What is Green and Sustainable Software Development
Software Development

Everything you need to know about green and sustainable software

date: 2 December 2021
reading time: 5 min

Being sustainable and going green is the sign of our times. There is a huge list of eco-aware actions every business can take to help solve environmental issues. But did you know that software can also be designed, developed, and deployed sustainably? Let’s see how it works.

Digital technologies over the past years have contributed to the solution of the most significant environmental problems, reduced emissions and saving millions of trees. That’s a fact, but it is also only a part of the truth. We need to acknowledge that tech solutions have also made many environmental issues worse.

Massive data centres and complex networks have their share in carbon print and excessive energy consumption. Data centres consume about 2% of global electricity today. By 2030, they could consume as much as 8%.

By 2040, the information and communications technology sector is expected to account for 14% of the world’s carbon footprint (up from about 1.5% in 2007).

Did you know that the Bitcoin network consumes more energy yearly than the entire nation of Switzerland? In 2019, the CBECI said the global Bitcoin network is consuming more than seven gigawatts of electricity.

To be clear, the software itself does not consume energy or emit harmful discharge. It’s the way it is developed and used that causes considerable problems.

What is Sustainable Software?

We can call particular software green and sustainable when its direct and indirect negative impacts are minimal and/or positively affect sustainable development. It is crucial to remember that development, deployment, and software usage can impact the economy, society, human beings, and the environment.

From the customer’s perspective, sustainable software helps implement essential changes much quicker and more effectively. There is also a lower possibility of bugs, the total cost of ownership of applications is usually decreased, and business agility is significantly higher.

How to check if a particular software is sustainable? It’s possible to verify it by using a combination of automated analysis of source code, expert review of technical artefacts, and a comparison with benchmark data. Experienced specialists will decide if the software is already sustainable and what can be done to increase its sustainability. To develop sustainable software, we can use practices from, e.g. Kanban, Scrum and eXtreme Programming.

Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering

As the eco-awareness among software providers and owners gets higher every year, the experts take specific measures to share their knowledge and best practices. That is how the term Sustainable Software Engineering (SSE) originated.

“It is an emerging discipline at the intersection of climate science, software, hardware, electricity markets, and data centre design. The Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering are a core set of competencies needed to define, build, and run sustainable software applications”

Its purpose is to “create reliable, lifelong software that meets the needs of user’s requirements and also to try to reduce ecological impacts. It aims to generate better software, so there is no need to compromise future generations’ opportunities.”

These are the 8 principles of Sustainable Software Engineering. Software engineers can use them to make decisions that have a meaningful impact on the carbon pollution of their applications.

To read more details about each of the principles, jump into Microsoft’s The Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering”.

Certificates for the most sustainable ones

Software sustainability is not a fancy trend to come and go but a specific path many companies want to follow as part of their sustainability strategy. It is not surprising that more and more software owners want to contribute to a better future.

Blue Angel Label

In 2019, Professor Stefan Naumann’s team of researchers from the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld introduced criteria for a potential certification scheme for sustainable software: the “blue angel label for resource- and energy-efficient software”.

The criteria to be certified are:

  • Controllability: users should be able to configure the software according to their individual needs (e.g. night mode, dark mode).
  • Sufficiency: new software versions should not require more computing power, hard-disk space, or bandwidth unless new functions explicitly necessitate it. Core functions should also remain available on older hardware.
  • Power awareness: software should manage hardware’s energy consumption as efficiently as possible, including energy-saving modes and “shut down-friendliness” (the software should not incentivise users to keep hardware on continuously).

The Green Software Foundation

In May 2021, Accenture, GitHub, Microsoft and ThoughtWorks launched the Green Software Foundation with the Linux Foundation to put sustainability at the core of software engineering. A non-profit organisation aims to build a trusted ecosystem of people, standards, tooling and leading practices for building green software. The main aim is to “help software industry contribute to the information and communications technology sector’s broader targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

The Green Software Foundation will focus on the three key areas:

  • Establishing green software industry standards: the foundation will create and publish green software standards, green patterns and practices across various computing disciplines and technology domains. The group will encourage voluntary adoption and help guide government policy toward those standards for a consistent approach for measuring and reporting green software emissions.
  • Accelerating innovation: nurture the creation of trusted open-source and open-data projects that support green software applications. The foundation will work alongside its non-profit partners and academia to support research into green software.
  • Raising awareness and growing advocacy: encourage widespread adoption of green software across the industry through ambassador programmes, training and education, which leads to certification and events to facilitate the growth of green software.

Future Processing goes green

Becoming sustainable in various business fields is a valid, future-oriented trend. In Future Processing, we do believe that technology is key to a better future. Process optimisation, well-organised teamwork, continuous contact as part of the authentic partnership with the client – these are just a few actions we take on our way to increased sustainability. We assume that the future of digital technologies belongs to companies that understand the impact their services have on the environment and take every opportunity to become more sustainable.

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