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Can sustainable programming fight climate change?

sustainable programming

There is such thing as sustainable programming. In short, this means that programmers cut codes in order to reduce carbon emissions. How does this work? Let me explain below. I’ll also give you more examples of some easy changed that have a big effect on CO2 emissions.

A friend of mine, Jack, is a programmer. As many of us today, he tried to cut back is ecological footprint by flying way less, cutting back on meat and making his house more eco-friendly.

However, in his job he discovered new ways to reduce CO2 emissions way more drastically. He started to read more and more about sustainable programming and discovered new ways to enormously reducing CO2 emissions. He summarizes this as ‘sustainable programming’.

Sustainable programming is basically using less code. This way, data centers use less data in saving data and for backups, reducing CO2 emissions of these data centers.

Don’t underestimate these efforts. Reducing the amount of data we save online has a great effect on climate. Sustainable programming makes an enormous different in CO2 reduction!

Are you a programmer? Definitely read further and apply these ideas in your own work.

Read also: The best sustainable web hosting

sustainable programming 2

What is sustainable programming

For this article I had a talk with my friend Jack. Jack has been inspired by a Dutch programmer Danny van Kooten. Danny is het programmer behind a popular WordPress plug-in related to Mailchimp.

It works like this: The plug-in helps websites to use the mailing-list service Mailchimp. Visitors can easily sign in the Mailchimp mailing list using a form on the website. Danny discovered that this plug-in uses thousands of lines of codes. However, sending data, uses energy. Therefor, using less data means reducing energy use.

Read Danny van Kooten’s blog, because it’s really inspiring.

So Danny decided to reduce de code he was using. He basically adjusted his plug-in in a way it was more efficient and sending up to 20KB less data every day. This way, an average website will use less data on a daily basis.

What is the effect of sustainable programming?

Of course, 20GB doesn’t blow you away. However, realizing that 2 million websites use this plug-in is does actually make a different.

Just a quick estimation. Reducing this code helps reducing up to 59.000 kg of CO2 output a month. That’s roughly equivalent to flying 85 times from Amsterdam to New York and back!!!

Or in other words: reducing code has a big impact on reducing CO2. These factors have a direct impact on each other. That’s a great result of only 2 hours of work to change the code of a website, don’t you think?

Another example that shows the simplicity of sustainable programming and its large effect on our climate. Last spring, a group of students designed a new Instagram filter. This filter turns the photo in a retro style photo. The filter is designed to reduce the file size of a photo by more than 40 percent. The students aimed to design a new, cool filter, but in fact they designed a climate friendly filter to use Instagram.

Or the annual CO2 emissions of Bitcoins are roughly equal to the CO2 emissions by Sri Lanka. And sharing funny videos through messages with friends has an enormous impact on data storage servers around the world. However, programmers have a responsibility to design ways to change this.

Sustainable software design

Jack was greatly inspired by this small effort in sustainable programming and its great effect on reducing CO2 emissions, as I am since our conversation about this topic. Both Jack as Danny are now active in a movement called ‘sustainable software design’. Programmers around the world try in different ways to reduce data usage in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

More and more of our private lives and professional lives evolves around data, making the impact of data usage on environmental pollution increasingly important.

sustainable programming

Recoding our digital world

It’s unbelievable how quickly the digital world has takes over our daily lives. It’s also quite unbelievable how quickly we’ve bumped into the limitations of our digital activities. We have already come to the point where changing our digital way of living can have a great effect on climate change.

We simply should share and save less crap! How?

For example on a professional level: If every adult in Germany would send one less ‘thank you’ per email every day, it would reduce up to 16 tons of CO2 every year.

The reason: pretty quickly we were used to just saving every little thing for a lifetime. Why? Reducing your CO2 emissions is directly cutting every little piece of data you don’t want to save. And let me tell you: that’s a lot of crap you didn’t even realize you saved.

And on a personal level: reduce the amount of useless e-mails and messages you send. Immediately change the settings of WhatsApp and don’t save all these media, memes and funny video’s that are being send to you.

Just quit sending and saving crap. That’s an easy way how you can save our planet!

But also on websites. Websites use a lot of trackers and data, but for what reason exactly? Simple plug-ins and just a change in thinking can reduce the amount of data that is being saved. This will actually make the website way faster and thereby increase the user’s experience.

Concluding remarks: should we all turn into sustainable software design?

Shortly: yes!

It’s just a different mindset that has a great and positive effect on our planet. We have been introduced to the internet and it fully took over our life. Now it’s time to sit back and evaluate, in order to come to realize that we should use internet a bit different in order to make it more sustainable on the long run.

Even small design changes, like the plug-in by Danny van Kooten, have a great effect on reducing CO2 emissions worldwide. But also on a personal level you can easily reduce your ecological footprint by applying a different mindset concerning which of our online activities we want to save for ever.

Start with yourself, on you own smartphone, work and website. After reading this article, turn to the settings of your smartphone and make some easy changes to reduce the data you save. Throw away old photo’s, video’s, e-mails and documents that you really don’t need to save for ever. And quit sending useless messages and media.

While doing this, keep in mind that if you don’t throw things away immediately, you’ll probably forget about it and it will be saved forever and ever and ever…