green software

What is green software?

Green software, also known as sustainable software, is software that is designed, developed and implemented to limit energy consumption and have minimal environmental impact. Green software engineering takes into consideration software practices and architecture, hardware and data center design, electricity markets and climate change. In addition, green software engineering aims to generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions and reduce a company's carbon footprint.

Principles of green software

The principles of green software are a set of concepts that software engineers should follow when they're designing, building and deploying sustainable software applications.

There are eight principles of green software development:

  1. Carbon. Developers should build software that offers value to users, while producing fewer carbon emissions.
  2. Electricity. Energy-efficient applications use software components that don't consume much energy.
  3. Carbon intensity. Intensity refers to the amount of carbon emissions that is generated for every kilowatt per hour of electricity that's used. Companies should consume as much as electricity as possible from renewable energy sources, which have lower carbon intensity.
  4. Embodied, or embedded, carbon. Embodied carbon is how much carbon is released when companies develop and dispose of electronic devices. This principle calls for organizations to build software that reduces the amount of carbon that's released when they develop and dispose of electronic devices.
  5. Energy proportionality. Energy proportionality is the relationship between how much a device is used and the electricity the device uses. The more someone uses a device, the better it can convert electricity. The goal of this principle is to maximize the energy efficiency of the hardware by ensuring a high rate of utilization.
  6. Networking. Sent and received data travels across multiple devices that are connected in the network, including routers, switches and servers. Each of these devices contains embedded carbon and uses electricity. The objective is to decrease carbon emissions and increase the energy efficiency of the software by reducing the size of the data, as well as how far it must travel across the network.
  7. Demand shaping. This describes moving the demand for computing power to another time or region and shaping it to match the supply that's available.
  8. Measurement and optimization. Implementation of long-term, consistent optimization strategies can boost the overall carbon efficiency of software.

Benefits of green software

There are business benefits, as well as environmental benefits, to green software, including the following:

  • Less complicated architecture. Since the structure of green software typically has fewer interdependencies, green software systems are usually less complicated and, therefore, use less energy.
  • Faster computing speed. Less complicated software tends to be faster.
  • Cost savings. Green applications use less energy, meaning lower energy costs.
  • Brand loyalty. Today, most consumers gravitate toward companies with sustainable business practices and green products. Organizations that support environmental issues and reduce their carbon footprint by developing and/or using green software can build brand loyalty. Investors are taking note, investing in companies using strategies such as environmental, social and governance.

Examples of green software

Organizations are pledging to address the worldwide climate crisis by becoming carbon neutral, if not carbon negative.

In May 2021, Microsoft, Thoughtworks, Accenture and GitHub -- together with the Joint Development Foundation Projects LLC and The Linux Foundation -- established the Green Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at developing a network of "people, standards, tooling and best practices for green software."

These companies have also made individual commitments to address the climate crisis. For example, in addition to designing, building and implementing sustainable applications itself, Microsoft is urging all software engineers, developers and others to do the same.

To be more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions, companies should move their workloads to the cloud, as well as make architectural changes and choices and code changes that will reduce carbon emissions, according to Microsoft.

Accenture has developed its own green software tools, framework and best practices. In addition, 95% of its applications are running in the public cloud, and has trained more than 70,000 of its developers on green software engineering practices, according to the company.

According to Thoughtworks, its technology, such as its Green Cloud offering, has the potential to directly contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

On GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, all the development and use of the platform have been carbon neutral since 2019.

VMware, which joined the Green Software Foundation in January 2022, is increasing the use of energy-efficient IT infrastructure to help reduce the total amount of energy needed to run workloads. The company is also working to design, architect and code software that reduces the computing power necessary to run that software.

This was last updated in August 2022

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