Earth Day 2021

Bill Johnson
5 min readApr 19, 2021


Thursday April 22, 2021 is Earth Day and as I think back on the last year, one big theme for me has been the value of individual contributions versus larger systemic changes that need to happen. Is it really worth recycling cardboard from my Amazon packages or reducing my meat consumption? The short answer is yes, and no. Individual actions, on their own, won’t do much to combat the systemic issues that have caused increasing greenhouse gases and temperatures for decades. A recent episode of How To Save A Planet puts some context around this by calculating the average American emits 16 tons of carbon per year (one of the highest averages in the world!). With 50 billion tons emitted globally per year that works out to be 0.00000003% for the average American. Or said another way, the equivalent of a single grain amongst 125,000 pounds of rice. It’s been hard keeping myself motivated to make sustainable decisions with that reality staring me in the face.

This is a systemic issue that needs to be dealt with at systemic levels. About half of all worldwide emissions comes from electricity and agriculture. Apart from putting solar panels on your home, you don’t have much choice on how you generate power. You can make more informed choices at the grocery store but choosing a Beyond Burger or going vegan will have little impact on how the agricultural industry produces food. I’ve swung back and forth this past year between focusing on optimizing my own life choices and focusing on supporting policy and industry initiatives. In the end, both are important but the sweet spot for me has been finding actions I can take as an individual that are directly connected to larger initiatives that help shape demand and actively improve the world. Here are a few of my favorites from the past year:

Ecologi: Plant Trees Around The World

My digital “forest” of real trees planted around the world by Ecologi.

Trees are amazing! They provide shade and cooling while also absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into oxygen. Planting a single tree will not have much impact on the overall environment or your personal carbon emissions. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plant trees. That’s why I’ve taken to Ecologi where you can plant digital trees and collectively fund other climate solutions. For a very small monthly fee, Ecologi will plant trees for me in some of the most critical places around the world and they even let you specify which projects you want to support. They provide detailed information about each project and where your money is going. This hits on the community aspect too as others can come plant trees in your forest and vice versa. It’s a wonderful surprise to see people plant virtual trees in my forest and then watch them mature, especially knowing that real trees are being planted and carbon projects funded at the same time. Assuming Ecologi started at 1, they have been responsible for planting over 12 million trees so far! As of this writing, my “forest” consists 246 trees spread across Madagascar (179 trees), Mozambique (65), and the United States (2)


I recently participated in the #LetsGreenTheWeb effort that analyzes web pages to determine how much carbon emissions they are responsible for. It’s surprising to see what some of the numbers are (in both directions!) and how quickly that adds up for some frequently used sites. The main action behind this was knowledge and elevating the impact that some of our everyday choices have on the planet. This movement was pushed from which is a group of tech workers around the world collaborating together to take action for the climate. They also have started a digital magazine called Branch that I had the honor of being a contributor for in their inaugural edition. Check them out and join the slack group to be apart of future efforts they have.

Principles of Green Software Engineering

Since my career has been focused on software engineering, the site really resonated with me when I came across it for the first time. Anyone building, deploying, or managing software should be taking into account the 8 principles of Green Software Engineering when they do. The most obvious one is Carbon, but I have found myself looking more and more into Carbon Intensity lately as it is a great example of leveraging available data to actively make more sustainable decisions for your software. Since renewable energy is gaining more and more ground overall, it is also a way to take advantage of that movement for your own stack and help influence decision making at the datacenter-level by increasing demand in areas supported by renewable energy. There are 2 really great APIs available for reading Carbon Intensity in WattTime and ElectricityMap. Each of these services let you visualize and compare the intensity values of energy grids around the world to help make more informed decisions about where you choose to deploy your virtual software. Since Carbon Intensity connects at least 4 of the Principles together in one effort, it gives a significant boost to your systems sustainability through a single effort.

Talk About Your Stuff

And finally, one the biggest thing you can do as an individual is to talk about it. Some people may feel reluctant to do so because they see the climate and planets health as a controversial topic — its not. A survey in 2019 showed, only 6% of Americans denied the climate was changing and only 9% think humans are not effecting it. That’s 85% of the population, about 280 million Americans that are ready to engage in some form. Start with your friends and family — a pacific northwest company called Ridwell will take hard to recycle items and recycle them for you. They don’t service my area (yet!) but they area available in one of our family members areas so we take items there. Use your social media accounts to talk about actions you are taking, actions we should be taking as a society, and putting your voice behind the systemic and policy changes that are being proposed (Earth Day is a great day for this). If you feel comfortable enough, talk to bigger audiences at work, or at conferences and meetups, or podcasts. I’ve focused on tech and software but this is planet is shared by all of us — find the connection to your favorite topic. Vote! And because it’s that important, Vote! Systemic changes typically happen at the policy level and not just federal, state and county as well.

Earth Day is a great day to start talking about these things or continue taking about stuff you are already doing. If none of those avenues work for you, reach out to me here or on Twitter (@dubrie) and I’ll be happy to have a conversation or amplify your work!

Happy Earth Day!



Bill Johnson

Principal Engineering Manager for Azure by day, run coach for @teamchallengenw by night