploitative labour practices overseas.

This is woke washing.

A sorry dance in which the public demands real sacrifices on the grounds of ethics and morals, and companies look for the cheapest ways to fob them off.

So where can we turn?

Actually, to many places.

Effective corporate social responsibility

There are many examples of effective, impactful corporate social responsibility, just as there are many examples of low-cost, good-optics corporate social responsibility.

The organization Effective Altruism - which sprung to public attention following a New York Times feature - has recently had success bypassing the marketing and PR departments altogether, and instead simply engaged the individuals within organizations to give to effective charities.

Elsewhere, TOMS Shoes has donated over 60 million pairs to children who sorely need them.

These are the meaty, material kinds of CSR that really make a difference.

But perhaps the biggest impact we in the technology sector are capable of producing is one which - shock horror - is good for the bottomline as well…

Introducing cloud-native

If the past decade or so can be described as the move from bare metal to cloud servers, the next great leap is from cloud to cloud-native.

This catch-all term covers contemporary advances in cloud computing united by increasing efficiencies, which translate, wonderfully enough, into carbon reductions of mind-boggling proportions.

Technologies of a greener cloud

The basic premise of greener, cloud-native computing is that more efficient computing tools use less resources, and so make less carbon.

But the numbers are dramatic.

Research shows that some of the more advanced technologies cut carbon emissions from some applications by a staggering 98%, making them effectively net-zero.

And if even every company isn’t able to acquire the services of an expert green-cloud provider, simpler interventions can still make huge impacts.

Some examples

At the commonplace end of the spectrum, you have interventions like a ‘lift and shift’, this is essentially a basic migration to cloud and not a cloud-native practice.

However, ‘lifting and shifting’ can still reduce carbon by up to 84%.

At the more interesting, innovative ends of things, we have practices like sustainable software engineering.

Amazon’s Code Guru, for example, is a cloud-based ML tool that scans code to look for lines which might make processors work harder than they should be, essentially sifting through programmes for pollutants.

The common theme? Save on computing, save on carbon.

All the staples of this technological wave - serverless, microservices and containers - are all ways of shrinking or segmenting traditional computational processes. Making them leaner and less wasteful.

To take the example of serverless - perhaps the easiest to understand - the innovation springs not, as the name suggests, from removing the need for servers, but from ‘creating’ them only for that time they are in use.

Essentially, they are the Uber of virtual servers. Appearing when you need them. Disappearing when you don’t.

This is all wonderful news. And with climate change widely acknowledged as an existential threat, greener, cloud-native development surely represents that rare intersection of an unambiguous good with corporate gain.

So what exactly to do about it?

For our part, we try to steer clients towards greener, cloud-native technologies, which, being more profitable in 9 out of 10 cases, is no great ask.

Our modest proposal, however, is that a commitment to green, cloud-native development becomes a benchmark of corporate social responsibility akin to equality and diversity, fairtrade or even minimum wage.

And with benefits as clear for the business end of things as for the planet, there’s no reason most companies in the tech space shouldn’t answer the call.

Greener, cloud-native tech is not do-gooding; it’s doing good.

And the sooner everyone realises, the better.