Jenny Wong is passionate about sustainability — and at Mozilla, she’s in good company. We launched our sustainability program several years ago at the urging of hundreds of Mozillians, and last year, Jenny joined to lead the work. Below, she explains how that shared sense of mission informs everything she and her teammates do and reflects on some of the program’s early wins, from achieving carbon neutral status to an upcoming round of grants focused on the intersection of environmental justice and AI.
First, tell us about your role. What does it mean to be a sustainability lead?
We sustainability professionals get that question a lot! It looks different from place to place, depending on how your organization affects and relies upon the environment. At Mozilla, my role is to be a trusted guide for sustainability — that’s the language we use in the mission and vision statement for our sustainability program, and I really like it, because while I bring sustainability expertise and can help point us in the right direction, this isn’t something I can do alone. It has to be embedded throughout Mozilla.
The sustainability program has three pillars that organize our work. First is ensuring that Mozilla is a responsible and trusted environmental steward — getting our own house in order and being accountable for our impact on the environment. We measure and publicly report our carbon footprint, for example. We’re not required to, but we feel it’s important because we understand that what gets measured gets managed. We committed in 2021 to becoming carbon neutral and announced this year that we’ve achieved this milestone.
The second pillar is empowering Mozillians to build sustainability into their work. An example of this is our Environmental Champions program, where Mozillians volunteer to spend a few hours each month on sustainability initiatives. And then the third pillar, enabling a healthy and sustainable internet, focuses on how we can use our influence beyond Mozilla to build momentum for climate action.
Why did you want to work in sustainability, and why did you choose to do so at Mozilla?
I’ve always been passionate about this area, but my college years were especially formative. As an undergrad I majored in human evolutionary biology, studying our species and how the environment has shaped us, and then I did a master’s in biodiversity, conservation and management, which kind of looked at the topic in reverse — how we as humans are now shaping the environment. The effect we’ve had as one species out of millions, in a relatively short period of time, is mind-boggling. That got me excited to work on sustainability, and in particular, I wanted to work on sustainability in tech given the speed and scale at which we work.
Before Mozilla, I worked in sustainability at Facebook for several years, which gave me hands-on experience with everything from climate change to water to biodiversity to supply chains. When I saw this role pop up, I loved the idea of taking my experience to a place that was laying its foundations for sustainability. There’s so much opportunity at that point in an organization’s sustainability journey. I also liked that this program and role exist because Mozillians demanded it; the sustainability program started after a group of people sent a letter to leadership. Not every organization has this level of employee grassroots support, so I knew Mozilla was a special place to be.
How does Mozilla think about the intersection of digital rights and climate justice?
This is something Mozilla has put a lot of time and resources into, which I really appreciate, because it’s often overlooked. I think most people understand that when you buy a physical product, there’s a carbon footprint. But that’s true of digital products , too — data centers require energy and water to run, and people to build their servers. They affect the communities around them.
As a starting point, the Mozilla Foundation partnered with the Ford Foundation and Ariadne to research how technology-focused funders can take action on climate, and we released a series of reports that lay that groundwork. One key takeaway is that the climate and tech movements have a lot to learn from one another; we can’t be in silos. Another is that data is at the heart of many of our climate problems and it can be part of the solution, which is especially exciting for us at Mozilla. That partnership has developed into what’s now called the Green Screen Coalition, and they’re continuing to explore opportunities.
Tell us about Mozilla’s 2023 Sustainability Report. What are some of the highlights?
The report itself is new for us in some ways. We first published our carbon footprint several years ago and we’ve shared other details on sustainability before — but not at this scale — pulling together details on several different topics, and I think it’s worth calling out that Mozilla chose to make that investment in the first place. Measurement alone is a huge body of work. We track electricity use at every office; every flight that employees take; all the goods and services we buy. It takes collaboration across the organization. We also decided to include emissions associated with using our individual products, which is optional for us to report. In fact, we had to build a custom methodology to do it. But we think it’s important, and we hope our peers follow suit in the future.
We were excited to reach the milestone of carbon neutral status and hold ourselves accountable to that commitment, though we’re always looking to do more. As remote work has increased, we’ve closed offices we no longer need, which made a big dent. We also purchased high-quality carbon offset projects. We understand that best practice for greenhouse gas mitigation is to focus on reductions and switching to renewables as much as possible before relying on offsets, and that’s part of our strategy going forward. But in the meantime, it was important to us to take the action we could, as soon as possible.
The next cohort of the Mozilla Technology Fund (MTF) will explore AI and environmental justice. How did that come about?
My favorite part is that it wasn’t even my idea! MTF supports open source projects and technologists with a different theme each year. In previous cohorts, they’ve focused on transparency and bias and on auditing tools — and the team that oversees the MTF came up with this idea all on their own. It’s a perfect example of why I’m so excited to work at Mozilla. The people here are so conscious of sustainability and always looking for ways to embed it in the work we do.
AI is a hot topic, and we hear a lot about accuracy, bias, intellectual property, workforce displacement — all big, meaty questions. But I think the environmental impact is sometimes overlooked. Building and training models require vast amounts of energy and resources. What will it look like as demand for that increases? And on the other side of the coin, how can AI be part of the solution? It’s a complex relationship with a lot of opportunity. We’re evaluating proposals now and awardees will likely be announced early next year, and I can’t wait to see what they do.
As you think about the future of sustainability at Mozilla, what are you looking forward to right now?
In the shorter term, we have a number of things ahead. Our work on MTF, for example, won’t stop the day of the announcement; we partner with the awardees and provide mentorship and support along with the financial awards. We’re also well-positioned now to build a more data-driven sustainability program, which Mozillians are hungry for. We’ve been tracking our footprint for long enough that we can zero in on some hotspots and start piloting and scaling ways to reduce our emissions. And I’m excited to continue building engagement with employees. We just kicked off the second cohort of our Environmental Champions. Mozillians from all across the world are participating, and I know they’ll have lots of fresh ideas and continue building momentum.
Longer-term, there are so many opportunities to explore; this program is only a couple of years old, so we’re still in our early days. As we continue to mature, I want us to lean more into working beyond Mozilla’s four walls — thinking about new tools and methodologies we can build that are needed in this space, how we can continue to partner and share knowledge, and how we can use our influence for good.