5 min read

A Carbon Neutral, Nature Positive Praecipio Consulting

By Christopher Pepe on May 4, 2021 11:09:00 AM

Blogpost-display-image_Praecipios green pathIn 2019 the Praecipio Consulting Green Team was given the goal of creating a carbon neutral future for the company as part of our Climate Action Plan. The Green team had already set its focus on Carbon, Human Health, and Sustainability. The net zero challenge was taken up with the goal of promoting those pillars. Praecipio Consulting has determined that the climate stabilization wedge of Proforestation best meets the company's environmental and human health goals. Our value "Maximize mutual benefit" is exemplified by the parcels that Praecipio Consulting has contributed to protecting. 

Finding our path

Praecipio Consulting initially rolled out a generous Green Stipend program to incentivize change in employees daily lives, and encourage others to do so as well. Through education and incentive we aimed to amplify the good that we could do. To reach carbon neutrality we would credit Praecipio Consulting for the carbon emissions that where eliminated by positive changes in behavior. Many employees improved insulation, installed new efficient windows, etc. Ultimately that program proved ineffective, however, it laid the groundwork for our future. The main issue was that the Green Stipend encouraged a holistic lifestyle change whose benefits were multifaceted, but the success of the program was only measured by the reduction in one's carbon emissions. The cost per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, a standard measure used to model carbon footprint) was too high for the program to reach carbon neutrality on budget.

The Green team wished to retain the behavioral incentive component of the Green Stipend. Since inception, the Green team has delivered presentations via a monthly all hands State of the Business, on how we arrived at a climate crises, and more importantly, how individuals can change their behavior for a future that is reintegrated with the natural world.

Praecipio Consulting also needed to achieve its publicly stated goal of being carbon neutral in 2020 and beyond. One obvious solution was to buy carbon offsets from any number of sources. There are publicly available volunteer markets (also regulated markets for carbon intensive regulated industry but that does not apply to this type of business), as well as many afforestation companies that are replanting forests all over the world. Digging into each of these options ultimately made us feel that while we could check the carbon neutral box, it wasn't maximizing mutual benefit. Carbon exchanges offer very cheap credits with little insight into their source. Credits may come from a forest, or they may come from any number of other sources, some of which are of questionable utility to addressing climate change. Afforestation is a noble cause, and we support organizations involved in those activities like TreeFolks. However, a 1" sapling planted today will take decades to sequester any amount of carbon and we simply don't have that much time. We applaud these organizations, and will continue to fund them because we will need those trees in the future, however we felt we needed to do more now.

Proforestation

Since the 1600s the United States has cut most of its forests. Estimates vary, but it likely that at most 10% of our old growth forests remain and even in heavily forested areas there are surprisingly few undisturbed forests. Europe has achieved some of its carbon goals by purchasing wood pellets from the United States to power electric generation plants. Far too much of these wood pellets are made from clear cutting forests which removes carbon sinks and increases atmospheric carbon. This practice is considered carbon neutral largely due to an accounting error that there is little incentive in acknowledging.

Simply put, proforestation is a management practice where a mature forest is allowed to self-regulate. This is contrasted with active management for timber, biomass fuel, or other disruptive uses. The benefits of mature forest are many including habitat for native species, clean water, and obviously carbon storage. An important finding is that while a mature tree has a slower metabolism than a young tree, it still adds more biomass (mostly atmospheric carbon) than the younger, more vigorous whippersapling.

Because existing trees are already growing, storing carbon, and sequestering more carbon more rapidly than newly planted and young trees (Harmon et al., 1990; Stephenson et al., 2014; Law et al., 2018; Leverett and Moomaw, in preparation), proforestation is a near-term approach to sequestering additional atmospheric carbon: a significant increase in “negative emissions” is urgently needed to meet temperature limitation goals.

Each year a single tree that is 100 cm in diameter adds the equivalent biomass of an entire 10–20 cm diameter tree, further underscoring the role of large trees (Stephenson et al., 2014)

Human Health

Like all humans, Praecipians tend to find comfort, rest, and restoration when in the natural world. The human world is an amazing place filled with bright lights, sounds, and smells, that are largely ours (tho you are really Never Home Alone). The high intensity of the human world is especially draining. We can turn to meditative practices like church, yoga, and other mindful experiences to recharge, however, these are amplified when they occur in a natural setting.

Mature forests are magical and restorative places for humans to spend time. The practice of Forest Bathing has gained popularity, and the recent pandemic-induced shortage of any and all outdoor sports equipment has highlighted how people feel when they are in the natural world. Praecipio Consulting has focused on supporting forests in places that employees can enjoy and recharge. While the goal of keeping these forests wild and productive (with respect to ecological services, and not timber) they will be a refuge to Praecipians for many years to come.

Existing projects as of 2021 Q1

The following are significant proforestation and/or preservation projects that Praecipio Consulting has or continues to support. All are important ecological service providers with wild recreation opportunities. All had the potential to be used in an environmentally non-beneficial way and are now protected to continue to provide those services. The forests store 3 to 5 years of carbon emissions based on Praecipio Consulting's current operational model. Travel to customers was our largest segment of carbon emissions and the pandemic has eliminated that. If the post pandemic world is half as video-conference friendly that will greatly aid in our effort to reduce our carbon footprint.

Praecipios green path-table

Protecting existing forests is a powerful way to maximize the mutual benefit for all living things and promote a resilient and stable environment for life to thrive. At Praecipio Consulting, we pride ourselves of being a people-centered company, and we strive to do business while staying true to our values. Taking care of our planet is centered at the core of who we are.

Topics: praecipio-consulting blog culture environment corporate-responsibility green-team
3 min read

Community-driven Pollinator Garden at Bristol Elementary School

By Christopher Pepe on Dec 15, 2020 4:33:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_Pollinator Garden for Elementary school

It took a village to create this natural space for children to explore.

garden

Parents discussed the joy of the Bristol Elementary School's (BES) Forest Fridays and how our kids thrived outdoors (the year before one student formed a petition, gathered signatures, and lobbied the administration for more outdoor recess time). Parents and school administration began meeting to remove hurdles to students being outdoors. The focus of the effort became:

  1. Outdoor classroom space to facilitate classroom based learning outdoors
  2. Natural playscape to encourage engaging with and observing the natural world
  3. Water management during the spring thaw and freeze cycles

During a training session, Four Winds, a community-based natural science education organization, announced a mini-grant program to improve area schools. We felt a pollinator garden was the most achievable project to increase the diversity of the playground landscape without adding much maintenance overhead. Four Winds agreed and BES was awarded the grant.

Four Winds Nature Institute is a non-profit organization advancing the understanding, appreciation, and protection of the environment through community-based natural science education and research. 

While the beloved playground boasts a vast flat area with many play structures there is not much natural diversity. Our goal has been to rewild the playground and celebrate seasonality with an ever-changing display of flowers and foliage made of native plants. This project would establish a naturalized island that will promote native plants and pollinators, as well as cultivate creative play. The students can watch the garden evolve, watch the insects, birds, and other life that thrives there, and to be a part of it themselves.

I would like to thank our vendors, who were easy to work with, generous with their time, gave us favorable pricing, and donations. All of our plants came from Full Circle Gardens. Sarah helped build our plant list, added in several plants as donations, and delivered them for free. Great communication and coordination made working through the pandemic a non-issue. Our mulch and top soil came from Livingston Farm, nearly half of which was donated to this project. Without the generosity of our vendors we could not have built the garden that we had envisioned. Thank you.

I would also like to thank the school administration for their support and commitment to our community. This effort began with principal Kevin Robinson who was an enthusiastic supporter of our parent driven efforts. That was handed off to Thomas Buzzell who is a strong advocate for outdoor play and its many benefits on behavior and development of children. With the community, he is building a collective vision of the future of play at BES. No job too small, Tom has even offered to hand water the fledgling garden. Joel Fitzgerald has also been a strong advocate for this project and playground improvements including a student driven project to build an outdoor classroom. Sheila Gebo was kind and patient while shepherding me through vendor management and financial operations. And of course thank you to Four Winds for funding this project and encouraging us along the way. I would also like to thank the other parents that have given their time and energy at every phase of this project. Finally, a special thank you to the Urban girls for their hard work in installing the garden on a sweltering summer day. Thank you all, and those that were not named. Without your help we would not have completed this project.

IMG_6516

There were a lot of hot dry days between delivery and installation. Sam was a big help in keeping the plants happy.

IMG_6687

The Urbans came out in force for installation day!

Topics: blog environment do-good green-team social-responsibility education
2 min read

How to Get Involved This #GivingTuesday

By Morgan Folsom on Nov 30, 2020 2:14:24 PM

Blogpost-display-image_SJ- Giving Tuesday blog

Now that we're rapidly coming up on the end of 2020, I'm taking time to pause my life and find things to be thankful for. Under normal circumstances, this exercise can be a great way to wrap up the year; after this year, though, let's just say that I had a harder time than normal pulling together a list. The truth is that despite it being a tough year, I do have a lot to be thankful for – I've made it through this year with a job and a home, something that many people are not experiencing this year.

As we enter the holiday season, the messaging that we see is increasingly commercial: Black Friday edges earlier into Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday tries to pull focus locally, and Cyber Monday pretends like we're not online shopping for the first two, making it a trifecta of commercialism.

Giving Tuesday is an annual celebration on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving that encourages individuals and organizations across the country to do good. What better way to wrap up three of the highest spending days of the year by looking at how we can support others?

What we're doing

Here at Praecipio Consulting, we've stepped back and taken stock as well. Supporting our communities has always been a core value here, and we've been a member of Pledge 1% for years. We are proud to spend our time and money with organizations like the Flatwater Foundation, TreeFolks, and Bamberger Ranch. This year, we felt like we had to do more. At the beginning of June, the company began matching employee donations and doubling VTO toward relevant organizations.

This #GivingTuesday, we'll be taking it a step further and doubling employee donation matching for donations made on Tuesday, December 1st, as part of our continued dedication to supporting our communities. 

How you can get involved

That's what we're doing, but what about you?

There are a lot of ways to get involved, even in the middle of a pandemic. Check out local resources to find organizations that are accepting donations or for volunteer opportunities (if you're comfortable!). Events like gift drives and meal delivery are also great ways to contribute while still staying safe. Don't forget to look at local mutual aid funds for opportunities for even bigger impacts in your communities. 

Topics: blog flatwater-foundation do-good pledge-1% global-climate-crisis treefolks green-team
4 min read

How Spore-Infused Canola Oil Supports the Forest Ecosystem

By Christopher Pepe on Sep 25, 2020 11:54:55 AM

Blogpost-display-image_Steering a forest (1)

Last year I switched to grocery store canola oil to lubricate my chainsaw bar. I add Oyster mushroom spores into the oil so that they are dispersed while I cut. This method was developed by Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti and discussed in his book Mycelium Running. There doesn’t appear to be a commercially available product; however, by making it myself at close to the cost of conventional petroleum-based bar oil (~$15/gal), I improve my forest and should have some convenient forage this fall. I am still refining the process of infusing spores into canola oil, but if you are curious to try it, I’d be happy to swap notes.

Why vegetable oil?

Available since the mid-1980s, vegetable-based bar oil usage has grown more rapidly in Europe and is gaining adoption in the US. Workers’ occupational safety and health, and environmental protection are the biggest concerns caused by the thousands of gallons of petroleum-based bar oil that is left in our forests each year.

“Petroleum-based oils are known carcinogens and medical records show that they cause discomforting eczema and oil acne. In addition, prolonged exposure to petroleum-based-oil mist can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. Environmental damage caused by petroleum-based oil spills has had extensive attention from the media.[1]”

Whereas, canola oil “has excellent lubricating properties and some studies have shown up to 40 percent reduction in consumption without sacrificing bar-and-chain life.[1]” Again looking to Europe, we see that there are 80+ brands of vegetable-based bar oil in Germany alone. Austria has gone so far as to outlaw petroleum-based bar oil. Europe has even developed a standard (CEC-L-33-T-82) that measures the amount of oil that biodegrades over a 21-day period. Within that standard, products can contain some mineral oil additives. A popular choice in the US, STIHL BioPlus, degrades 93.8% in 21 days. Commercial vegetable-based bar oils cost about twice as much as petroleum products, which has hurt adoption. But with long-term environmental concerns and sustainability driving today's business decisions more than ever before, that additional cost will be more easily justified.

Canola oil is also a renewable product. It is worth considering that conventional agriculture relies on fossil fuels, and accounts for 10% of the US greenhouse gas emissions [2]. Canola-based bar oil is still seen as a net positive as it keeps the toxins in petroleum-based bar oil out of the forests, and we have the potential to change our agricultural footprint into the future.

Why mushrooms?

Saprobic mushrooms, the decomposers, are the cornerstone of returning nutrients back to the forest. Common native fungi include oysters and Turkey tail. As tree limbs and litter fall to the forest floor, saprobes reach up and consume them. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom, invades the tree litter, brings along water, and attracts insects that feed on the mycelium. Those insects attract birds and forest creatures to tear apart the rotting wood. The mushrooms start the process, decompose the most difficult tissues (lignin and cellulose), and invite the others to continue the job. This process converts wood back into soil.

There are many functions that mushrooms serve in our world. Oyster mushrooms are known to feed on nematodes[4] and are effective water filters. They’re used by humans and other animals as food and medicine. Turkey tail mushrooms contain anti-cancer medicines, are aggressive decomposers, and protect against parasitic fungi. Many of our best medicines have come from mushrooms and many more are expected to be discovered, especially in the few remaining sections of old-growth forests. There are dozens of powerful mushrooms that humans have partnered with and countless more that we don't even know the value of yet. Perhaps they will share their stories someday.

Why use spore infused canola oil?

Mushroom spores are everywhere. In fact, you have inhaled dozens since you started reading this article. Kathleen Stutzman, VFF’s Conservation Forester, gave me the sage advice that “the forest does not need you to be healthy.” Similarly, the mushrooms do not need me to find their way into deadwood. However, the choices that I make can help steer our forest in the direction I want it to go. By preferring some species, I can speed up decomposition and quickly build the thin soil on my rocky hillside. New research suggests that species like Turkey tail will also ward off potentially destructive species like the honey mushroom[3], one of which is the largest organism to ever live on earth. While honey mushrooms likely serve a function in the forest, they also cause a lot of financial hardship for timber companies. The jury is still out on honey mushrooms in my opinion, but Turkey tail and Oysters mushrooms help decompose everything 3” and smaller that I leave behind, provide us food and medicine, and support the entire forest ecosystem.

References

  1. https://www.fs.fed.us/eng/pubs/html/98511316/98511316.html
  2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/climate-change/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeBYnGwo4Y
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBWzrlCBhCM
Topics: blog culture global-climate-crisis carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral social-responsibility
4 min read

Why Mushrooms Can Save The World

By Christopher Pepe on Jun 24, 2020 12:30:17 PM

2020 Blogposts_Beyond sustainable

When walking behind my house, I found this rhizomorph, which I believe is from a honey mushroom called Armillaria mellea, and it reminded me of the amazing world that we know so little about.

honey-ropes

First, take a guess: What was the largest thing to ever live on earth?

If you thought a blue whale or any other gigantic animal, you will be surprised to know that the current record holder is a mushroom that covers 2200 acres and is thought to be 2000 years old. It eats entire groves of trees. Colloquially named the Humongous Fungus, this Armillaria ostoyae specimen lives in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. There are several other gigantic honey mushrooms in Oregon and Washington, and this one just happens to be the biggest one we know of today. The mushrooms that we think of are the fruiting body of the organism - like an apple. The main body, the mycelium, lives underground, in decaying wood, even in dead animals. The Humongous Fungus is bigger than a blue whale yet is only one cell wall thick.

I grew up foraging a few mushrooms and have always liked eating them, but it wasn't until I moved to North Carolina that it developed into a full-blown obsession. Running across Paul Stamet's TED talk solidified a lifelong passion for these little understood and underappreciated organisms. Did you know that there are 8 miles of mycelium in a cubic inch of healthy soil? That's amazing!

Going Beyond Sustainable

My focus, shaped by Cradle to Cradle, is on being better than sustainable. I believe that we need to replace all single-use plastics with biodegradable products and be better at reusing. Remember it's: reduce, reuse, and finally recycle. If we fail at all of those, then we have no choice but to landfill it. Recycling has been branded as a better solution than it is, especially if you consider the abysmal rate of only 9% of plastics being adequately recycled. According to a sign on a bus in London, 50% of the trash in the Thames is single-use plastic. We know this is a problem, and we now need to act upon it. But let's rewind, I'm getting off-topic...

To be better than sustainable, we need to have our effluent (outputs) be cleaner than our influent (inputs), but this is not commonplace. Our waterways are so polluted due to factories being built along rivers and lakes where they can conveniently pump water from and return effluent into those bodies of water. Clean river water was brought in, contaminated in some industrial process (like making paper), and then discharged back into the waterways. Even though this is a largely outdated practice, there are still long-lasting effects of contamination )like the superfund site in downtown Portland) we still pump our waterways full of E. coli (human and pet waste), phosphorous (agriculture and lawn fertilizer run-off), and host of other pollutants.

Mushroom Superpowers 

Mushrooms have proven to be very good partners for remediating contamination. In the typical workflow, mushroom mycelia are grown throughout the contaminated material. 

The fruiting bodies and the mushrooms are harvested and safely disposed of since they have accumulated heavy metals. Other nasty compounds are destroyed as the mycelia eat them (one promising example is nerve gas being destroyed by a mushroom that wants the phosphorus contained within the toxic molecule). The contaminated material is now a bit cleaner (although, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't use so many materials that are toxic to us?). Mushrooms are even being researched for neutralizing radiation. While it's worth noting that bacteria and plants are great allies in remediation projects, there is much more work needed to undo the damage that we've done in the last two centuries.

As we grow our partnership with TreeFolks, one of our non-profit partners, we also look to our fungal friends to help us expand the good that Praecipio Consulting can do in the world. Fungi are ubiquitous. They make our food better. They make our brains smarter. They make our medicine more potent. They make plants healthier. They absorb a lot of CO2. So basically, mushrooms really can save our world.

Topics: environment do-good green-team
5 min read

Improving Our Soil's Health Through Regenerative Practices

By Suze Treacy on Apr 24, 2020 9:15:00 AM

2020 Blogposts_Sinking Carbon Through Regenerative Soil Practices2

The world is changing. As we battle global warming, we face 42 years of above-average global temperatures, a 46% increase in carbon in the air since the 1800s, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events (1). Because of the threats that climate change presents, there has been a mindset shift - whether it's from an environmental perspective, a health perspective, or simply from personal knowledge - people have become more conscious of how they treat our planet and want to do better.

 

In this journey to do better for our world, do you realize the importance of the ground we walk on?

Made up of a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and billions of living organisms, soils are a basis for life. A natural passage for plant growth, an estimated 95% of our food comes from soil! (2) And when soil isn't feeding us, it absorbs water to drain, help plants, and recharge underground water; it maintains both the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles; it offers stable ground for our construction; it acts as a carbon sink, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into the soil's organic carbon. Simply put, soil is amazing, and human life literally depends on it; we can't exist without it. 

How Soil Impacts The Carbon Cycle & Climate Change

I'd like to talk some more about the carbon cycle and the role soil plays. The carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and geological deposits. Plants in our soil absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, water from the soil, and sunlight to make their own food and grow through photosynthesis. The carbon becomes part of the plant, and thus, when animals eat the plant, carbon moves along the food chain. As animals breathe, some carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. When plants and animals die, dead organisms are eaten by bacteria and fungi in the soil, and carbon in their bodies is returned to the atmosphere as even more carbon dioxide that hopefully plants absorb and put back into the soil. In 2018, Columbia University estimated that the Earth's soil contains about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals (3).

Unfortunately, activities such as deforestation and large-scale, intensive, toxic, and chemical-heavy agriculture techniques lead to soil erosion. Consequently, we are quickly destroying our soil at such an intense rate that in 2014, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reported that we only have approximately 60 years left of growing crops (4). A terrifying statistic when you consider the impact on our food supply alone. The way we treat our soil also impacts our planet, as it affects our soil's ability to fight global warming. These degradation processes result in carbon being released into the atmosphere as well as decreasing the soil's ability to store carbon. A damaging cycle ensues: exacerbated carbon losses from the soil leads to increased carbon in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change, thus intensifying downpours and further decreasing topsoil. 

 

Regenerative Soil Practices Give Us Hope

As we seek out more ways that we can contribute to a healthier planet, regenerative soil practices offer hope for positive change through the rehabilitation and enhancement of ecosystems. There are so many ways we can regenerate our soil. The Climate Reality Project outlined some of these key soil regeneration practices (5):

  • Plant Species Diversity: Different plants offer a range of diverse properties, releasing different carbohydrates through their roots. Various microbes feed on those carbohydrates, and, in turn, return a variety of different nutrients back to the soil, creating rich, nutrient-dense soils. These soils both more crops and improve their ability to absorb carbon.
  • Rotation and Cover Crops: By rotating crops and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can infuse soils with additional and more diverse soil organic matter. This helps to avoid disease and pest problems naturally, all while improving biodiversity, and, you guessed it, improving soil's ability to absorb carbon.
  • Conservation Tillage: Plowing and tillage dramatically erode soil and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as creating a hostile environment for important soil microbes. By adopting low- or no-till practices, farmers minimize physical disturbance of the soil, and over time increase levels of soil organic matter, creating healthier, more resilient environments for plants to thrive, as well as keeping more carbon where it belongs: in the land. 
  • Cleaner agriculture decisions: Harsh chemicals can damage long-term soil health by disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots. Utilizing cleaner products, along with regenerative agriculture practices, is crucial in preserving soil health and maintaining the soil's ability to absorb carbon.

 

How You Can Get Involved

The great news is that these regenerative practices are becoming more popular, more accessible to people, and now, you can get involved too. You can support farmers by shopping at local farmers' markets and buying organic as often as possible. Talk to your local supermarket about how you can support farmers who employ these good practices. 

For the more green-fingered among us, how about starting your own garden and have a shot at growing your own food? If you're short on space, you could also try container gardening or join some fellow gardeners in your local community garden. And fear not, if you're not ready to take the leap into the gardening world, there are also a number of organizations working hard to improve soil quality, and they offer ways for you to get involved. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Kiss The Ground, an LA-based non-profit, is inspiring people to get involved in soil regeneration, with a bold goal to transition 5000 farmers and train 20,000 leaders by 2025.
  • Roam Ranch, a multi-species regenerative ranch in the Texas Hill Country working to heal the ecosystem through regenerating their land and creating nourishing food.
  • Farmers Footprint, a coalition of farmers, educators, doctors, scientists, and business leaders aiming to expose the human and environmental impacts of chemical farming and offer a path forward through regenerative agricultural practices.

 

As we close out Earth Week, I hope that this post provides you with valuable information and inspires you to join us in taking better care of our world. At Praecipio Consulting, we have team members that are passionate about the planet, and they have taken up activities like composting and gardening. It's never too late to start!

 

References
(1) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/04/21/earth-day-2019-climate-change-humans-global-warming-weather-rising-water/3507125002/

(2) https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/ten-things-know-soil/

(3) https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/02/21/can-soil-help-combat-climate-change/

(4) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

(5) https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture

 

Topics: do-good carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral regenerative-practices
9 min read

The True Cost of Data Storage

By Christopher Pepe on Mar 11, 2020 9:00:00 AM

TheCostofData

Technology continues to increase the efficiency of our everyday lives. Take light bulbs, for instance. In my short life, a 60W incandescent bulb has been reduced to a 9W LED bulb. Eventually, technology reaches the point of affordability, which in turn increases the demand for the more efficient product.

Efficiency & Consumption

Efficiency gains lead to more consumption of a resource, as illustrated in the graph below depicting Jevons paradox.

image2020-2-11_10-3-34

Figure 1: Jevons Paradox 

I see Jevons paradox at play in the size of Atlassian's customers' home directories. The often-mistaken idea that "storage is cheap" is a common excuse to forego storage diligence. "Hey, just get more storage," they say. Data hoarding (currently 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day!) extends far beyond the realm of Jira and Confluence, which are just one of many places where we collect and store our data treasures. However, I’ve thought a lot about the business impact of storing all of that data, and most recently, I have been contemplating the environmental impact of it as well (which I will get into later).

What Is Your Data Growth Rate?

The thing about year-over-year data growth is that it can't continue to infinitely expand when it consumes finite resources, with the largest limiting factor being disk access speed. For example, we want our Jira data to be quickly accessible, but as data compiles and takes up space, disk access speed slows down. Everyone expects technology to save the day when the status quo runs out, and there are some really interesting new ideas, like storing data in DNA, for ways to store information. Regardless, the growth rate of our data-sets is out-pacing our ability to store them.

With growth, we focus on doubling periods, and you may know that a doubling period = 70/(growth rate). So, if your 401k grows at 7%, it will double in 10 years, and if it grows at 35%, it'll double in two years. This works when you're making money, but it doesn't if you're spending it. Another important thing to note is that every doubling period is greater than the sum of all previous values:

2n

Total

Sum of all that have ever been

0

1

1

1

2

3

2

4

7

3

8

15

 

Figure 2: Doubling value is greater than the sum of all previous values

The doubling quantity is greater than the total of all of the values that came before it (23 > 22 + 21 + 20 or 8 > 4+2+1), which means that in order to continue growing, one will need to consume more than ever before with each doubling period.

How is Your Data Serving You?

In my opinion, our customers overvalue their data and you probably do too. This is a result of habit-forming applications and people valuing their work more than that of others. Stop reading for a moment and ask yourself, "What data am I storing, and what has it done for me lately?"

For example, your Jira instances have been around for longer than a few sprints and most of your issues are closed, but you still keep them anyway. Once several years pass, Jira ends up being filled with closed or abandoned issues, which requires performance tuning and even more hardware to keep scaling. Some of that performance at scale is because you have big problems to solve, but not all of your issues necessarily bring you value. (We'd be happy to help you with scaling  - difficult problems are a good use of expert consultants.)

The overwhelming majority of your issues are closed. They will never be looked at, and they will never serve you. However, they do cost you real money. Here's where you say, "But when I need to look back at that one thing, then it'll be the most important issue we have." Will it? Are stories from sprints four years ago serving you in the present? If you are not mindful of the data that you are holding onto, then things get cluttered and the quality of your data significantly diminishes. Eventually, your data becomes the proverbial needle in the haystack: the more hay you store, the less likely you are to find the needle lost within it.

You can’t foresee how future technologies will utilize old data, but that does not justify the cost of keeping data you’ll probably never use. The real costs of data-hoarding adds up quickly in the form of:

  • More complex software features

  • Bigger, faster, and more servers

  • Need to purchase additional storage

  • Expensive engineers to squeeze out ever-diminishing returns

Ultimately, our systems suffer because they’re expected to perform optimally while storing an enormous amount of old data. All of the computer power in the world will never be able to outrun the pace of exponential growth.

The Cost of Your Data

Data hoarding results in real costs both financially and environmentally. Making our data centers more efficient only drives higher consumption. Increased disk density and speed only encourages us to store more data. Only we, the human beings, who fear the ramifications of the “delete” button, can control what we store to justify the cost.

Take a look at the environmental impact that data storage can cause:

  • "In its 2013 sustainability report, Facebook stated its data centers used 986 million kilowatt-hours of electricity—around the same amount consumed by Burkina Faso in 2012." All of those data stories are probably 60% pictures of people's pets and 40% comment threads of people arguing with your aunt across the country. Again, low-value stuff. 
  • "A 2015 report found that data centers and their massive energy consumption are responsible for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, putting them on par with the aviation industry." Given my claim that most of this data no longer serves a purpose in active systems (not backups or other low-power media), holding on to it is comparable to flying empty airplanes around just so people can look for the neat, fluffy line across the sky.

Marie-Kondo Your Data

A general rule of thumb says that if you search for something that you recently got rid of, then you are doing the right amount of purging. I would advocate for doing something similar with your data. If you want a softer approach, then archive old data into AWS Glacier or some other accessible and affordable storage, and set a reminder to delete it later. If you haven't looked at that data in six months, it’s likely that you’ll never need it again. Trust your gut on this one, it won't steer you in the wrong direction.

Attachments and logs usually take up the most space, and you can use the handy tool logrotate to keep your log directories lean. Explore your home and shared home directories for the worst offenders that are clogging up your storage. 

Custom integrations are another source of inefficiency in large instances. It can get so bad that the standard recommendation is to relegate REST traffic to a single Data Center node so that humans don't have to suffer the performance impact. Scripts using the REST API are notoriously inefficient and poll far too often to get a pseudo-real time user experience. Monitor your access logs and work with your team of developers to encourage them to be better consumers. Event-based architectures are more efficient and provide high-quality data.

Here are some ways that you can do a data purge in Jira and Confluence:

Confluence

Apps like ViewTracker provide insight into which content is used. With this tool, you can at least archive, better yet delete, unused and no longer relevant spaces.

Jira

Closed issues, completed projects, and anything that is not active or still "warm" (e.g. items dating back to previous reorganizations) are unlikely to have any real value and should at least be archived, better yet deleted.

Thank you for making it this far. Now, take a deep breath, and let go of your attachments.

 

Resources:

(Fig 1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

(1) https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/there-are-no-clean-clouds/420744/

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O133ppiVnWY

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8ZJCtL6bPs

(4) http://www.mnforsustain.org/bartlett_arithmetic_presentation_long.htm

(5) https://www.mic.com/p/the-environmental-impact-of-data-storage-is-more-than-you-think-its-only-getting-worse-18017662

 

Topics: jira confluence green-team carbon-neutral data-storage
5 min read

The Green Dream Update

By Christopher Pepe on Feb 19, 2020 9:15:00 AM

I wanted to give you an update on our climate response progress and evolving position. My belief is that burning oil and planting trees to offset it cannot be considered a net zero action because essentially, we increase the amount of biologically available carbon that will impact the climate. This is because it moves long-sequestered carbon into available storage that is easily accessible. I believe that in the future, humans will be remembered as the liberators of carbon that made that world possible. Perhaps, we'll even still be around to take credit.

We cannot realistically eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels today, but we can start to reduce it. Praecipio Consulting is an atom within a droplet inside the entire ocean of human influence, so what carbon we directly reduce has very little effect on the planet. Because of this, we have implemented initiatives that invite our employees and peers to change the way they think and act towards the environment and our communities. We believe that a change in behavior ensures that some carbon will never be unnecessarily liberated and that effect will multiply through the years. Our thinking is that this will have a larger impact over time, even more so than the promise of direct offsets based on $1 trees. We may fall short of our goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2020, but with each passing year, we will drastically reduce the amount of carbon that we release as a company.

How Praecipio Consulting Will Multiply Carbon Reductions Over Time 

Let me use two examples to demonstrate, and please poke holes in my logic. First, the frequency of flooding has increased as a result of climate change, which has affected both communities and their resources. In order to help prevent flooding, Praecipio Consulting has contributed to land conservancy, which will "forever," at least for the long-term, protect the river-adjacent, tilled farm land that once regularly flooded. Because of our efforts, the field's riparian buffer is being restored with native shrubs and trees. These plants help to slow down flood water and provide a number of benefits. Downstream communities now suffer less flood damage, the land absorbs the water that causes the river level to go down, and the buffer receives river silt, which fertilizes the land (to the tune of 0.5 tons of carbon per acre per year "forever"). Additionally, these shrubs and trees help clean the flood water, making life easier on its resident wildlife, like our beloved trout. For this project, we spent the absurd amount of $500 per ton of carbon. However, with each passing year, we will spend $0 per ton, not to mention that we simultaneously support riparian restoration, protect native species, and reduce the effects of climate change on downstream communities.

Second, we have promoted and encouraged at-home composting, which several team members have taken up. Composting at home makes people more aware of the food that they consume and helps them produce less waste. It also keeps food out of landfills, where it does considerable harm by converting to the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In fact,  40% of of the food in America ends up in landfills. To me, this is one of the most shameful realities of our modern world. If we simply stopped wasting so much food, we would be able to address food shortage, reduce oil usage, increase national security, prevent climate change, and more. Composting is something everyone can do, and collectively, we would make a huge impact. I have also written other articles on food composting, which you can check out here:

The Green Team Influence

"I'm a system administrator and love computers. Until recently, I was content to sit inside, watch TV, play video games, and worry too much about system maintenance going horribly wrong. Then I bought a horse farm with my wife and was introduced to gardening and composting, thanks to Praecipio Consulting's Green Team. Over the past year, we have put in a six-bed garden and grown various different vegetables and flowers, including tomatoes, squash, various peppers of different heat, spices (basil, thyme, etc.), kale, sunflowers, lavender, mint, etc. We’ve started composting and will be using that in the garden this spring when we start planting again. We have an improved Meyer lemon tree on the way that we are excited to see fruit harvest from in a couple of years, in addition to a new adventure in beekeeping this spring. A two hive apiary is in the works, and we look forward to seeing what it grows into. Other future projects will include an orchard with various fruits and continuing our off-grid cabin, which already has a composting toilet and will get a solar power upgrade soon. Now, I find myself outside more often and feel more relaxed and creative, so when that upgrade fails miserably it is easier to find a way to move forward."

-Kris Hall, Platform Reliability Engineer

"We all know that I'm not an outdoors person. I tried twice before this past year to grow tomatoes and it never went well.  But I have always wanted to learn new ways to reduce my carbon footprint, especially regarding food waste.  Jess did a presentation about composting and it sparked my interest in the topic.  She started talking about worms, and I was certain that this was the end of my composting dreams.  During that time, I started collecting certain scraps and throwing them into freezer bags. We turned those scraps into cooking stock, and as an avid cook, homemade stock makes an impressive difference in a risotto.  I continued researching composting and found the bokashi container, which didn't require worms and could be stored in my house.  This was a perfect way to continue my goal of reducing food waste.  For my birthday, my husband bought me a keyhole garden, which not only requires less water, but it also has a space dedicated to composting.  I could take the funky mess from the bokashi container and layer it into the keyhole.  Our garden was amazing. It was so successful that it eventually became overcrowded, and we had to draw up a plan to expand this year's garden. And I can now grow tomatoes."

-Shannon Fabert, Principal of Managed Services and Hosting

"During the fall of 2019, I really started to pay attention to the green initiatives that the company champions. Prior to this time, my family was making sure to put cans and bottles in our recycling bin, but that was about it. Now, not only are we much more aggressive with recycling, we are starting to make purchasing decisions based on packaging and its impact on the environment. I know these are baby steps, but I’m happy about where we’re headed as a family. Who knows, maybe composting, gardening or rainwater collection is our next step. For now, what I do know is that we will continue to take steps improve our carbon footprint and influence our neighbors as much as we can."

-Larry Brock, Sr Technical Architect

 

Topics: do-good carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral
3 min read

Going Green at Atlassian Summit 2020

By Christopher Pepe on Jan 21, 2020 1:00:00 PM

Being a Green Business

In many of my previous posts, I've noted that Praecipio Consulting has always taken corporate responsibility seriously and has always been a green company focused on preserving the human experience for generations to come. For years, we've had a similar reputation to Atlassian in that we are a t-shirt company that provides process solutions. Our t-shirts were not only clever in design, but also soft as a cloud – and because of that, they have been highly sought out. However, it comes with a downside -- Worldwide, the textile industry comes at a pretty heavy cost, our human's desire to consume new clothing means that it heavily impacts the environment.

An estimated 20 new garments are created per person per year worldwide1, and that volume is growing. Overall, the textile industry comes in at a whooping 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2e per year. Additionally, as we wear clothes, filaments abrade and litter our environment which contributes to micro-plastics being found literally everywhere (even in that water you're drinking right now).

In 2019, Praecipio Consulting changed our approach to conferences to benefit everyone. We did this through our Pledge 1% efforts. Instead of handing out conference t-shirts to be mindlessly collected, we decided to let booth visitors donate our money to non-profit organizations. Conference attendees channeled some $5000 to TreeFolks, Colorado River Alliance, Flatwater Foundation, and SAFE Austin. It was a great "warm and fuzzy" for us as well as the partnered organizations.

Reducing Carbon Emissions

By not purchasing and handing out underutilized t-shirts (do you really use conference swag to its fullest?), Praecipio Consulting also kept 1 metric tonne of fossil fuel based CO2 out of the atmosphere. While we could purchase a modest number of trees to accomplish the same balance on paper, in practice, we do not believe that does the most good. Humans have already added too much carbon into the carbon cycle to keep the world's climate in a similar state that we are used to. Offsetting fossil fuels with trees does not seem like a net zero proposition to us.

This doesn't mean we don't support offsetting fossil fuels with trees. Just a couple of months ago, we funded and planted trees with TreeFolks. Our goal is to minimize our fossil fuel usage, however, it is impossible today to be modern humans with no fossil fuel usage. Where we cannot cut out usage, we intend to offset that impact in the way we feel does the most good - more on that later.

We were surprised that such a small act, donating to nonprofits that aligned with our goals, made such a big impact. 

Green at Atlassian Summit 2020 

Because of the successful impact, Praecipio Consulting is doing it again – As proud Gold Sponsors of Atlassian Summit 2020, we're giving conference attendees (that stop by our booth) the chance to choose which nonprofit organization will receive our $10 donation (the cost of a t-shirt). Here are the amazing nonprofit organizations we're contributing to: 

Tree Folks is a local organization out of our hometown in Austin, TX that is committed to creating a healthier environment through community building, reforestation, education and growing the urban forest. Their mission is to empower Central Texans to build stronger communities through planting and caring for trees.  

Colorado River Alliance is an independent nonprofit that champions a healthy, flowing Colorado River, which is a vital resource to the community and the state of Texas. With programs that reach 14,000 community members annually, the Colorado River Alliance promotes conservation of the river and advocates for the people, ecosystems, communities, and businesses that depend on this natural resource.

Bamberger Ranch Preserve Located in Blanco County, Texas, is a 5,500 acre ranch that has been restored to its original habitat. For more than three decades the ranch has served as a meeting space for environmental groups, hosted school field trips and workshops for thousands of community members. The mission at Bamberger Ranch is to raise awareness about ethical land stewardship through education and outreach.

We look forward to our future efforts and encourage you to make a small change today as well. If you would like to swap notes please reach out to us.

References

Topics: blog atlassian-summit corporate-responsibility do-good green-team social-responsibility
3 min read

Green Team: Praecipio Consulting's Global Climate Crisis Response Plan

By Christian Lane on Oct 25, 2019 10:01:43 AM

Global-Climate-Crisis-Response-Plan

Next April will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but we just couldn't wait six more months to share our company’s exciting news—starting November 1, 2019, Praecipio Consulting's Work from Home policy is changing. Beginning October 14, "Work From Work" is optional with the exception of two important days of the month. In addition, our workspace is transforming into a much smaller, more intentional workspace emphasizing climate responsibility and a more fulfilling and sustainable workstyle. The company will facilitate, enable and encourage more meaningful interactions; going for quality over quantity of face time; reducing the cost to the environment and cost of our team members' time and money. These are major changes due to our choice to operate in a way that supports our Global Climate Crisis Response Plan - all in an effort to reduce our company’s overall carbon footprint. Our Global Climate Crisis Response Plan was shared internally at Praecipio Consulting at the end of October and will be shared more widely shortly thereafter.

Benefits of Teleworking

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50 percent of the American workforce currently holds telecommute-compatible jobs. If those people worked from home half the time, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars off the road. It would also reduce annual oil consumption by 640 million barrels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. uses approximately 19 million barrels of oil every day. If people worked from home part-time, 1.75 million of those barrels--almost 10 percent--could be eliminated. In addition to reducing oil consumption, other benefits teleworking can gift to the environment are the reduction of air pollution and water pollution (from chemicals spilled into our waterways, rivers, and other water sources).

Our Global Climate Response Plan

As a business and as citizens, we recommitted to our responsibility to not just hear these facts, but to quickly pivot into action and lean-in as much as possible in consensus with the scientific community. While the positive impacts our exclusive teleworking policy will have on the environment are a step in the right direction, and a major part of our Global Climate Crisis Response Plan, we will do more to fulfill our responsibility to our community through exemplary leadership. These facts are all that all of us need to know to “do good.”

Praecipio Consulting has been a member of the Pledge 1% initiative since 2015, and we take our philanthropic commitments seriously. We will continue to make contributions and donations with a tighter focus towards reforestation and restoration of grasslands to sequester more co2 going forward.

Earth Day and the millions of conversations that are on-going about environmental challenges we face, serve as constant reminders of the things we are currently doing and how much more we can do to benefit the future generations that will inhabit the Earth. As members of communities, businesses are in a unique position to help their individual employees make larger, more significant positive impacts.

Commitment to Make an Impact

Teleworking, a smaller office, reduction of corporate travel, encouraging and incentivizing personal impacts, and continued contributions in spirit of Pledge 1% are all commitments Praecipio Consulting is making as part of our Global Climate Crisis Response Plan. It's our sincerest desire and passion to lead the way and reduce our company’s (and our employees’) carbon footprint to zero. Join us. At this very moment, what steps will you take to ensure Earth can sustain humanity?

Topics: blog digital-transformation corporate-responsibility global-climate-crisis green-team social-responsibility remote-work
4 min read

Corporate Social Responsibility: Meet our Green Team

By Christopher Pepe on Aug 23, 2019 7:59:00 PM

In 2008, I began my tenure with Praecipio Consulting recognizing that I had a great deal in common with Christian and Joe. Joe and I have a Lincoln-Kennedy level of coincidental similarities but beyond that we all shared a passion for leaving the world better than we found it.

While establishing Praecipio Consulting as a top-tier Atlassian Solution Partner, we launched an ambitious side-project that became in.gredients Grocers. Now closed, in.gredients was an experimental grocery store to minimize waste, build community, be a safe space, and encourage patrons to live a more sustainable life. It is a model whose time has come with several examples having popped up around the world. I'm very proud that the 1,000 sq ft grocery store only landfilled an average of 5 pounds of trash per month! By contrast, the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash per day. In those days, the Praecipio Consulting office was next door and those ethos heavily influenced both organizations. Although we have moved to a new office on a new hill, we have retained those values. Standard issue employee gear includes high quality, reusable items like HydroFlask water bottles. We encourage people to reduce, then reuse, and finally recycle. We do all that we can to avoid landfilling waste. To this day, its difficult to find a trash can in the office and the overall layout intentionally encourages less impactful behaviors.

Our Corporate Social Responsibility

Partnering with Atlassian has allowed us to double in size many times over. That growth has outpaced our green practices. To address that, we have created a Green Team to continue the mission. We are taking immediate steps to have an impact today, while also working towards goals that will forge a cleaner tomorrow.

CSR Goals

In all things we seek Balance. We believe that by promoting balance, a more stable world will manifest - one that improves life for all living things. Our goal is to encourage behavior that improves the balance of our community and discourages behavior that destabilizes our community. If we do this well then everyone reap the benefits that they seek.

Carbon Environmental Footprint

This is difficult to mention without sparking a debate about carbon dioxide. But, we aren't interested in politics here. There is great value in removing atmospheric carbon independent of a political view of climate change. Building carbon content in the soil is one of our focus areas. There are more benefits than we can list here, but of interest to Texas ranchers is to improve forage, improve soil water holding capacity, and improve livestock performance. As carbon builds up in the soil, biodiversity increases, and the overall system becomes more tolerant to changes in weather patterns (including drought tolerance). This allows the land to be more productive, reduces runoff, and improves the overall health of the ecosystem. All of these benefits occur while producing healthier livestock and reducing operating expenses for ranchers.

We see value in supporting soil building projects to offset the carbon footprint from our consultants' travel. We see value in improving the land while keeping it in its historic and current use.

Remediation through Sustainable Practices

Being a modern human is an expensive existence and much of the cost has been paid by the environment that we live in. Satiating our ever growing use of energy, fossil fuel pollution, electronics, oceanic garbage patches, roadside litter, food waste, and on, and on, and on...has many hidden costs that are not bundled in the purchase price of our stuff.

Waste streams fascinate me and I am passionate about more intelligently cycling resources through the human machine. As an aside, Cradle to Cradle is one of the five most influential books in my life. The focus on improving systems that have been degraded by human activity goes towards the goal of having a cleaner effluent. That which flows out of Praecipio Consulting must be cleaner than that which flowed in. Several of us are known to keep a trash bag handy so that we can make our communities a little nicer when out and about. Today, Praecipio Consulting uses Earth Day to organize trash pickups at local parks and we plan to expand our green-up efforts.

My dream in this pillar is to buy a parking lot and put paradise back up. The Green Team is mostly practiced permaculture gardeners and that knowledge will influence the projects we are personally involved in.

Health and Well-Being

Praecipio Consulting has put a strong focus on personal health and well-being. We have a generous wellness program where employees can earn PTO for making healthy life choices. We encourage spending time outside, eating better, and exercising more. Another unique holiday is "A Day in the Sun" where an employee can take a day off to spend it outside. Folks have participated in events like paddle-a-thons, rock climbing, attended forestry training, or simply lounged on the river.

The Green Team is looking at more ways to empower employees to grow better each day.

How to Get Involved

We'd love to hear what you are doing within your communities, and we'd love to help with our efforts. If nothing else, join Pledge 1% and commit to making a difference in your world.

Topics: blog sustainability corporate-responsibility do-good pledge-1% green-team social-responsibility

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