We Need To Decarbonize Software

In December 2023, representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Dubai for COP28, the U.N.’s climate-change conference, to discuss the urgent need to lower emissions. Meanwhile, COP28’s website produced 3.69 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per page load, according to the website sustainability scoring tool Ecograder. While software on its own doesn’t release any emissions, it runs on hardware in data centers and steers data through transmission networks, which account for about 1 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions each. The information and communications technology sector as a whole is responsible for an estimated 2 to 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2040, that number could reach 14 percent—almost as much carbon as that emitted by air, land, and sea transport combined.

Within the sphere of software, artificial intelligence has its own sustainability issues. AI company Hugging Face estimated the carbon footprint of its BLOOM large language model across its entire life cycle, from equipment manufacturing to deployment. The company found that BLOOM’s final training emitted 50 tonnes of CO2—equivalent to about a dozen flights from New York City to Sydney.

Green software is all about building software that’s kinder to the planet. It focuses on using less energy throughout a program’s life, from building it to running it.

Why go green?

Energy Hogs: Big data centers slurp up energy to run our apps. Cleaner code and optimized algorithms can significantly reduce the energy required to operate these systems.

The Website Footprint: Every time you visit a website, data travels and servers whir – all using energy. Green software engineering aims to create websites that use less energy by optimizing code and leveraging efficient resources.

Long Software Life: Software sticks around for a while. Building it to last means fewer updates and less energy used overall.

How can we write greener code?

Write clean, efficient code that does the job without wasting energy. Less code, less power! Some programming languages and tools are more eco-friendly than others. Do your research! Build software that’s easy to maintain and update. This saves energy by avoiding total rewrites down the line. Use cloud features that only give your software the resources it needs, not a whole bunch extra. The more people who know about green software, the bigger the impact!

Green software engineering isn’t just good for the Earth, it’s good for developers too. By building efficiently, we can create powerful software that’s also sustainable. Let’s work together to write cleaner code for a cleaner planet!

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