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Is Green Software Engineering Saving the Environment?

Jane Marsh - October 18, 2023

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Every day, more guidelines and practices are set into place to fight against climate change. Although the effects of climate change are non-reversible, if everyone does their part, we can stop it from escalating. Without these guidelines, daily life will continue to become more challenging.

While software might not sound like a threat, it does play a role in generating greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). This is where green software engineering comes in.

What Role Does Software Play on The Environment?

Computers utilize different hardware and software to operate. Due to computers requiring power to function and non-sustainable energy coming from fossil fuels being burned, it contributes to the greenhouse gasses being emitted into the environment. If the software is not developed with sustainability in mind, the hardware could be heavy on power consumption and thus, more fossil fuels are burned.

A study done by Lancaster University found that the Information and Computer Technology(ICT) Industry could be producing more greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought — even more than the aviation industry. The study mentions that they calculated the ICT greenhouse gas emissions to be between 1.8 and 2.8%.

Although they believe the amount to be underestimated due to inconsistencies in how industry emissions are calculated. The study claims the actual GHG emissions amount could be between 2.1 and 3.9%. Even though these predictions are calculated on assumptions, it is still worthwhile to investigate.

According to a different study by The Shift, online video streaming generates 1% of global emissions, the same amount produced by Spain. When looking at estimates like these, it is clear best practices need to be implemented to decrease overall greenhouse gas emissions.

What Is Green Software Engineering?

In 2021, Asim Hussain — the Green Software Foundation executive — created eight sustainable software principles. These eight fundamental principles were designed to help software engineers develop applications that have less of a negative impact on the environment.

The main focus point of green software — also called green coding or sustainable software — is to decrease energy consumption and lower carbon emissions.
Sustainable software follows these four focus points:

  • Decrease and limit power consumption
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the impact on the environment
  • Utilizes green practices throughout its design and development process
  • Utilizes green hardware

The 8 Principles Green Software Engineering Follows

  1. Carbon: Building more carbon-efficient software. This software still provides the same value to the user but in a way that lowers overall carbon emissions.
  2. Electricity: Develop applications that require less energy consumption to operate.
  3. Carbon intensity: Companies should use electricity with the lowest carbon intensity. Carbon intensity refers to how much carbon dioxide (Co2) is generated from a kilowatt hour(kWh). Because it has low carbon intensity, companies should consider utilizing renewable energy.
  4. Embodied carbon: Embodied carbon is CO2 released into the atmosphere after developing or disposing of electronic systems. To combat this, companies should build software that is hardware-efficient.
  5. Energy proportionality: Energy proportionality is the relationship between how much energy an electronic device uses and how much a user utilizes the device. When frequently using devices, they become more efficient at converting energy. In other words, ensure the device has a significant utilization rate for maximum energy efficiency.
  6. Networking: Sending and receiving data travels through multiple devices connected to a network. These devices use energy and contain embedded carbon within them. To increase overall energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions, decrease the size of the data and the distance needed to travel.
  7. Demand shaping: This principle refers to finding ways to shift computer power demand to another region or time and shaping it to accurately match the supply available. In other words, when carbon intensity is high, you want to consume less energy and when it is low, consume more. One application utilizing demand shaping is video conferencing software.
  8. Measurement and optimization: A long-term strategy and plan are required to maximize carbon efficiency — lowering carbon emissions. This strategy should focus on consistent optimization, boosting overall carbon efficiency.

Benefits Green Software Engineering Provides Businesses

Sustainable software helps the environment and also provides businesses with a few benefits. While the initial cost could, in some cases, be high to change to green engineering software, the environmental benefits alone make it more than worth it. Here are three benefits businesses can expect from utilizing sustainable software.

  • Lower costs: Besides reducing carbon emissions, one of the main focus points is to be more energy efficient. This means due to green software using less energy to operate — they decrease long-term costs.
  • Simplistic architecture: The operation of green software is usually simplistic and straightforward — due to fewer interdependencies. This also means they operate faster and are more energy efficient.
  • Increases brand reputation: Implementing green software could positively increase brand reputation. This is due to many consumers trying to decrease their overall carbon footprint, which means they are also looking to support companies that are changing how they operate to be more environmentally friendly.

Why Implement Green Software?

While there are many reasons to implement green software, the main one should be for all its sustainability benefits. All the other advantages it provides should only be more of a reason to use it.

Green software does its part to increase energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions into the environment, but it is only a tool. If Businesses and organizations are not using this tool, things will only worsen. Everyone has a part to play to stop global warming and by implementing sustainable software, businesses are doing theirs.

One Step at a Time

Becoming a more environmentally friendly company takes time. Organizations should look at what changes they can consistently make to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions while driving their company forward. By making changes that lower their overall carbon footprint, companies are collectively working towards the sustainability not just of their company but the planet as well.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.