Categories: staff profiles

Meet Mozilla’s Environmental Champions: Employees building sustainability during Earth Day and beyond

In our earlier conversation with Jenny Wong, who leads Mozilla’s sustainability efforts, she talked about our Environmental Champions program, where Mozillians from around the world connect monthly on sustainability initiatives. We recently connected with a few of our passionate Environmental Champions to dive into the exciting work they’re doing. They shared insights about welcoming a new cohort who recently completed a climate training program, Earth Day activities they planned at Mozilla, and their personal tips on how everyone can contribute to environmental sustainability. The group included Nicole Weber, UX designer from Germany; Florian Quèze, software engineer from France; Mike Heavers, creative design technologist from the United States; and James Graham, software engineer from the United Kingdom.

What motivated you to volunteer as an Environmental Champion?

Mike: During the pandemic, for a few days, Portland, Oregon had the worst air quality in the world — “extremely hazardous” on the air quality index (AQI) scale. The sky turned yellow, and we huddled next to our air purifier, waiting for things to clear. The fragility of our environment hit home in a very visceral way for me that day. The outdoors is a big part of my life — it’s where I spend most of my free time, and it is the thing around which my community involvement and friendships center. It’s been a huge source of happiness, health and stability for me, and it’s simply not an option in my mind not to do what I can to try and protect and improve things where I can.

Part of that involves examining what we can do within Mozilla. More than just highlighting problems, I want to find ways to take action. The Environmental Champions group is the perfect outlet for that – a group of informed, passionate and motivated individuals who can collaborate at scale within and outside of the organization to take meaningful climate action. I’d seen some of the projects that previous champions worked on, and I was eager to be involved.

James: As a millennial, I’m arguably part of the first generation who have known for our entire adult lives about the climate crisis. In that context it feels to me that the responsibility to do what we can is very clear; just standing to one side and hoping that others figure something out isn’t enough. But of course taking individual action isn’t enough, and participating in the Environmental Champions program provides the opportunity to work with others to accomplish more together than we could alone.

As well as climate change, I’m also conscious of the intertwined threat to biodiversity. Our biosphere is this fascinating, complex, system that exists in a state of dynamic balance. But humans are driving a species extinction rate about a thousand times higher than the usual background rate: We’re having an impact more like an asteroid than a typical species. At the same time, being out in nature, and taking the time to notice and appreciate the animals, plants, and fungi, and learn about their lives and their ecosystems, is something that gives me a huge amount of happiness. That’s something I want to help protect both for its own sake and for future generations to appreciate. And whilst the solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are often aligned, that isn’t always the case. So another motivation to be an Environmental Champion is to ensure that we are looking at both these problems together and finding solutions that don’t trade one off against the other.

Florian: I personally care deeply about keeping the internet open – this is why I’m working at Mozilla – and protecting the environment – something for which I was an activist in my personal time. Sometimes, working on technology can feel at odds with protecting the environment, and being part of the Environmental Champion program helped me feel alignment between my work and my values.

Nicole: There are topics that will just pass, and you can ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Climate change isn’t one of them. It’s impacting our environment every day, our present and future. So I figured for stuff of this shape it’s much better to engage and try to steer it towards a more positive outcome. I have been involved in climate activism for quite a while and when people started to get together at Mozilla to talk about this topic, I joined them.

What do you hope to accomplish as an Environmental Champion?

Mike: I would like to make tangible research, design, and code contributions to tools that help technology users measure and minimize their software carbon footprint regardless of whether they are an end user or tech professional. I’d like to see Mozilla become known as a leader in the space, and be an organization that others look to as a trusted partner and authority when it comes to making their own technical systems more efficient.

James: I’m particularly interested in the impact that the internet, and the business models around it, have on the environment beyond just the electricity needed to run the network infrastructure. Mozilla, with its manifesto commitment to the internet as a public resource which enriches the lives of humans, is the ideal organization to take the lead on these topics, and as an Environmental Champion I’d like to help us put that into practice.

Florian: By working as a group of Environmental Champions, I hope we can collectively have a much larger positive impact than we could have as individuals.

Nicole: Two things: Elevate the topic in everyday work discussions so that people think and talk about it more and eventually factor it into their decision making. And, secondly, use the power we have as an Environmental Champion group to inform company strategy and raise topical feedback or questions with leadership.

What did you learn through the climate training program you underwent in 2023?

Mike: I think it’s important to understand the overarching systems that both contribute to and help mitigate climate change, so that we can identify the places in which it makes the most impact to intervene from a systems perspective. I learned a lot about greenhouse gas reporting, emissions measurement and lifecycle carbon analysis — understanding not just how much carbon is used by something, but how much is involved in the production, distribution, and disposal of it.

James: The climate training program was really informative about the way corporate sustainability initiatives work, both in terms of the terminology and mechanics, as well as the theory of change around target setting and investor accountability.

How has the program changed from when you first joined?

Florian: As the program has matured, it became more structured, with short and long term plans. Some key actions became routine, like reporting GHG emissions every year. Onboarding a new cohort brought in new energy and ideas.

Nicole: The program is coming out of a grassroots initiative. It was driven by a few people, and whoever was interested and had time showed up. In 2019, we send an open letter to leadership asking to “complement our fight for a healthy, open internet with a strong commitment to our natural environment.” It was signed by 120 Mozillians back then and leadership reacted positively to it and made it an official program and with that gave people time and money to invest. From there it got more structured, it was possible to start measuring our impact and give people who want to do more in that area better support through the Environmental Champions program.

What has surprised you about being an Environmental Champion?

Mike: There’s a lot we can do to make a positive impact, and we can be vastly more effective when we work as a team and align our efforts.

James: I don’t know about surprises, but it’s been a great opportunity to work with people across both Mozilla Corporation and Foundation, and see the diverse perspectives and skill sets that people bring to the problem.

Florian: I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of teams Champions are from, and the variety of skills and perspectives this brings.

Nicole: How interesting insects are – we read a book in the reading club Silent Earth by Dave Goulson and chances are low that I would have started to appreciate insects so much without being part of the champions.

If there’s one thing you’d tell people to do moving forward to incorporate every day, what would it be.

Mike: Consider yourself an activist! So many of our life choices result in either an improvement or impact on the planet – we all have knowledge and skills to make a difference, and collectively we can (and must!) move the needle on greenhouse gas reductions.

James: I think to find the motivation to engage on big problems like climate change and biodiversity loss, you’ve got to find the aspects that really resonate with you, and give you something worth fighting for. It’s a bit like committing to a new year’s resolution: If you’re just doing something because you’ve been told it’s the right thing to do, you’re far more likely to give up than if you’re intrinsically motivated toward the goal.

Personally, I’ve got a lot of joy as I’ve started to have a greater appreciation of the natural world and all the interactions and complexity that are around all of us every day. But of course other people are likely to find that their interests are not quite the same as mine! But irrespective of what, once you’ve found a why, you’ll be naturally motivated to find out what you can do to make a difference.

Florian: When trying to reduce your environmental footprint, start with measuring. Ask questions. Get a sense for the scale of things. What’s the impact of deleting an old email, compared to working from home more often, biking to work, avoiding a flight or reducing meat consumption? It’s fun to find out!

Nicole: Personal actions matter. By talking about them, even if they feel small to you, you still model change. Then others see it and get inspired and do it too, and then everyone does it 🙂

For this past Earth Day, what activities were you involved in and most excited to bring attention to?

James: I was involved with [having] Jeremy Williams to give an internal talk about his book, Climate Change is Racist. It’s important to realize that climate change is going to be a human tragedy, and it’s those who lack structural power who will be least able to adapt and therefore suffer first and most acutely.

The other project I was involved in was working with the other Environmental Champions to start creating a list of recommended resources for people who are interested in learning more about sustainability issues. There’s a huge amount of material available, so having some peer recommendations is a really useful way to get started with the resources that others have found most useful.

Florian: During Earth week, I gave a talk about adding features to Firefox Profiler to understand and reduce the power use of Firefox, and how these features can be repurposed to visualize the power use of everything in one’s house, which is something I do as a personal project.