Green coding or programming with a concern for our future

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Green coding or programming with a concern for our future

It would seem that digitalisation, unlike traditional industry, does not increase the carbon footprint. This is not true. To operate, it uses natural resources such as rare minerals and fossil fuels, which has a negative impact on the environment. And this is increasing as more and more data is processed, websites are becoming heavier and so on. And while we will not stop using digital resources and electronic devices, we can make them more environmentally friendly. This is what green coding aims to achieve.

Digitalisation leaves a lasting mark on the environment

Digitalisation is rich in terms – such as ‘cloud storage’ or ‘virtual reality’ – that might suggest its ‘immateriality’. Nothing could be further from the truth; it is rooted in the material world. And firmly so.

Rare minerals and fossil fuels are used to manufacture the devices that enable us to enjoy digital content. Software development, the storage and transmission of data on servers – in fact all our digital activities consume energy. Not to mention the issue of e-waste, the fastest growing waste stream in the EU.

The amount of greenhouse gases generated by the IT sector is comparable to that generated by the aviation industry – 2%-4% per year. Digital data currently consumes 416.2 terawatts of electricity in one year, which is about as much as the entire UK. Application design and development play a large part in this. According to Accenture, it accounts for 85% of the carbon dioxide generated by enterprise software systems.

Moreover, the negative impact of digitalization on the environment may increase significantly in the coming years. The International Energy Agency predicts that energy consumption by data centers will triple by 2030, which will pose a significant challenge in the fight against carbon dioxide emissions.

Green coding to the rescue

One of the main responses of the IT industry to its negative impact on the environment is green coding. This is an approach to programming that assumes:

  • code optimization to minimize energy consumption and resource use by applications and IT systems;
  • promoting sustainable programming practices;
  • using low-power devices or energy-efficient cloud infrastructure.

To reduce the negative impact of applications and IT systems on the environment and achieve energy efficiency, developers can implement various practices, including:

  • using appropriate algorithms;
  • optimization of database queries;
  • avoiding unnecessary processing.

Green coding covers both software architecture and development. According to green coding principles, the use of code that has not been optimised should be avoided. Such code will execute

commands that are not necessary for the operation of the programme, and this leads to excessive use of resources and wasted energy.

Green coding – best practices

Companies that develop software and would like to be more environmentally friendly should follow the following practices:

  • Avoid using unnecessary code fragments, as well as unnecessary loops.
  • Reuse previously used code to reduce programming time and reduce energy consumption by reducing the amount of code that needs to be written.
  • If possible, develop software in such a way that it automatically terminates when not in use.
  • Choose an ‘energy-efficient’ programming language for their projects.
  • Test your projects at different stages of development to identify those elements that consume a lot of resources.
  • Reduce the data consumption and the distance they have to travel on the network, e.g. by using buffering.

Benefits of green coding

In addition to the obvious benefit of lower energy costs, following green coding principles brings additional benefits such as:

  • Accelerated progress towards sustainability goals: Most organisations today have among their strategic goals the achievement of net zero emissions or initiatives to implement sustainability principles.
  • Higher earnings: CEOs who implement sustainability and digital transformation initiatives, such as green coding, report higher average operating margins than those who do not, according to the IBM 2022 CEO Study.
  • Time savings: reducing the amount of code that developers have to write saves them time that they can allocate to other tasks and projects.

Implementing green coding in your company – first steps

What steps should organisations that want to implement green coding take? These include:

  • Encouraging software engineers to learn and use green coding principles and thus develop their skills.
  • Providing training on green coding to prospective and existing developers in the company to raise awareness of its importance.
  • Taking care to reduce lines of code – each line of code has an impact on carbon emissions. Even minimal reductions will have a big impact if implemented globally.
  • Implementing a culture of efficiency within the company, making the use of sustainability part of its DNA.
  • Make the company’s employees aware that sustainability is the responsibility of all its business units.

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