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Sustainable coding: how to reduce your IT footprint as a developer

As our dependence on technology grows, the footprint of the solutions we use is also increasing rapidly. As a software developer, you can make a considerable difference by keeping green practices in mind from the moment you start writing code.

It should come as no surprise that the chemical sector is one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters, and it makes sense that the transport industry has a serious impact too. Technology’s role in pollution is less apparent, mainly because we can’t see it. When we use an app on our smartphone, we don’t consider the fact that the app is probably running in a data centre somewhere. And that that data centre consumes quite a lot of energy. In fact, research has shown that the cloud’s footprint is as large as that of the entire aviation sector.

The rise of artificial intelligence suggests that the tech world’s footprint will grow even larger in the years ahead unless we can make technology more sustainable. The developers who build software and applications may have an important role to play here, by treating sustainability as a guiding principle when writing code.

Green coding

Two decades ago, when writing code you had to take account of certain limits such as restrictions on bandwidth or computing power, and this meant that developers had to keep the length and complexity of their code under control. As technology became more powerful, though, the possibilities grew for developers to write beautiful code and algorithms unimpeded. Thanks to extra computing capacity, processing sizeable files or applications in an instant is no longer a problem.

More lines of code has meant more possibilities… But it has also had an unintended negative consequence: the energy consumption of software and apps has risen to an unprecedented level. Organisations that claim sustainability as one of their strong points therefore need to look for ways to reduce their IT footprint, and this has given rise to a practice known as ‘green coding’ or ‘sustainable coding’. For developers, this is a philosophy that encourages them to design their code in a way that reduces energy consumption. The associated cost savings are no bad thing either, of course.

There are several ways of coding sustainably:

  • Writing efficient algorithms: the most logical solution is to build in sustainability at source, with algorithms that place fewer demands on a computer’s CPU, require less memory and consume less energy too. By formatting code so that programs don’t perform unnecessary calculations, for example. 
  • Using sustainable programming languages: some languages are designed to use less energy. They are either inherently more efficient, or they offer more features that allow developers to reduce their code’s footprint. In terms of energy efficiency, C, Rust and C++ are known as sustainable programming languages. Popular languages such as Python, Java and JavaScript score less well. 
  • Optimising code regularly: it’s often possible to make existing code more efficient. For example, regularly reformulating or restructuring code can remove unused sections, fix inefficiencies and improve overall performance. As a result, the software will work better and energy consumption will also decrease. 
  • Extending hardware life: software updates can lead to hardware becoming incompatible and needing to be replaced. This creates e-waste that – again – has an impact on the planet. By optimising code and maintaining device compatibility, we can reduce the electronic waste heap. 
  • Working together in an ecosystem: one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and the principle that we can only make a difference as a community is equally applicable to green coding, which is why it pays to share insights or collaborate on open source projects. One great initiative is the Green Software Foundation, which brings together professionals, tools and best practices. 

Anyone who takes sustainability seriously needs to reduce the ecological footprint of their IT activities. Looking for a professional who cares about green coding? At CHRLY, sustainability always comes first. Quickly find a candidate who fits your company here.