An overlooked sustainability effort reclaims its importance in combatting the climate crisis.
In global sustainability efforts, we turn and depend on emerging technologies to fight against the worsening effects of global warming. These technologies are meant to provide sound solutions to increasingly more complex environmental issues as we race against time. Sometimes however, we neglect that the way we design these technologies can actually contribute to a larger carbon footprint, this time constructed through other digital means.
For some technologies, the way these are designed and deployed aren’t sustainable. Software relies on software developers to create them sustainably, as in itself, software doesn’t negatively contribute to the environment. Rather, as we depend further on machinery and other hardware, its developmental relationship can become harmful.
Design flaws: Real-life applications
Increasingly, we are beginning to comprehend the sheer amount of data consumption that negatively aligns with energy consumption. The popular digital currency Bitcoin, for example, is notorious for its high-energy consumption due to its design ethos. The currency is designed to supply in controlled amounts, where it is later mined to be properly used.
However, around 90% of Bitcoin was already mined by 2021, and this does not come without costs. To mine Bitcoin requires a lot of energy, and whilst the high volume is difficult to compare, we can only comprehend estimations. In 2019, the Cambridge Centre of Alternative Finance estimated the energy use of Bitcoin to amount to the size of Switzerland.
We cannot then neglect the Information and Communication Technology sector as a whole. A recent report conducted by Ericsson (2021) revealed the sector maintains a stable 1.4% of overall global greenhouse emissions. The digital carbon footprint is increasing, and we need to begin amending our approach to software design in our IT jobs in Malta and abroad.
A step in the right direction
As we continue to explore how software and other technologies can negatively affect the environment, we also need to consider the current working environment we currently find ourselves in, and its relationship with technological reliance. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many workers found themselves envisaging novel workplace opportunities found working from home. Our global shift to prefer remote jobs reminds us that the office environment may no longer be favoured nor prioritised, leading our dependency on technology to further exacerbate.
That being said, our preferences to engage in work from home jobs does not mean organisations cannot prioritise sustainability efforts, focusing in on software development. Software developer jobs and teams can be organised to support climate change initiatives that are frequently reviewed by supervisors. Whatever software is implemented in a company, we can consider greener practices as we navigate these tools. For instance, we can maintain an open and critical lens toward technological accessibility, energy consumption, and so forth.
Why else should organisations invest in clean technology and green software developer teams? Organisations are increasingly falling under pressure to invest in green technologies, a conundrum presented to CFOs is explained further in a previously written blog post. Sustainable commitments also support company ESG initiatives as part of their corporate responsibilities, providing further incentive to explore and implement sustainable practices. Companies and software developer teams must be dedicated and committed to reducing their carbon footprints.
Aspects of green software
Generally, green software refers to tools and applications that focus on sustainability. Whilst technology can impact the environment, green software attempts to ensure that their contributions are minimally disruptive. IT jobs focusing on green software, including software developer jobs and engineers, should harness various green principles in their everyday work. This process is largely threefold:
Green design: software developers and other IT employees should begin brainstorming means to reduce their digital carbon footprint before a project develops. This means teams explore design and architecture strategies that are sustainable and more eco-friendly.
Green implementation: one of the most important considerations comes with implementation, that is, manufacturing and processing software into products. Here, teams should be wary of production and its greenhouse gas emissions. They should also consider materialistic elements that ensure resources are renewable and sourced ethically.
Green operation: this refers to operation practices that direct the lifespan of software over time. It also considers the software as a whole, in how it overall contributes to the environment through its design and production. Systems and products that consume little energy are considered energy efficient, providing teams direction in their sustainable methods.
Whilst the above tackle core areas of green software, there are limitations to ensuring teams are truly following sustainable practices and that they are making significant differences. This is because there are little tools to measure how green software is, rather, teams must rely on operational direction to determine energy consumption, though these too should be considered with a pinch of salt. Thus far, IT jobs and teams should follow current best practices, and remain up to date with green technologies to work as short- and long-term guidance.
Practical recommendations for software developers
Whilst teams should be generally committed to combatting the climate crisis in their own means, there are a few practical suggestions software developers can implement in their everyday jobs in Malta and abroad. The below are especially relevant for coding principles:
Using faster code: many software developers write code to sustain future technologies that run faster and more effectively. Instead of writing code for such hardware, software developers can practice their codes on machines that rely on lesser memory and storage. That way, developers contribute to optimising present hardware instead of encouraging the construction of new ones.
Consider environmental costs: adding more servers contributes to a collection of energy consumption negative for the environment. Software developers should write code effectively to reduce the need for more servers, and they shouldn’t race against deadlines.
Storage: many software developers are looking for the best machinery that holds high volumes of data storage. Rather than looking for these options, remember that a lot of computers currently exist and are lying around with less storage that is still valuable in terms of RAM. Before purchasing the latest computer with the best storage, consider more cost-effective options that do not consume as much energy.
Minimise the use of third-party components: whilst third-party applications can be important for software developers, ensure that whatever is selected to assist a system does not consume more memory and data than is needed. Software developers can assess whether these components are worth it by analysing whether their use case outweighs memory usage.
Maintenance and testing: software developers are known to re-visit their code to ensure a system is working optimally and adheres to the latest developments and designs. When re-visiting code, developers should review with the mindset that coding can be re-written to be more efficient and minimal where possible. This also helps a system work faster, making this a win-win situation overall.
There is undoubtedly a lot more to learn about green software engineering and green technologies generally. With some investment and careful thinking, all organisations can contribute to greener practices that will help pave the way for further emerging technologies long-term, and minimise harm attributed to the environment overall.
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