Individual climate action: small steps matter

We need bigger steps to combat the climate emergency, but small steps matter too. This week Dave shared he feels climate action falls on consumers too much, rather than large companies and governments. Michelle responded that as tech workers, “we have the power to push for for change”, that we can “extend reach of our actions far beyond ourselves”. Matthias added that we all do something, “even if it feels like we are the only person doing it, it will make a difference.” Great posts.

Like Michelle and Matthias, I feel we can make a difference. I agree that we can use our privilege as tech workers, and that we can do individual things, even if small. I also agree with Dave—companies and governments need to facilitate these individual actions much better. Companies could provide more sustainable defaults, governments could have more tax incentives for sustainability. I say “more”, as both of these things continue to happen and the pace increases. Eating plant-based has been challenging for years, today it is trivial, even at fast-food chains known for their meat. The European Commission has negotiating climate action too slowly for decades, but recently launched a Green New Deal, spending trillions of euros on concrete targets (see also Delivering the European Green Deal).

Like most people, I'm a hypocrite when it comes to climate action. I haven't eaten meat for decades, but hey, I eat eggs and dairy sometimes, which can be as bad in terms of climate impact. I use trains for transport mostly, but hey, I still fly for work and family visits sometimes, multiple times a year. I try and buy stuff secondhand, but hey, my current shiny phone was bought new. I buy most produce directly from local farmers through Rechtstreex, but hey, I occassionally enjoy avocados and bananas that are flown in from very far away. I don't use plastic bags, but I gave my children diapers made of plastic.

What about governments? The Dutch government recently announced to invest billions in expanding the power network so that more solar panels can be connected, but they also still subsidise gas and oil. They have started charging companies for their CO2 emissions, but currently still charge lower VAT on meat than on plant-based alternatives.

Or companies? Shell will build Europe's biggest hydrogen plant, which is nice, but I don't even want to get started on how they've undermined climate agreements for decades and continue with fossil fuels on an enormous scale (Follow This buys Shell shares to then use shareholder privileges to demand greener policy).

Still, like Matthias said, we need to look at the good things that are happening, and encourage more good things. From governments, from companies and from ourselves. Small steps matter. In a country with millions of voters, one vote seems like nothing. But each vote ends up as a part of the election results. If we all stay home, nothing happens.

It may seem rational to find hypocrisy in my actions, or the government's actions, or those of companies. You'll probably find stuff quickly. But even if I'm inclined to, I don't want to be a cynic about climate action. I'd rather err or the side of being overly naive. Sometimes change is slow and complex, I want to keep the focus on making it work, not on looking for hypocrisy. So I'll continue to do my things. I'll also continue to expect companies and governments to act. In fact, they need to do more and do it faster, and this will impact what I buy and vote. It adds up if all of us buy and vote the right things, especially in countries where small parties can have impact.

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Hey I heard you liked replies so I wrote a reply to your reply… (cc @CSSInRealLife @m_ott)
“Sometimes change is slow and complex, I want to keep the focus on making it work, not on looking for hypocrisy.” — @hdv 👏💚
Love that we’re having these conversations, even though we don’t have all the solutions 💚
Let's keep this climate conversation going. Thanks, @hdv.

Back in the public sector, back to writing weeknotes. This week I started a new job as senior product manager in NHS Digital’s Data Services directorate. As you might expect, the majority of the week was spent doing onboarding tasks, like meeting people and reading docs.

Things that happened


The Overground is quiet on a Monday morning. Need to check how busy it is throughout the week in TfL’s data, so I can work out when to go into the office. Mostly decided by who’s in the office and who I need to hang with, but it’d be nice if those days are quiet on public transport.

That luxury of the commute, time to read, was good to experience again. Caught up on a couple of saved links and picked a few new ones from RSS feeds. (Here’s an OPML file of all the folks I’m following.)

Despite loading up a blank note on my phone, I didn’t need to take any notes on my first day. The day was mostly spent getting set up: in the building, with my equipment, on all the software and accounts. Quite a few policies to read through too. Standard stuff but nothing arduous.

Had lunch with my line manager and a fellow PM, which was a good thing for a first day. We laughed about how Canary Wharf’s shopping centre is set up for people who don’t see their family often: lots of shops for buying gifts, clothes and food. There’s also a shop to buy Land Rovers? Anyway, I met one member of the team too.

Really looking forward to the team kick-off on Monday next week, which will be facilitated by someone outside the team. That’s a neat approach, usually it’s always been the product or delivery manager running the workshop, but I’ll get to be fully involved from an equal standpoint this way.

Got back on to UK government digital Slack. Reconnected with a few folks from across the community. One person mentioned getting in-person events going again. Anyone fancy a Product People?


Mostly completed mandatory training. Fire safety, data security, that sort of thing.

Watched the latest show & tell from the team I’ll be joining, which gave good context. Made some notes.

Caught up with our Head of UCD & PM, to hear how the directorate is organised, its history and progress moving towards user-centred and product-led methods, and how the different professions work together. A chit-chat too, obviously!

Clucking to get stuck in to the meat of the role, start working on stuff!


A busy day!

Had my first standup with the team, hearing about the work they’re doing on the alpha. Considering that most of the team is brand new, with a service designer and user researcher who only joined the team last week, I was really impressed with the progress they were making. They’ve set the bar high for me to make similar progress!

It’s a really friendly team. While waiting on my building pass to be activated, I set up one-to-ones with everyone so I can get to know them a little better.

After lunch, our lead product manager and I went to the new roof garden in Canary Wharf, so that I could get a brain dump of the product and its progress amongst some greenery. I’ve never had a meeting underneath towering bamboo before, but I’d recommend it!

There’s lots of moving parts to getting this product through the agile phases and it’s really moving at pace. The alpha is well scoped and the research questions are really good, but there’s a lot of pressure to pass an assessment and have a private beta ready soon. I’m grateful to our lead PM for all the political wrangling he’s doing, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in with the team.

Was nice to meet some people in the office.


Lots of good meetings. A few chats with members of the team, a couple of PM community get-togethers, a catch-up with two of our UCD folks on the alpha, an introduction to another product team, and an all-staff for the directorate.

I am the Information Sponge.

Not gonna lie, in the afternoon I was a bit confused about which team owned what, which part of the directorate they fit into, and how that all stitched together for our service. It all got a bit much. Big organisations are confusing like that. There’s so much to take in, right at the start, that you can be a bit overwhelmed. But you have to trust that other people know their way around, and that you’ll be able to find them, to take on some of their knowledge.

Spent 45 mins in the afternoon crafting mission and vision statements, to try and collate my thoughts. In the past, I’ve gone around in circles trying to understand what I work on, how it fits into the organisation’s strategy, and the essence of The Why. Why we’re working on it, why we’re pursuing these particular goals. Putting together these statements really helps me ground things: pour the stuff from my head into a model, iterate it a couple times, share it with someone else and iterate it more. It forces you to move around the Problem Understanding to Solution Exploration loop more quickly, improving your knowledge with each turn.


More good meetings. One with someone from the team, one with my manager, and one with a subject matter expert.

Also spent a good portion of the afternoon reading up on our operating model, the vision and strategy for NHS Digital – particularly our directorate – and it really helped pull together what was in my head. (It also validated the mission and vision statements I’d pulled together, which felt good!)

Feeling pretty good about next week. Obviously there will be a Pit of Despair to traverse sometimes soon, as there often is when taking on a new product or service, but I feel like I’m assimilating information well (which our lead PM corroborated).