Sustainable software development: propelling the way to a greener future
Last year we wrote about the steps businesses can take to reduce the impact their technology stack has on energy consumption, along with considerations for improving the efficiency of technology and the environmental impact of their software development by moving software to the cloud.
As a business, we are on our own sustainability journey and in this blog, we'll explore the concept of sustainable software development and how it can contribute to a greener, more eco-conscious future.
Over the last 12 months, we have worked with clients in multiple sectors to modernise their software systems, and while the majority of businesses are not yet prioritising sustainability when they are making software decisions, it is increasingly on the agenda. In fact, just this week we have read about an exciting sustainable software initiative - the software carbon efficiency rating project. The project, which is in the development phase, hopes to eventually offer businesses and consumers a way of assessing their software's impact on the environment. You can find out more about this project here.
The environmental impact of software
Software brings well-documented advantages to small everyday tasks and large life-changing initiatives, from mobile apps to cloud-based platforms. While it might seem like lines of code and software development have little impact on the environment, the reality is quite different.
Sustainable software development isn’t a fad
Modernising software sustainably not only helps reduce environmental impact but also enhances efficiency and reduces technical debt. As software grows as a fundamental part of our lives, developers, companies, and consumers all have a role to play in fostering a more sustainable software ecosystem. But where to start?
Five considerations for sustainable software development
Even a small change is a step in the right direction.
- Efficient code: writing efficient, optimised code not only improves software performance but also reduces energy consumption and the need for hardware upgrades.
- Minimal resource utilisation: sustainable software is designed to use resources like memory and processing power efficiently, reducing the environmental impact of running applications.
- Longevity: building software that can be easily maintained and updated, and modernising technology instead of replacing it can extend the lifespan of applications, reduce electronic waste and minimise energy consumption.
- Renewable energy: hosting software on servers powered by renewable energy sources helps reduce carbon footprints.
- Open source: encouraging open-source development fosters collaboration, reduces redundancy, and minimises the environmental cost of software development.
Where is change happening?
Several companies and projects are already embracing the concept of sustainable software development, this includes Google, whose commitment to using 100% renewable energy for its data centres and investing in carbon offset projects demonstrates a sustainable approach to hosting and delivering software services.
The Green Software Foundation works to support green software development and the Green Web Foundation promotes the use of renewable energy in hosting websites and provides a database of green hosting providers for developers, like us, who seek eco-friendly options.
Additionally, generative AI platforms, such as OpenAI's GPT-3, support sustainable processes of software development by making its language model available through APIs. OpenAI reduces the need for developers to build resource-intensive models from scratch, promoting sustainability in AI development.
Hints and tips for sustainable software development and modernisation:
- Assessment and planning: start by conducting a thorough assessment of your existing software infrastructure. Identify areas that require modernisation, considering factors like performance bottlenecks, security vulnerabilities, and resource inefficiencies.
- Set clear goals: define clear and measurable goals for your modernisation efforts. Determine what you want to achieve in terms of performance, scalability, energy efficiency, and sustainability.
- Incremental approach: break down the modernisation process into smaller, manageable increments. Prioritise the most critical components and tackle them one at a time, ensuring that each step contributes to your sustainability goals.
- Efficiency-oriented code: optimise code for efficiency and resource utilisation. Review and refactor code to eliminate unnecessary complexity and reduce energy consumption. Focus on algorithms and data structures that minimise resource usage.
- Cloud-native architecture: move towards a cloud-native architecture, which allows for auto-scaling and dynamic resource allocation based on demand. Cloud providers often use renewable energy sources for their data centres, contributing to sustainability.
- Automation and DevOps: implement automation and DevOps practices to streamline development, testing, and deployment. Automation helps reduce manual errors, enhances efficiency, and decreases the energy consumption associated with manual processes.
- Green hosting providers: choose hosting providers that prioritise sustainability and use renewable energy sources to power their infrastructure. Research and select providers that align with your sustainability goals.
- Monitoring and optimisation: continuously monitor the performance and resource utilisation of your software. Use monitoring tools to identify areas where further optimisation is needed, allowing for ongoing sustainability improvements.
- Energy-efficient hardware: consider upgrading to energy-efficient hardware when necessary. Newer hardware often consumes less power while providing better performance and bringing down costs.
- Energy-efficient algorithms: use algorithms that are optimised for energy efficiency. Some algorithms may require fewer computational resources, reducing energy consumption and making systems work faster.
- Documentation and knowledge sharing: ensure that knowledge about sustainable coding practices and modernisation efforts is well-documented and shared among your development team. Encourage a culture of sustainability.
- Education and training: invest in training your development team in sustainable software practices. Provide resources and tools that help them make eco-conscious decisions during development.
- External partnerships: collaborate with external organisations, green energy providers, or environmental initiatives to further enhance the sustainability of your software projects.
- Feedback loops: establish feedback loops with users to gather insights on the sustainability and performance of your software. User feedback can help identify areas for improvement.
- Eco-friendly design principles: integrate eco-friendly design principles into your user interface and user experience (UI/UX) design. Promote energy-saving features and encourage users to adopt eco-conscious behaviours.
- Data minimisation: minimise the data collected and processed by your software to reduce storage and processing needs, which in turn lowers energy consumption.
Speak to Propel Tech
We work closely with our clients to modernise software sustainably, helping them to achieve a more eco-conscious and efficient global software ecosystem, while still meeting modern demands. Please feel free to get in touch to chat about your software and sustainability needs.