Software Development

Understanding Sustainable Software

Dec 07, 20213 min readBY Yozu Sustainable Software

By Yozu

Sustainable software is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but an essential tool in the fight against climate change. It can also offer significant business benefits…

You’d be forgiven for feeling as though the concept of ‘sustainable software’ is somewhat of a catch-22; undoubtedly, it is the technological advancements offered by software that have allowed us to make huge strides in the fight against climate change, and protecting the environment more generally. Yet, it can’t be denied that, while progress increases, so too does software’s carbon footprint. By 2030, it is estimated that data centres could consume as much as 8% of global electricity, and the IT sector is expected to account for 14% of the world’s carbon footprint by 2040.

So, should we stop using software?

To be clear, it is not software itself that is lacking in green credentials, since it doesn’t use energy or emit any harmful discharge. Rather, the problem lies with how software is developed and, consequently, how it’s used. Hardware is required to make software run – and the greater the reliance on software, the greater the need for machines to build the hardware which will power the software. This is where the level of energy consumption (needed for the hardware) can become a problem.

Of course, the answer isn’t to simply stop using software. To do so would not only be highly impractical, with globally catastrophic results; it would also actually hinder the progress being made in supporting our environment. A greener approach to software is the obvious solution – and it’s not as ambitious as you might think.

But what exactly is green software?

Put simply, green or sustainable software can be labelled as such when its negative impacts (both direct and indirect) are minimal, and/or they positively affect sustainable development. The term, Sustainable Software Engineering – or SSE – refers to the action of creating “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.”

The benefits of sustainable software

Sustainable software offers direct business benefits too; changes in development are often much quicker and more effective; end products tend to be leaner, faster and of a higher quality; upfront costs are usually lower, and business agility increases significantly. What’s more, as noted by Harvard Business Review, “sustainable software will help large companies meet their ESG targets, an increasingly important performance measure for stakeholders… [and evidence shows] newly minted computer engineers are increasingly weighing a company’s focus on sustainability when choosing an employer.”

By giving greater consideration to a software’s performance in relation to its energy efficiency (e.g. the type and size of the data centres used to power it) as well as typical criteria such as functionality, speed and security, businesses – big and small – can play an integral role in reducing its carbon footprint and contributing towards the wider usage of sustainable software.

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