Green Coding: The digital industry’s solution to sustainability?

Following his talk at Digital City Festival, Pete Coulter, the UK Regional Director at GFT, discusses digital businesses’ role in supporting clients with their sustainability strategies.

The threat of climate change and its exigent impact has rightly resulted in most businesses reevaluating and upping their commitment to sustainable practices.

Swathes of businesses are adapting their products and services as a result to reduce their environmental footprint, with data from Lloyds Banking Group finding that more than half (54%) of UK SMEs say becoming more environmentally sustainable is important to their business.

Figures show that 4% of all CO₂ emissions come from global data transfer and infrastructure, 1.5% more than the emissions from the aviation industry. The energy intensity of data centres is not new to us – major providers like Google and AWS have been publicly announcing their strategies to make them more sustainable for years.

A concept that is spoken about much less, however, is the energy consumption of a piece of software. Those of us working in the digital transformation industry and responsible for writing code, will have been doing so without – most likely – thinking of the energy required to run those programmes. This is why Green Coding was one of our core themes at Digital City Festival 2022.

Cutting energy consumption

Greener coding practice can play a key role in businesses, particularly digitally native organisations, in becoming more sustainable. To better understand the impact this can have on the environment, it’s important to understand what is meant by ‘Green Coding’.

Green Coding is a collection of practices and principles aimed to reduce the energy consumption of a piece of software which, for software engineers, means being more considerate of the code they’re writing – thinking about efficiency, much like we did a couple of decades ago when we didn’t have the abundance of on-demand compute power the cloud has provided us with today.

In my career spanning 20-plus years, I’ve watched a steady change in the way we programme, with code typically becoming longer and less refined as developers use an increasing number of shared frameworks and libraries, driven in part by the push to get solutions created in ever decreasing cycle times.

The move to the cloud provides us with a considerable increase in data centre resource capacity, which in turn has given us the freedom for almost limitless programming. The energy needed to power this style of code, however, is vast. And retrospectively amending and shortening billions of lines of codes is almost entirely impossible.

A greener future in IT

To look toward a greener future in IT, one key step we must take is to find the balance between quality and energy. File sizes of text, images, or video can nearly always be downsized. A simple media compression tool can cut file sizes by more than half, promoting better user UX, faster navigation, and lower energy use.

Website developers need to know when to prioritise high-quality multimedia, and when smaller files can achieve the same goals. Having fewer large files also decreases loading times, helping businesses with their SEO and sustainability simultaneously.

The impact of such a simple change cannot be overlooked. By reducing the resolution of screen images on a mobile banking app with 500,000 users, developers could save more than two days of operating time a year.

GFT is championing Green Coding and offering company-wide training at all levels, while making steps to implement this as essential onboarding. As demand for sustainable technology strategy will likely continue to grow, it’s important to ensure the next generation of digital transformation specialists has the experience and knowledge to support clients with Green Coding practice.

Digital transformation businesses are, by nature, masters in adaptability. To continue this legacy, there must be a drive to help businesses make changes to be at the forefront of environmental change, encouraging others to do the same whilst future-proofing their own organisation simultaneously.

Digital transformation businesses must acknowledge the part they can play in encouraging clients and other industries to adopt more sustainable practices such as Green Coding, and lead by example.

Find out more about GFT and GreenCoding here

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