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Green software certification, legislation in the works

Green software could be moving from the technology fringes to the mainstream with upcoming legislation and a push for sustainable software certification.

Green software certification and legislation will make it easier for developers to identify climate-friendly software. That was the message that emerged from last week's virtual closing ceremony of the inaugural Green Software Foundation Global Summit.

The Green Software Foundation wants to change the culture of how software is built across the global tech industry so that sustainability becomes a core priority, said Sarah Hsu, site reliability engineering associate at Goldman Sachs and Green Software Foundation organizational lead, during the ceremony. The foundation has already put together a list of tools to help developers measure carbon emissions, but the goal is for the foundation to administer a formal certificate for climate-friendly software. In addition, it's anticipated that countries will adopt regulations to enforce climate-friendly software practices.

While it's known that data centers consume 1% of global energy, there isn't any hard data to illustrate that coding in a certain way would save a specific amount of energy, which explains why conversations about green software have been on the periphery of climate change discussions, said Abhijit Sunil, an analyst at Forrester Research. However, the Green Software Foundation is trying to form an industry consensus on the most environmentally-friendly coding practices, he said.

Green software certification is in the works

The Green Software Foundation has just finished updating its green software principles, a core set of competencies to develop carbon and energy-efficient software applications, Hsu said. The next step is to apply those principles to specific use cases with the "patterns phase" of its open source database project, where developers will soon be able to add information about their software writing patterns and use case discoveries to the foundation's GitHub repository, she said.

The foundation's approved list of climate-friendly software to calculate energy and carbon emissions for projects includes offerings such as the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, Microsoft Emissions Impact Dashboard for Azure and ClickClean.org, which gives the energy footprint of common applications. However, the foundation's goal is to turn the green software principles into certifications so companies can have a baseline with which to evaluate software, Hsu said.

The ability to identify and choose greener software will reduce the role information technology plays in climate change, said Chris Adams, director at The Green Web Foundation.

I think most developers would rather build Star Trek than go Mad Max.
Chris AdamsDirector, The Green Web Foundation

"It's about saving literally millions of lives that would otherwise be cut short with lower particulate matter," Adams said. "I think most developers would rather build Star Trek than go Mad Max."

Choosing sustainable software can be a hard sell for businesses that focus on performance, said Anne Currie, tech ethicist at Container Solutions.

However, green software is often more performant, said Tammy McClellan, senior CSAM-developer at Microsoft. "Because you're doing everything that you can to reduce the load that is happening either on servers or resources and adopting even a mobile-first approach," she said.

Government legislation in the works

The United States and United Kingdom are a long way off from enacting any kind of green software legislation, according to the Green Software Foundation. Other countries, however, already have legislation in place.

For example, the German Environment Agency granted its first ever Blauer Engel certificate for eco-certified software earlier this year, Adams said.

In addition, the European Union is considering adding climate change to the proposed AI Act, a legal and regulatory framework, as criterion for evaluating the impact of AI systems, said Lynn Kaack, assistant professor of computer science and public policy at the Hertie School in Berlin, in a foundation podcast earlier this month.

"We're much more likely to see EU action before we see action from either the U.S. or the UK, which is sad and a shame," Currie said. "But what we learned from the GDPR is that EU action is quite effective. It does force worldwide change because the EU is a big market with a lot of fancy people with cash to spend on it."

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