Toward carbon neutral Developer Relations

Bear Douglas
4 min readOct 2, 2019

The urgency of climate change demands that we evolve how we live and work. As the #GlobalClimateStrike continues, as children from around the world are taking governments to court for our failure to protect their futures, it’s clear that we have to make radical changes in the way we practice Developer Relations.

Matthew Revell has talked about the importance of sustainable developer relations, calling on us to reject the tendency to

dress[...] up Developer Relations as a lifestyle that means, effectively, burning Antarctic ice by flying across the world…

There are plenty of things we can do and already do for our communities and for our teammates that don’t involve hopping on planes. In the year since Matthew challenged us to think about this more deeply, the urgency to take action has only increased. We can’t stop at sustainable Developer Relations – we have to get to carbon neutral.

My team at Slack has business goals in progress for 2019 and 2020, external commitments that require travel, and a global team that benefits from some amount of face time. I’m sure yours does, too. Eliminating travel may not be feasible in the short term, but there are significant changes that we can make to ensure we’re meeting our burden of responsibility to minimize harm to our ecosystem.

Practical plans for a carbon-neutral 2020

Travel and events don’t constitute the majority of our work. 45+ weeks a year, we’re at our respective home bases, writing docs, building our SDKs, and working with partners and customers on their integrations– in person if they’re local, over VC if they’re not.

But it’s those other weeks of travel that have the biggest impact on the environment (and, let’s not forget, on our bodies). So what can we do about those?

My team has implemented a few policies to help minimize these moving forward:

  • All flights are offset by 200%. CoolEffect provides offsets at a rate of ~$8/metric ton. Your company can afford this.
  • We take fewer trips and stay longer in region when we do. Flying internationally once a year for two weeks instead of twice a year for a week each time is kinder to the planet and to yourself.
  • We aim to stay at hotels that are LEED certified or similar, bringing business to the organizations that make their buildings energy efficient (a major factor in overall greenhouse gas emission).
  • No more electronic giveaways at our events. A branded Raspberry Pi is cute, but it’s as likely as not to end up as e-waste.
  • All swag must be made from recyclable materials. This one is still in progress as we work with our swag vendors to source sustainable options. Delivery of those materials is also offset.
  • Support events like DevRelSummit that go carbon-neutral.

The plan for 2020 relies heavily on carbon offsets. It’s a “for now” solution, because we are locked in (or feel we are) to a certain amount of travel– but offsets aren’t as good as just not emitting in the first place. Systems change and the switch to new energy sources can take decades to implement; we can choose to fly less today.

As a thought experiment: what if we just didn’t fly at all in 2021? How much of what we think is “necessary” travel may not be?

Beyond offsetting flights

Making these adjustments is somewhere in the mushy middle space between individual action and systemic change. We’re asking individuals to rethink and be aware of their own travel– but if all heavy business travelers behaved similarly, what could we achieve?

Flights create the heaviest environmental load, but other small adjustments add up. There’s lots of room to cut down on waste at events– build less elaborate sets, reduce food and service waste, pick destinations that are well-served by public transit.

Supporting regional, community-led events is critical for fostering the connections that you make in face-to-face interactions, while reducing the travel burden on our teams and our developer communities.

Let’s get creative about the ways we can show up for our communities without hopping on a plane. I’m excited for Tiny Spec, a collection of local events after our big developer conference, Spec, where community groups around the world will host events on the same day around the world, keeping us physically local but helping us to connect globally.

Share what you’re up to

Lots of companies are cleaning up their acts. Microsoft has been setting a great example; Stripe, Lyft, and plenty of other companies have been following suit. We still have more to do as a discipline– let’s talk about what we have going and what changes we can make together!