This page contains raw minutes from the discussion of the initiative cluster G: Alignment with environmental sustainability:, which took place on 7 February 2021. The minutes were cleaned up and merged from across different documents by the Strategy Support Team, and a summary of them can be found in the follow-up events report. The discussion followed a structured template (as shown below), which was also created by the Support Team.
Key indicator and objectives (WHAT)
What are the objectives of this initiative for the next 18 months?
- Make a self-binding public statement (such as a board resolution)
- Committing ourselves to carbon neutrality by 2030, including a roadmap that will get us there.
- Guiding principles (such as our definition of what that means, our position on offsets, and a willingness to make “tough choices” such as limiting physical events etc).
- Consider the B impact assessment tool to clearly define Environmental Impact Area Instruction, Environmental Management, Air & Climate, Water, Land and Life. The evaluation is not just about environmental impact but also about social impact and how the two of them go hand in hand.
- As an alternative to physical events and travel, develop socio-technical platforms and resources for the community as an alternative to these events (in functions such as communications, social, conference, sharing, spatial chat, video sharing) and are consistent with our free/open ethos or provide low-cost alternatives.
- If in-person events are reduced, the alternative will need to be online events.
- Different combinations of online meeting and coordination tools were experimented in 2020.
- Find a consistent toolset/platform(s) to be the alternative of in-person events.
- This includes publicizing tools such as WM Cloud Jitsi or WM Chat.
- Developing new open source software isn’t feasible economically for a single organization.
- Software needs ongoing maintenance, not only initial development and overhead cost.
- Partner with existing organizations/platforms to develop or acquire software instead of building it from the scratch.
- Make it easy enough to do virtually, that you don’t need to meet in person.
- Decide what is in-scope or out-of-scope of calculating carbon footprint (e.g., footprint of individual wikimedians; impact of investments of the Wikimedia Foundation including the endowment; impact of hardware production/disposal; other?).
- Do we aim only at reducing the carbon emissions from data centers or from Wikimedia activities altogether?
- Identify whether the goal is to achieve a “carbon neutral” status by buying offsets vs. reducing emissions.
- Carbon neutral data centers
- In a region such as Europe, finding a green energy-powered data center has become easier than finding a carbon-powered one. It’s the opposite in the US.
- Consider the carbon release from building data centers themselves and the carbon footprint for manufacturing the servers themselves
- Assess the best options and location for eco-friendly servers.
- Reduce carbon emissions created by transportation
- Continuing efficiency improvement within servers and offices
- Make software more efficient and less energy-consuming rather than adding more features
- Sharing of lessons learned across the Foundation and community as well as with the public
- Wikimedia needs to set an example to other organizations in aiming to become truly carbon neutral.
- Partner with organizations working towards environmental sustainability
- Define criteria for potential partner organizations.
- Need for community support for these partnerships, especially when they are conducted on a large scale. They can be slow and bureaucratic / complicated to build.
- Encourage these organizations to release free content, especially images.
- Acquiring partner resources helps to update content and remove misinformation.
- Other thoughts: The information from these organizations is already available. No particular added value in partnering with them.
- Invite experts to identify “misinformation”: in terms of outdatedness; underestimating climate impacts and overestimating barriers for solutions.
- Connect with the high topics for impact and other similar initiatives
- For open content:
- Get IPCC to release images to Wikipedia in their next assessment report.
- Get several intergovernmental organizations release their content under licenses compatible with wiki projects (i.e. FAO, IUCN, etc.).
- Partner with other open movement orgs to help increase awareness on the need of open content for solving climate change issues
- Concern: Quality of Wikipedia WILL go down if we don’t prioritize universities, IPCC, and UNFCCC (and NOT activist organizations, which are biased).
- Identify the gaps and opportunities for growing coverage of the topics
- Mapping of Key SDGs on Environmental action across language Wikis and invite local communities to identify the most pressing SDGs for their community or context
- Mapping of which experts communities or activist communities are appropriate for which topics
- Content and quality assessment across languages and building climate crisis initiatives in many language Wikipedias (research needed)
- Support creating content in environmental sustainability and climate change topics
- Provide resources to community groups to develop Sustainability-related topics
- Expert assistance with organizing events; worklist tools; virtual meeting tools
- Provide more platforms for the movement to be vocal about solving climate change
- Communicate more about how the movement is helping with this
- Create spaces to support coordination between contributors on certain topics
- Including staff support, e.g. for WM4SD
- Increase pipeline of participants to increase quality content on the topics
- Conduct outreach via universities, research organizations, NGOs, grant-making organizations in this area, government agencies and interested individuals).
- Significantly improve the coverage of climate change topics across wikis.
- Engage with experts in different capacities to contribute with their knowledge to Wikipedia (i.e. something similar to the interviews at the National Academy of Sciences).
- Explore other ways to engage with people interested in working in climate change; have a better definition of small workable things that people can do that are not as overwhelming as “create an article” or “edit/write Wikipedia”.
- Increase awareness of the Wikimedia as a source of Climate knowledge
- Increase awareness to the role of wikipedia in the sustainability challenge as a major content hub, similar to the role wikipedia served with the COVID-19 information, thus set the ton
- Advocate for Wikipedia as a public space to promote knowledge activism on climate change topics
- Consider the symbolic impact of Wikipedia, such as the SOPA/PIPA blackout. A similar approach could be “green Wikipedia” once a year.
What are some anticipated obstacles or barriers to a successful implementation?
- Growing number of physical national, international, or regional events.
- Related to socio-technical platforms – finding open source platforms that scale in performance and function, to support edit-a-thons, meetings, collaboration, knowledge sharing. Currently experiments with chat .wmcloud.org (Mattermost) and meet.wmcloud.org (Jitsi) are limited and not scalable, though they have shown some glimmers of success.
- These systems are typically hard to scale globally because they require "last-country" infrastructure, similar to what CDN (content delivery networks) do. Typically dozens of servers around the world help Zoom, Google Meet, et al. do their job to connect users of those systems, something Wikimedia does not have the infrastructure to do.
- Supporting a wide range of devices, bandwidths and operating systems is non-trivial.
- We’re distributed, so many of the things we’d typically be able to measure (people in an office) are now spread out (people working from homes), even though that impact is part of our footprint; even after the pandemic ends, our community will always be distributed, and perhaps more so after.
- Having effective open source software to host online events in place of in-person events
- The problem is really related to the cost of developing and maintaining such software. The idea of purely relying on open source software seems to be a challenge that everyone would need to face.
- Developing new open source software isn’t feasible economically for the WMF alone to bear.
- There will be counter-saving in travel and event costs.
- Software needs ongoing maintenance, not only initial development and overhead cost.
- Partner with existing organizations to develop or acquire software instead of building.
- I think we could find some softwares already show-up, maybe we can use the data centers already used for the wikipedia projects.
- Doing thorough checks to avoid some organisations using the Foundation for greenwashing or pushing ideological agendas and allow the opportunity for any low-carbon energy to be considered from reliable scientific sources only and for the whole carbon footprint.
- Inside the movement / partnerships
- Wikipedia has been very specifically not about “How To”s - how do we give people access to the How Tos associated with Climate Action? On wikipedia pages and/or with links & partnerships with wikiHow and similar orgs/sites? For example: we have more information about what fires are, and much less about how to prevent them.
- Avoiding partnerships with organisations that are more ideologically focused than relying on comprehensive scientific consensus and reliable sources. No greenwashing. Doing background checks.
- Partnerships with some state organizations in certain parts of the world might be problematic (do they understand the “neutral point of view”?, they might be criticized inside an article and they need to be ok with it); some govt. Orgs. have a lot of information but it might get tricky to partner with them if they’re trying to silence critiques
- Leave it to community groups to be mindful about what partnerships they engage with
- Explore low-bandwidth forms of virtual convening
- Around climate information
- Climate information is very technical and difficult for non-experts to synthesize accurately; and it becomes dated very quickly
- Many topics are contentious and prone to mis/disinformation (including COI issues, eg companies marking technologies)
- Climate information and sources may not exist in non-English languages; sources may be biased towards a western/northern perspective
- We do not have a good cross-language picture of our climate crisis related articles/info/gaps
- We do not have climate crisis projects/initiatives in many language wikipedias
- Climate change information might be boring, challenging, how can we make sure that this content reaches out to the people that we aim to reach?
- Wikipedia emphasis on descriptive information, not prescriptive. If we are trying to support climate action, how/where do we incorporate the “how” information?
- Partner with Appropedia?
- Wide range of possible experts to talk to: universities, NGOs
- Can overlap with education and outreach goals
- Experts have limited time and contributing to Wikipedia, particularly on complex topics, is difficult
- Climate change experts / env. Movement don’t necessarily see the value of Wikipedia as a platform to communicate climate change / env. Topics
- Env. movement has sometimes has as “a given” that everyone is on the same level of knowledge that they are about env. Issues (this also applies to people active in the Wikimedia community; we take some of our knowledge on how to participate for granted)
- Some of the understandings that the experts have do not match what the community has agreed as a consensus on articles
- Must carefully vet organizations (esp. advocacy and activist orgs) for reliability and be on guard against corporate “greenwashing”
- Diversify partnerships with many experts to make sure that we’re contributing in a balanced way to the topics
- Wide range of possible experts to talk to: universities, NGOs
Implementation steps (HOW)
|Step / Action / Milestone||By When?||Notes, details, ...|
|Find on a movement-wide consensus defining ‘carbon neutrality’|
|Make a self-binding public statement on carbon neutrality and how we will get there|
|Identify needs for socio-technical platforms||July 2021|
|Identify socio-technical platforms as candidates that are consistent with free/open principles||September 2021|
|Test implementations of socio-technical platforms||December 2021|
|Develop or find an open source online meet/webinar platform which can take load of hundreds of participants and contain useful features like that we have on Zoom, Google meet etc.||December 2021|
|Gradually decrease the number of physical national and international conferences requiring flights||December 2022||Alternate suggestion/considerations: Increase/refine the standards for when/if a conference could be held, who can go, where they are held, and how they may travel. This will also need to be balanced with an equity lens as a tradeoff.|
|Adopt a global policy discouraging flights over other means of travel and encouraging people to take trains|
|Policy or research on high bandwidth activities online - reducing unnecessary power usage, cashing content, etc.|
|Publish an annual sustainability report and discuss it with the community.||Spring 2022 or earlier if possible|
|Research content gaps and needs in environmental sustainability and climate change topics across different languages|
|Identify and assist communities that are already doing sustainable activities||ongoing|
|Partner with experts and relevant organizations|
|Branching off current mediawiki software platform (for reference) at testwiki work starts||When software improvement work starts||(Testwiki and one other wiki, e.g. branchwiki) are to be used as one group|
|Introduce core improvements, e.g. implementing CDN networks, on core mediawiki infrastructure (or whatever nearby)||End of 2022|
Who would like to take part in this initiative’s working group?
- Wikimedia Israel
- Wikimedia Sweden, France and Italy
- Wikimedians for Sustainable Development 
- J. N. Squire
- DrMel - wikiBlind
- Z. Blace - individually
Who is/are interested in having additional responsibilities to coordinate this working group?
- Supporting rich socio-technical platforms, the events team of WMF could provide coordination here, as well as the CROW group. 
Is anyone missing who should be part of implementation?
- Green Politics Foundations (like Boell.de from Germany but work for it across the world)
- Notes from room 1: A carbon-neutral Wikimedia Movement by 2030.
- Notes from room 2: The ecosystem for climate actions.
- Room 1: Carbon-neutral Wikimedia Movement
- Room 2: The ecosystem for climate actions