By Anna Johnson
It may seem strange to think about the potential of “green code” – what’s environmentally unsustainable about a bunch of letters and numbers? But when we consider the strain that cluttered code puts on our collective computer systems and the energy expenditures slowdowns can cause, the problem becomes clear: Green code has a lot of potential, and businesses are taking notice.
The growing impact of computing
How could something you do on the computer – such as send a tweet or develop a software program – have anything to do with the environment? After all, aren’t we talking about two distinct areas of reality – one virtual and one physical? Yes, but the correlation exists.
More than half of the world’s population uses the Internet on a daily basis. By 2020, experts project anywhere from 20 billion to 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet – each performing unique functions, processing code, sharing data and clogging up servers.
Over the last two years, we as a society have created 90 percent of all the data that’s ever existed. That will only increase moving forward and is exactly why many believe the Internet will ultimately become the largest source of carbon emissions on the planet.
While we aren’t experiencing any sort of computing crisis, we have to begin looking ahead. What will it be like in five, 10 or 15 years? We don’t want to look back and lament over the fact that we didn’t take the growing impact of computing seriously.
Understanding green computing
A new niche known as green computing has emerged in order to combat the growth of the Internet and the scaling demands of social media, devices and the Internet of Things. And while there are many different aspects to green computing, the most interesting and promising focus is that of green code (also known as clean code).
Green code essentially refers to code that is written with the intent of diminishing the relative energy consumption demanded by a particular algorithm. It’s a way of writing code that looks at the energy output and attempts to diminish the demand it puts on physical servers and systems.
Green code can be used to increase battery life for mobile devices, save watts, maximize power, lower energy consumption, or combine resources for a more efficient approach to solving a task. And while green code is a huge topic of conversation in research fields, there’s still a long way to go in terms of practical application.
“Despite its increasing popularity as a research topic, little is known about practitioners’ perspectives on green software engineering,” Motherboard editor Michael Byrne noted last year. “Even basic questions such as 'What types of software commonly have requirements about energy usage?', 'How does the importance of reducing energy usage compare to other requirements?', and 'How do developers find and correct energy usage issues?' do not have clear answers.”
What this indicates is that we’re still in the beginning stages of understanding green code and its possible uses. There’s a massive amount of potential, and businesses would do well to search for effective uses.
Businesses would also do well to turn their attention toward the types of tools, software, and digital systems they use and the underlying code that goes into creating and maintaining these tools. Take building a website, for example. Businesses should spend more time vetting website platforms on the front end. Is WordPress, Drupal or Joomla the most efficient solution? What are the environmental implications of one particular content management platform over another?
While we may still be a few years away from seeing green code become mainstream, sustainability expert Tim Frick of Mightybytes sees some distinct ways that forward-thinking businesses can make their digital products more eco-friendly right now. In a 2016 op/ed on TriplePundit, he suggested:
- It all starts with better user experience. Whether it’s your website or mobile application, the more intuitive a resource is, the less time a user has to spend searching for information. Less time means more energy savings.
- Websites, software, apps and tools should all be optimized for the specific devices using them. This prevents the need for sending unnecessary files and ensures the appropriate amount of processing power is used.
- Certain website hosts are greener than others. If you can find one that runs on renewable energy, this is a good thing.
These are just a few ideas, but they show how every little decision matters in the grand scheme of making your digital presence less obtrusive.
What does the future hold?
Nobody knows what the future of green computing holds, but it appears that green code will play an integral role in offsetting the growing burden of data moving forward. The more individual businesses are able to reduce their own digital footprint now, the easier the transition will be in the years to come.
Image credit: Pixabay
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant from Olympia, WA. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.