Permaculture for digital or tech teams

I’d like to share some thoughts about applying Permaculture in a digital or technology context, because I find it super relevant and useful as a framework for helping your team, product or organisation become more sustainable.

I recently did a talk at Agile Cambridge in June 2022 and I covered this topic while drawing parallels to Agile ways of working. Below are some of the main points I made in that session and some themes I’ve been learning about recently.

Participants in my workshop at Agile Cambridge and me, top left.

Take a sustainability and Permaculture-first approach

When I’m not learning about sustainability and Permaculture, I typically work as an Agile Consultant with various digital and tech teams across the UK.

These days I like to see it that way around – as in, sustainability first. We are after all in a Climate Emergency.

I’d wager that moving to Net Zero is going to be the biggest transformation organisations face over the next 20-30 years. So if you specialise in digital and organisational transformation like me, IMHO you need to get on board and start that work, stat.

Here’s a sobering stat I learned thanks to Chris Adams at The Green Web Foundation:

1-3% is the estimated total global carbon emissions from the tech sector.
Source: https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/publications/report-fog-of-enactment/#what-about-global-estimates

The tech sector’s emissions is about the same as the entire shipping industry, or the Carbon footprint of Germany or Canada, and about the same as all combined emissions of commercial and heavy industry in Europe. It’s big.

We in tech like to think that Digital Transformation initiatives and Digital-first strategies are doing good for the world, but there is actually a decent dose of harm we’re doing to the biosphere with every new product released or byte of data stored.

The internet is the biggest machine in the world and it mostly runs on fossil fuels.

– Chris Adams

Technologists and, well, everyone in this sector desperately needs to learn more about what it takes to create a fossil free internet and start taking action.

A fossil-free internet – that’s the goal and the work to be done. We also need to consider the multifaceted topic of Climate Justice in a digital and tech context… but that’s a post for another day.

Learning about the Principles & Ethics, wearing the Permaculture goggles

Since learning about the Permaculture ethics and principles and doing a PDC and Diploma, I’ve truly put on the Permaculture goggles. I see Permaculture everywhere. Just ask my friends about my WhatsApp spam, poor souls.

And it’s so incredibly relevant in a work or digital and tech context too, so I’m really keen to share it with my work communities at every opportunity.

The Ethics

A slide from my recent conference session. The Permaculture Ethics are Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

Balancing care for the earth (our entire biosphere), care for people and the fair share of our planet’s resources is a great challenge and a useful concept. Is our product or organisation doing harm to planet or people? Are we taking more than our fair share? These are just some of the questions that come to mind when considering the Permaculture Ethics.

The Principles

A full list and description of the Permaculture Principles can be found here, but in my recent conference session I chose a select few to introduce to my workshop participants.

There are many ways to be inspired by these principles in a digital or tech context. They’re great thinking tools to challenge us to act or to generate ideas.

An example action for Cycling of Energy, Nutrients and Resources + Produce no Waste: using the heat generated by server farms to warm a greenhouse.

OpenCompute: using the heat generated by server farms to heat a greenhouse – https://www.opencompute.org/wiki/Data_Center_Facility/Heat_Reuse

I’m collecting and learning about more and more ways to put these Permaculture Principles into practice in a digital and technology context, and in a work context in general.

I plan to share some more of these examples and actions and deep dives into the principles soon.

In the mean time, if you’re interested in exploring the possibility of running a workshop like the one I described in this post for your team or organisation, do get in touch. (I’m offering these workshops for free at the moment).

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