The UAE IT sector strives for sustainable software practices. Explores the role of software in reducing the ICT sector’s environmental impact. Highlights the importance of measuring and reducing software emissions
It’s no secret that the clock is ticking on climate change and global warming, with human activities largely to blame, according to some 97% of actively publishing climate scientists. It is common knowledge that marked rises in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by activities like generating electricity from fossil fuels, air travel, combustion engines, and the building and agriculture industries. But they’re not the only culprits – other areas, such as the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, also have a role to play in helping to reduce emissions.
The UAE sits at the forefront of digital transformation, with an active and progressive ICT sector and a highly switched-on population. The country also has far-reaching sustainability objectives to reach Net Zero by 2050 and is set to host COP28 in November this year. Balancing these two goals should be a top priority for enterprises in the country, and here are key areas where they could turn their focus.
Emissions from hardware
The obvious place to start when considering the ICT sector’s GHG emissions is hardware, with data centres and networks likely to produce most of the sector’s emissions. The International Energy Agency reports that data centres and transmission networks are responsible for nearly 1% of energy-related GHG emissions. It’s no surprise that data centres have been the focus of the industry’s attempts to reduce its emissions, resulting in data centres becoming much more efficient over the past ten years.
But there’s not so much awareness around the fact that the software running on hardware in data centres or on computers, smartphones, and laptops can also impact the hardware’s lifetime emissions.
Hard Truths About Software Emissions
The amount of emissions that hardware produces depends significantly on its use and operation – and a key part of this is the software it runs.
There is a vast amount of complexity involved when considering how to reduce the emissions caused by software, with many complicated and related factors to consider. For example, we must consider emissions generated during software development from test environments, analysis tools and developer workstations. Indirect emissions, like those from commuting, office space and air travel, are also part of the picture when developing software.
Drawing attention to these otherwise overlooked areas will enable businesses to take steps to minimise their impact. For example, the pandemic proved that remote collaboration over the now tried and tested range of communications and file-sharing platforms could effectively eliminate the need for travel while keeping geographically dispersed teams in lockstep. Optimised software development paradigms, such as The Endava Adaptive Model (TEAM), can streamline the design and testing of software, reducing both time to market and resource requirements.
By turning their focus to software in production environments, enterprises can reduce their carbon footprint by righting their infrastructure for their workloads. While hyperconverged infrastructure offers an effective solution to scale down the data centre’s physical footprint, as a general rule, using cloud platforms powered by sustainable energy sources is currently the most optimum solution, as these are the lowest-emission platforms available to most organisations. Many cloud providers also have tools which will give their customers a rough guide to the emissions produced by their cloud environment.
Taking these steps and considering software development-generated emissions will help put enterprises on the right track for reducing their emissions and environmental impact.
What’s next for ICT sustainability?
As the UAE continues its green journey, it’s great to see increased awareness and action in the ICT sphere towards being more sustainable and reducing the industry’s environmental impact. In particular, we’re seeing excellent advances from data centre engineers and hardware device designers, with great strides in measurement, standardisation and efficiency, resulting in much lower emissions.
The next step in this journey for the ICT sector will likely include developing measurement methods that will enable us to assess and consequently reduce the environmental impact of software and the emissions it generates. Regulatory attention focusing on emissions from data centres and hardware devices encouraged the hardware designers to increase their efforts in this department, and the same may happen for software.
Currently, there is no simple way to take a fully accurate, sophisticated quantitative approach to measuring emissions generated by software. But, as outlined above, some simple steps can be taken now when considering sustainability in relation to software.