Why Software Companies Should Care About Global Warming – Forbes


Global warming has moved out of the realm of doomsday predictions and into verifiable fact, as most scientists agree that the human race is significantly contributing to its acceleration. Recent forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are quite grim, in fact, and even though some governments are reportedly declining to endorse the veracity of the predictions, experts continue to rally for drastic change over the next two decades in hopes of preventing a real catastrophe.

Unfortunately, finding a solution with real and lasting impact has not been easy, as global warming presents an incredible challenge. Shifting the problem from one location to another is irrelevant to fixing it — we cannot ship our excess carbon dioxide to some remote part of the planet, for example, and hope it stays hidden there. No matter where harmful environment activities take place, the impact of these activities can and likely will affect every country and every person on Earth.

What this means is that every industry, not just the likes of the manufacturing or automotive industries, will need to change the way they work, think and plan.

Such dire times call for strong leadership that’s willing to take action and capable of driving change. The technology industry holds the potential for just such leadership, and its influence can be felt around the world. Tech leaders can and should become examples in this movement by first assuming ownership and responsibility and then by taking action. This action can start with changing the way software products, platforms and infrastructures are planned and built to include much greater consideration of the impact on our environment — and specifically, global warming.

We can demand a different value proposition.

The aspect of software most relevant to global warming is its ongoing consumption of energy, also known as electricity. We can and we must reduce the energy footprint of the entire life cycle of products in the software industry, from research through development, testing and production. It’s also important for companies to strive to use cleaner energy and reduce their resulting carbon dioxide emissions (or carbon footprint).

Some of the largest software companies have already committed to lowering energy usage and moving to cleaner energy sources and have set goals for the upcoming years. Companies like Google have purchased enough renewable energy to match or exceed the amount of electricity it uses each year; and, according to The Guardian, Facebook has chosen to be public with its carbon footprint while seeking to create more sustainable data centers.

These efforts are certainly meaningful, especially from companies that power so much of our technology-based daily life. But what about the rest of the industry? Have you ever heard a CTO or chief architect promote some solution or technology because it is more efficient energy-wise? Perhaps it is time this becomes part of our agenda and goals and becomes incorporated into our architecture, design and planning.

I believe companies of all sizes can and should be asking their tech vendors and partners to provide the relevant data they need to make the best decisions from an environmental standpoint. We may need to rely on independent parties to publish energy-related benchmarking tests that our own companies would be measured against as well.

The underlying hardware is a key factor, of course, but once software vendors start reviewing and selecting hardware based on these environment-based parameters, that market may also change. I see cloud providers as an ideal place to start, as they run so many of the world’s software services and are likely using huge amounts of hardware for their data centers.

Your cloud provider could provide you with an energy-usage and carbon footprint report similar to the billing reports they provide — including breakdowns for each service, type of activity and region.

Change doesn’t have to be easy to be effective.

Make no mistake: this will not be a trivial change. It introduces a whole new dimension to software decision making, which is already a complex process with many varying options. It could also require knowledge most professionals currently lack.

Clearly, some of the first steps are leadership, policy and education. CTOs and other decision makers need to be talking about environmental impact as its own value-add. There should be conferences and meetups on the many aspects involved to allow key decision makers to educate themselves and make better, more informed decisions. Companies that have already taken some steps can share their experience, knowledge and challenges for the benefit and improvement of everyone. New products or company initiatives can include a consideration of the wider environmental impact they will have.

On a more practical level, software companies can encourage conservation at every level, from making it easy for employees to recycle to creating incentives for community involvement and focusing on energy conservation throughout the entire product development cycle.

To some, this may sound far-fetched and irrelevant to our current day and time, but if we believe the latest reports on global warming, there may not be much time to lose. If humanity doesn’t start taking major action in the next few years, I believe the second half of this century will most likely be catastrophic — it may literally be the end of the world as we know it.

As tech leaders, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to shift our industry into an energy-conscious one. As consumers, we should expect companies that are leading innovation to be the ones to step up and spearhead the change that could prove so crucial to the entire human race.

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