Today, sustainability is no longer optional and is increasingly becoming part of companies’ core business. So far, we have been discussing reducing energy consumption, using eco-friendly materials, promoting sustainable transportation, and reducing waste. But that’s just the start. Can you guess what the next big thing in sustainability is? It’s sustainable software engineering.
This article covers the main principles of sustainable software engineering to help you get started.
Why should we use sustainable software development?
It goes without saying that digitalization enables companies to minimize their carbon footprint when non-digital processes are replaced with more efficient digital workflows.
Nevertheless, another vital aspect is at play here: software development itself, like any other industry, can be environmentally responsible or not, and therein lies a strategic difference. There is a common misconception that digital is sustainable by default. It is not. The carbon footprint of the ICT sector, although less invisible, equals approximately the footprint of aviation industry. What’s even worse is that it is growing at a faster rate.
According to the EU climate strategy for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, the ICT industry consumes 4–10% of the world’s electricity and produces 1.5–5% of its greenhouse gas emissions (as of 2022). Greenhouse gas emissions from software are on the rise, and the ICT industry is projected to account for a 14% share of global emissions by 2040, up from 5% in 2022.
The hard truth is that many companies still use and develop software solutions that are not optimized for environmental sustainability.
Like every industry, ICT needs a green transformation. This is why the green software initiative is essential for every company that creates or uses digital solutions. Recognizing this is why Helmes has become an advocate for sustainable software development.
Sustainable software engineering strategically minimizes the long-term impact of IT infrastructure on the world. The result of making sustainable choices is staggering, even when you exclude the possibilities presented by digital disruption (or just your regular sustainable service design) and measure only the impact of sustainable technical aspects.
Sustainable software can easily consume 100 times less energy and create 1000 times less digital waste (depending on the case, as these figures can be either smaller or considerably larger).
The main impact, of course, comes from service design, where business people, analysts, and service designers come together to build the right thing. Designing useless software, however efficient, is always wasteful.
Sustainable software solutions are designed in balance:
- to meet actual (business) needs, and
- to minimize the impact that software architecture, chosen technologies, devices, and infrastructure have on the planet throughout their life cycle.
Every business that builds or uses software can benefit from sustainable software engineering if they wish to transition towards a greener digital world.
Getting started with sustainable software development
The increasing scrutiny of companies and their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals means that software companies are taking a more serious approach to producing green software as well. This field is rapidly evolving and has yet to reach maturity. Many IT companies are still figuring out how the software industry is changing. Leading sustainable software companies can be recognized by the following criteria:
- They have already implemented sustainable software development methods and standards.
- They have clearly defined the extent of the impact.
- All key roles in their software service model are involved.
- Sustainability is one of the focal points of their value proposition.
Text by: Kaspar Kinsiveer and Heiki Naagel, Sustainable Software Consultants at Helmes