Digitization helps to save CO₂ – many experts agree on that. But things are not that simple, because the creation of software and its use contribute to greenhouse gas emissions too. All code creates a carbon footprint. Software development and use affect the environment from the energy consumed while running to the associated electronic device waste. Choosing a sustainable software architecture matters, but every developer also can make a difference by applying green coding principles. 

This article will explore the importance of green software development and its main principles.

Green Software Development: Balancing Digitization and Environmental Sustainability

In this section, we’ll first define some important terms in the topic of environmentally conscious software development. Then, we’ll discuss why it is relevant and discussing the broader benefits of adopting green coding practices.

What does sustainability in software development mean?

In our view, sustainability in software development (also “green software development”) entails developing and maintaining software in a way that is not only environmentally, but also socially and economically responsible. So, what really counts is the long-term bottom-line value from a general societal perspective, not an “individual balance sheet”.

There are many trade-offs in such an ambition, and therefore sustainable software development is rather a set of guiding principles than hands-on measures that are truly the same for everyone. Let’s dive a bit into how sustainable software development can contribute to all three aspects:

Environmental aspects

Since software is a significant source of direct greenhouse gas emissions, it is becoming more important to create software that reduces resource use as much as possible. As the world becomes more reliant on technology, energy consumption and carbon footprint of software will continue to grow. By adopting green software development practices, software developers can help to mitigate these environmental impacts.

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Broader Economic contribution

If a software uses less energy and resources to accomplish the same tasks as another software, the users of that software can reduce their operating costs and improve their bottom line. Increasing the longevity of hardware (less wear, but also less hw requirements extending the usability of existing hw) also yields direct economic savings for the software users (companies as well as individuals). On a broader level, this compounds significantly over the number of users and with time and thus contributes to economic welfare. What sounds like a small contribution does add up tremendously in the end…

Social impact

Sustainable software development includes responsibility for the social impact of the software created. As a result, sustainable software aims to be transparent, inclusive, and offer data sovereignty. By giving individuals and organizations greater control over their own data, software empowers them and protects their privacy. At the same time, it promotes greater accountability and transparency in data-driven decision-making.

Overall, sustainability in software development involves taking a holistic approach. On top, sustainable software companies take steps to minimize negative impacts and promote positive ones over the long term.

This is why it has been one of our core values since we started ObjectBox:

Be Sustainable in every respect – we apply sutainability to our technology, as well as the people and small every-day decisions. ObjectBox aims to be the most resourceful data management solution for connected devices. We strive to save resources (energy, CO₂, bandwidth, time, etc.), but also always choose the sustainable path (recycled paper, saving energy, etc.), and support our employees to lead balanced and sustainable lives.

What is green coding / green software development?

Recently, the term “green coding” has emerged to describe the practice of creating and writing code (aka software) in a way that minimizes its environmental impact. This can involve using efficient code that consumes less energy, optimizing data usage, and reducing electronic waste.

What is the difference between Green IT and Green Coding?

Green IT is primarily about the hardware and the optimization of data centers. Today, it often actually is about optimizing cloud usage. The code decides whether this hardware is used efficiently. By contrast, green coding is about making the code more efficient, so that running the code (e.g. using an app on the smartphone, or using an email program) uses less resources and less electricity, thus producing less CO₂. 

Why is it time for developers to prioritize environmental sustainability?

Various studies estimate the Carbon footprint of the digital economy to be between 2.3 – 3.7% percent of global CO₂ emissions 😱 [1]. Although the impact of software on the environment may not yet be as dramatic as that of manufacturing, it keeps growing rapidly each year. By taking sustainable decisions in software development, we can make it part of the carbon solution of the future. 

Every line of code – scaled up to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of devices (desktops, smartphones, tablets…) worldwide – has the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and CO₂ emissions.

How to put sustainable software development into practice?

We believe two key aspect to develop sustainable software, that creates bottom-line value, are:

  • minimize the resource consumption of software especially during operation, where most resources are consumed – be dilligent about that; it compounds
  • keep data as much as possible where it is produced, used and belongs (e.g. with the end users) and avoid unnecessary data transferals, superfluous cloud use, and unnecessarily storing data in the cloud

Both measures have significant environmental, social, and economic impact, short- and long-term.

It’s time we as developers start thinking about our impact on the planet and make sustainability a part of our everyday coding mindset. We can make a difference by incorporating sustainability into every action and decision we take when developing software. Careful measuring and optimizing the resource along the way is also important. The welcome side effect: fast software that is cheap to run and fun to use 🙂

For example, at ObjectBox, we’re all about maximizing the use of computing resources and minimizing resource waste of every line of code (LOC). This makes ObjectBox not only environmentally sustainable, but at the same time superfast, usable on low end devices w. little hw requirements, and cheap in operational costs 🤯

💚 Responsible development practices pay off in several respects and we really cannot see a huge tradeoff. All it costs is spending more time and brain on optimizations, benchmarking, and dilligently applying this approach to every line of code.

💚 As a developer tool, our impact is broader than a developer’s impact on end-users. So, we’re committed to using resources efficiently and reducing waste at every stage of the game.

Guidelines to start making your code more sustainable

Some more tipps how to put sustainable software development into practice:

  • Energy efficiency: Developing software that is energy-efficient can help to reduce its environmental impact by minimizing the amount of energy required to run software. 
  • Responsible sourcing: Using responsibly sourced hardware, software, and other materials can help to reduce the environmental impact of software development.
  • Longevity: Developing software that is designed to last can help to reduce waste and promote sustainability by reducing the need for frequent updates and replacements.
  • Accessibility: Making software accessible to a wide range of users can help to promote social sustainability by ensuring that everyone has access to the benefits of technology.
  • Data sovereignty, privacy and security: Protecting user data and maintaining strong cybersecurity measures can help to promote sustainability by preventing data breaches and other security incidents that can have negative social and economic impacts.

Examples of sustainable coding: More impactful than you would expect

1. How can a millisecond be worth 2 days?

Real world example: By reducing the resolution of images in a banking app with 500.000 users, whose users on average opened it daily, developers saved more than 2 days of total operational time (up time) [2].

 2. How can 2 grams of CO₂ savings / hour be worth 330.000 t CO2?

Theoretical consideration: Netflix states that streaming its content produces 55 grams of CO₂ per hour [3]. This gives us 40 kilograms of CO₂ per year for daily streaming of two hours per person [4]. With Netflix users being 230M, a reduction would have an enormous scaling factor [5]. Assuming a Netflix developer reduces the 55 grams to 53 grams, you get 330 kt of CO₂ in potential savings. Note: This is a highly theoretical example, just to demonstrate the thinking.
Anyways: Individuals can’t save that much as easily. That’s the impact you as a programmer have!

3. How much CO₂ can local storage save in 1 million cars?

Sending and storing 1 GB of data in the cloud needs about 5 kWh of electricity, while local storage only needs about 0.000005 kWh, which is a million times lower. Making the switch to local storage in 1 Million cars would lead to saving 905 kg of CO₂ every second. If you want to know what that actually means, you can translate that into equivalents: CO2 equivalencies or the CO2 calculator

👉 These examples clearly illustrate the potential impact of shifting towards an environmentally conscious mindset when developing software. Now that we know the why, it’s time to discuss the how.

Sustainable Edge Data Managment w. ObjectBox – a ready-made developer tool

ObjectBox is a free Edge Database that can help reduce the environmental impact of apps. It is optimized for computing resource efficiency and empowers developers to store and use data locally and create offline-first apps. Unless the data is really needed in the cloud, this is way more energy-efficient and sustainable compared to a cloud setup. On top, it works independant from an Internet connection being available and is superfast while saving battery, making it an ideal choice for apps that prioritize sustainability.

What is an Edge Database?

An Edge Database is a type of database that is used on the “edge” of a network, closer to the data sources and devices generating data. Traditional databases, on the other hand, are usually set up in centralized data centers or in the cloud.

Edge databases are essential when devices need to work offline, guarantee response times, speed is of the essence, you have limited Internet connectivity, mission-critical scenarios, or when handling high-frequency data. By processing data locally on the edge, Edge Databases can reduce latency and improve performance while also reducing the amount of data transferred over the network.

Edge databases have a small footprint and are designed to run on restricted devices such as routers, IoT gateways, mobile phones, and other embedded systems. They typically incorporate features needed in distributed systems, such as data synchronization, caching, and offline support to ensure that data remains available even in the event of network outages or other disruptions.

ObjectBox Sync is a highly efficient and sustainable data synchronization solution. It reduces the amount of energy used by having as little overhead as possible when sending data combined with solid compression, avoiding data transformations, and only syncing data changes instead of sending all data to the cloud all the time. Developers have control over what data is synced when.

Overall, ObjectBox DB + Sync is a powerful tool for building fast apps that prioritize consuming less energy and saving device resources. By storing data locally and only syncing when and where needed, developers can ensure that their apps are as sustainable as possible, and save on cloud costs along the way. 

Apply for 6 months of free Data Sync now (viable use cases only, subject to our terms & conditions)
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