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What Is Green Coding?
It is no secret that data centers need enormous amounts of energy to run. Experts estimate that the 7.2 million datacenters worldwide consume 1% of total global electricity. Therefore, data center providers have started investing time and money into making their sites highly efficient. Google has targeted 2030 as the year its whole data center runs on carbon-free energy. Amazon Web Services has set goals of running its operations on 100% renewable energy by 2025.
However, the challenge is that our data centers will only increase with the progressive digitization of entire sectors and even countries. While it is good that we’re making commitments to power our databases with renewable energy, the ultimate goal should be to use less energy in the first place. This is where green coding comes in.
Green coding refers to using as few processor instructions and as little memory space as possible. Using a smaller space reduces energy consumption and the cost of the machines processing the code. Green coding produces algorithms with minimal energy consumption. It requires software engineers to be more considerate of the codes they write. Analysts consider two types of adjustments when dealing with green coding:
1. Structural considerations
These deal with the energy consumption of code blocks. A block is a unit of code.
2. Behavioral considerations
These relate to the energy consumption at the user end. It includes things like checking your Twitter feed or sending an email.
Going Green While Coding
For the most part, coding can instantly become greener if we go back to the software development processes the industry adopted almost 20 years ago. Strict lengths and sizes then define how long a piece of code can be.
Since then, our ability to write longer codes has increased. The global push to create solutions means we have almost limitless programming capabilities today. This increased the speed of digital transformation and the modernization of industries and sectors. But we have reached a point in the history of humankind today where we must sit and reflect on our ways of working.
We must balance our programming quality with energy usage to achieve a net-zero future. We can nearly always downsize the file sizes of videos, images, or texts. A simple compression tool can help us cut file sizes, navigate faster, promote a better user experience, and reduce energy use. Website developers need to be aware when they’re using high-quality media and consider smaller files that can achieve the same goals. Having a small number of large files also decreases loading times. It helps businesses in their SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts, along with helping them achieve sustainability. For example, by reducing the resolution of images on an app with 500,000 users, software developers could save more than two days of the app’s operating time a year.
Environmental Impacts on the IT Sector
The software has significantly transformed almost every aspect of our home and work life. We can safely expect this significance to only grow in the future. Many applications, or apps as we commonly know them, require large, complex software. What, if any, impact does this have on our environment?
Both computer software and hardware can contribute to environmental degradation. Software influences the operation of hardware. Therefore, the software decides how much energy the hardware will use. Therefore, software directly impacts a computer’s hardware, further impacting energy consumption and carbon emissions. Inefficient software, like code, will use more energy. This makes it a part of the challenges faced while achieving environmental sustainability.
A study by the University of Cambridge found that the Bitcoin network needs about 115 terawatt-hours to run. This amount is equal to twice the energy consumption of the whole of Switzerland.
Further, the development of software itself can be very energy intensive. For example, scientists trained an AI model to distinguish between flowers using a publicly available database of flowers. The model achieved an accuracy of 96.17% while consuming 964 joules of energy. But, to gain a 1.74% increase in accuracy, the model consumed 2,815 joules. This means we’re throwing more computer power and energy at a problem just to get better results than necessary. Researchers have dubbed this wasteful practice ‘Red AI’.
Red AI makes it all the more vital to create codes and software to optimize its energy consumption. This has become a serious necessity with software applications exploding in every area of our daily lives. Though we often overlook software and mobile applications while talking about sustainability, it is time to give more attention to green coding practices. Enterprises and industries in the IT sector should incorporate green coding and make it mandatory as part of their efforts toward achieving sustainability.
Taking Coding One Step Further
Being more considerate about the way we use code will have an almost immediate impact on the energy consumption of software. But there are also steps that software engineering firms can take at a training level to make coding practices green. For example, some companies are now offering green coding training at all levels. They’re even making it a part of the recruitment and onboarding process. We must demand that firms make green coding a practice the entire profession should adhere to reduce environmental impact.
So far, pressure has been mounting on data center providers to become more sustainable. But software engineers must also recognize and acknowledge their role in reducing energy consumption while coding.
Green coding should become a necessity, not an option. To create a more sustainable world, software developers and engineers must embrace and recognize the potential of green coding. You can help create an environment that will benefit present and future generations by greening your code.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.