Go green software – your bonus may depend on it!
Climate change is firmly back on the news agenda as more and more temperature records tumble worldwide.
Once again, scientists are reiterating that there is robust evidence of the link between CO2 pollution resulting from our consumption of fossil fuels and our warming world.
At the same time, generative AI has pitched up. ChatGPT has become one of the fastest-adopted technologies ever. But ChatGPT uses a phenomenal amount of energy. The Indian start-up Zodhya has calculated that training ChatGPT-3 would have required over 1,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, which is enough by some estimates to power one million homes annually.
And that’s just to get started. Each ChatGPT query is said to require 6.79 watt-hours, the equivalent energy of running a five-watt LED bulb for one hour and 20 minutes. And we know globally there are a lot of queries being made and, therefore, a lot of energy is being consumed.
These two competing narratives nicely illustrate the dilemma we face. We know we need to cut emissions, but we also (rightly) love technology. Without a global moratorium on technology and a return to an agrarian society (which is about 0% likely to happen), we must find ways to make technology more efficient.
The banking industry is a big producer and consumer of technology, and that is only going to continue. I often joke that banks are tech businesses with an accountancy practice strapped to the side. For example, in 2020, 25% of Goldman Sach’s employees were engineers. At the same time, many banks have committed to achieving net-zero by 2050. So, how do we square the circle?
One focus is the machines and the data centres that house those machines. Another is to look at the software produced by the developer community and ensure that it conforms to practices and standards that factor in sustainability and efficiency.
I recently discussed the topic with two thought leaders in this field: Asim Hussain, director of green software and ecosystems at Intel and executive director and chairperson for the Green Software Foundation, and Eric Zie, CEO and founder of GoCodeGreen.
The Green Software Foundation is a not-for-profit group on a mission to build a trusted ecosystem of people, standards, tooling and best practices for creating and building green software. GoCodeGreen is a world-leading diagnosis platform to measure the carbon impact of digital products and services.
According to Asim: “As concerns about climate change intensify, organisations increasingly recognise the need to address the environmental impact of their digital operations. Green software is gaining prominence as a strategic approach to reduce energy consumption, optimise resources and minimise carbon emissions throughout the software development lifecycle.”
Embracing sustainability measures and investing in green software principles can benefit organisations through:
- Appeal to consumers: Consumer preferences are shifting in favour of environmentally conscious companies. A green software approach can bolster brand reputation, attract eco-conscious consumers and enhance consumer loyalty.
- Retaining talented employees: Sustainability is increasingly important to the workforce. Companies prioritising sustainability, including green software practices, will attract and retain skilled employees who align with their environmental values.
- Complying with regulations and attracting investors: The regulatory landscape is evolving, and sustainability is starting to take centre stage. Organisations can get ahead of and comply with environmental regulations and investor expectations by adopting green software practices. Integrating sustainability efforts will position companies more favourably for increased funding and investment opportunities.
- Reducing costs: Green software initiatives reduce costs by optimising resource utilisation and energy consumption. Businesses can benefit from improved energy efficiency, streamlined operations and decreased carbon emissions. Additionally, by implementing sustainable practices, organisations can mitigate future risks associated with potential carbon pricing or regulatory penalties.
The foundation has recently released its “2023 State of Green Software” report, featuring global insights and data from industry leaders and researchers. It is incredibly detailed, packed with interesting findings and well worth taking the time to read.
For example, it says 63% of CEOs do not rate sustainability as a top priority (based on an IBM Global survey of 3,000 CEOs). But 64% of software practitioners are already measuring their impact. Another circle to square!
I asked Asim how companies should go about systematically approaching adopting green software practices.
He responded: “It all starts with culture. Ensuring that the right culture is in place is vital. Leaders must understand the importance of this to their businesses, employees and customers and encourage a culture that supports a green technology agenda. Sustainability has to be embedded at all levels across functional areas.
“We also believe knowledge is critical. The journey to being green can feel like navigating a maze with scattered and inaccessible information. The Green Software Foundation is sifting and sorting relevant information and making knowledge more accessible to bridge the gap between academia and practitioners. We aim to give software professionals the clarity and guidance they need to take decisive action towards sustainability.
“The final piece of the puzzle is tooling. Part of our mission at the Green Software Foundation is to break down barriers to sustainable practices with tools that make measurement and monitoring easy, leaving no excuse for anyone to neglect sustainability.”
Eric told me: “Absolutely measurement is vital. How can you change and improve without the right data to make decisions and take action? That’s why GoCodeGreen exists: to empower through data and insight and to help software designers and engineers make better decisions.
“If we see software as problematic, a recommendation could be to connect developers with the Green Software Foundation for access to its knowledge base. It is so important for organisations to accept that knowledge sometimes sits outside their boundaries and that collaboration is key to accelerating action. The ‘not invented here’ mentality will limit progress.”
In the same way that accessibility has become an intrinsic and regulated aspect of the way code is developed, green standards must follow. It is worth getting with the programme now.
If you are a start-up, research what this means and make sure your code is as efficient as possible. Suppose you have an existing technology stack. Give it an audit and see where change needs to happen. Educate yourself about greening your technology if you are a CEO or senior leader and understand that it is very much a priority. Everything else aside, your bonus may depend on it!
About the author
He is a passionate customer advocate and champion and a successful entrepreneur.