It was strangely liberating having a dedicated Sustainability Manager on the panel of Faultline’s second sustainability in media and technology webinar this week, where we got down to business picking at the contrasting – and nascent – strategies of Accedo, Amino and Singular.live.
We get it. We’re here to talk about technology, not individuals, but progression has to start somewhere.
Streaming platforms, operators, broadcasters, media companies, and technology vendors of various shapes and sizes are increasingly recognizing the need to throw full-time teams at the full-force climate crisis. However, even an organization as large as the BBC only instated its first Sustainability Director earlier this year, to mastermind a scientific model that will reverberate through the BBC’s supply chain – which produced 1.27 million tons of CO2e through 2019/20.
François Polarczyk, Partnership and Sustainability Manager at Swedish TV app developer Accedo, emphasized his responsibility to educate, inform, and report emissions in standardized ways, while painstakingly trying to reduce internal and customer carbon emissions at every turn.
There is a balance to be had, however, as carbon counting is seen by many as a distraction from making quick sustainability wins from simple changes.
With that said, we could not resist advances on Amino’s Jonny McKee, VP Product Management, and Mike Ward, Head of Marketing at graphics production specialist Singular.live, about whether juggling ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance data) reports and identifying room for sustainability improvements in their respective businesses is becoming a burden on the day-to-day workload?
Both McKee and Ward agree that a dedicated sustainability position is probably unnecessary right now, for different reasons. Singular.live is too small to warrant such an expenditure, while Amino’s multi-faceted business would not benefit from a dedicated sustainability manager, in McKee’s view.
As a company with many moving parts, having recently added the assets of 24i and The Filter to its repertoire, sustainability matters are managed centrally and then data and product commands flow down to the individual businesses under the Aferian parent umbrella.
Singular.live is currently in the process of a B-Corp assessment, which Ward described as an extensive yet enlightening process. Driven by non-profit network B Lab (there’s no Planet B), the B-Corp assessment drills right through the entire infrastructure and architecture of your business to alter the structural underpinnings of capitalism, of which the central economic characteristics are fundamental contributing factors in climate change. Profit over people is not sustainable.
B-Corp scrutinizes every aspect of your business – from how it’s set up, to how employees are employed, even your paternity policies – to change the structure from a shareholder model to a more sustainable stakeholder-driven model.
“This is a root and branch approach to business – and I genuinely believe if more businesses adopt this approach, we’d all be in a much better place,” stressed Ward.
The point here is to emphasize that while a sustainability manager or director might not suit your business, someone in the organization has to be actively encouraging more sustainable practices in some form, whether that’s through B-Corp or by signing up to Greening of Streaming.
Okay, that’s enough talk of corporate structures and assessment forms.
Faultline had a bone to pick with Accedo. The company is in a unique position, as the gatekeeper to a vendor marketplace called Accedo One, a SaaS-based video platform ecosystem designed to bring together a diverse set of technologies to launch video services. A partner ecosystem seems like such an obvious place to start as a place for encouraging more sustainable engineering and marketing through working groups, right?
Fortunately, Polarczyk agrees. Unfortunately, he admits any sustainable push for Accedo One is likely two years away.
Had sustainability been emphasized within Accedo One from the very beginning, when it launched back at IBC 2019, the ecosystem would be ahead of the curve – but instead finds itself bogged down by the task of understanding if partners are sustainable, or not.
“We need to federate the ecosystem a bit,” admits Polarczyk. “We are trying to generate discussions but first of all we need to figure out where we are before being able to advise.”
He mentioned the possibility of introducing sustainable labels for vendors in Accedo’s partner ecosystem, like you might find on a washing machine. We also learn that Singular.live is on the cusp of joining the Accedo One marketplace, but is waiting for the right client with a certain set of requirements to come along first.
“You cannot go out and try to fix things if you haven’t done it yourself,” adds Polarczyk. “A lot of companies are trying to offset carbon directly, but this is the last thing you should be doing. Before that, you should be figuring out how to reduce emissions – and then try to offset.”
For Amino, the panel discussion was aptly timed, coinciding with a press release out this week introducing a new feature called Engage Optimize, which looks at tools to help pay TV operators run set top businesses more efficiently. However, it seems an afterthought that a feature called Optimize does not offer any tools to optimize for power consumption, instead focusing on systemic memory leaks.
McKee defended that identifying increased memory consumption is being correlated with data on uptime of devices in standby mode, as a potential measure of sustainability that Amino could possibly enhance. Right now, this is not central to Amino’s sustainability strategy, as it focuses on the more visible part of its business – hardware.
Remember what we highlighted earlier about carbon counting distracting from quick wins, well they don’t come much more glaring than physical devices in the home. Amino endeavors to have the lowest impact it possibly can, by using recycled materials, reducing plastic, and collaborating with component providers in the consumer electronics industry.
Looking ahead, McKee’s team are planning to extend the internal sustainability roadmap to the cloud by the second half of this year. Amino uses AWS purely for its Engage management platform, so has a relatively small cloud output compared to its hardware business, but it intends to take more action as the data trickles in to show where efficiencies can be made.
It was refreshing that McKee is under no illusions that reducing the environmental impact of hardware can have a small knock-on effect on QoE, if the time taken for a device to come out of low power state is counted as a metric of QoE.
“If you want to hit the lowest stamp of power ratings, you have to power down a lot of peripherals on CPE, and accept that coming out of standby might take 10% to 20% longer,” commented McKee.
Naturally, both Accedo and Singular.live rely on AWS cloud infrastructure, more so than Amino. Accedo’s Polarczyk has been working tightly with the AWS sustainability team based out of Madrid, although he admits Accedo cannot yet fully trust the AWS data to the extent it can extrapolate it for in-house reports.
As the smallest vendor on Faultline’s panel, one can assume that Singular.live has the lowest carbon footprint of the three (the graphics overlay firm has 11 employees, according to LinkedIn, compared to Accedo’s 540, and Amino’s 130 – excluding its sister companies). However, as a cloud-native platform running micro compute power on AWS servers all over the world, Singular.live has a greater reliance on cloud infrastructure and therefore the greater responsibility to get more efficient in the cloud.
This isn’t helped by murky distinctions around the sustainability of virtualized business models and cloud-native infrastructure, with the former essentially remote controlling hardware over the internet, while cloud-native is using no dedicated hardware.
Ward confesses he shared Faultline’s cynicism about AWS when Singular.live was looking at the numbers, until sitting down and realizing the complexity of the task ahead. “In May this year, we had over 2.2 million hours of output with Singular.live graphics on them. So for me to tell a client what the sustainability impact was, AWS has to calculate exactly which output and which graphics were used by that client on that production across multiple servers, in multiple territories, across multiple micro compute power – that you then make accessible in a report,” Ward explained.
“Cloud providers are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he adds. “Actually reporting on it and making the information available to every AWS user is a huge undertaking.” Faultline will lay down the AWS-bashing stick for now, but we won’t stop challenging everything – and we’ve certainly achieved our goal of getting people talking.
At least we can all agree that speed is of the essence. Everything is too slow – from government-led power regulations and sustainability standards setting, to the IBC Accelerator program which won hearts by successfully producing a net-zero soccer match and then drew ire by taking over a year to produce a report.