This post is part of the Conscientious Computing series. If you missed the first post do have a read for background context. As a reminder this series is more about the sustainability of IT than what IT can do for sustainability in general. Oh and if you want an overview of sustainable tech terminology do check that out here.
Sustainability has become an increasingly important issue across all industries, including technology and computing. There is a growing ecosystem of organisations that are promoting sustainability and environmental issues within software development, cloud computing, infrastructure, and digital services.
These groups are raising awareness, developing standards and best practices, and bringing companies together to reduce the environmental impact of digital technologies. In this post, we’ll look at some of the major players in the sustainable computing space - and as we are based in the UK this will talk about global organisations but will also include UK and European organisations. Whilst major vendors do get a mention later this is more about independent / collaborative organisations that provide more neutral, agnostic positions. I can’t claim this list is exhaustive so please do contact Oliverif you think this is missing one that is significant or that you have found helpful.
The picture above maps out the organisations that we have and continue to use in our research and development in the area of Sustainable and Green software. It is UK centric – so local refers to European or UK based organisations. Specific refers to majoring on a particular focus area (like Web or technology infrastructure) general means they are looking at a range of technology areas.
Green Software Foundation:
One of the leading organisations (and the one that we have found most useful at Scott Logic) is the Green Software Foundation (GSF). An offshoot from the Linux Foundation founded in 2021, GSF focuses on making software engineering more sustainable. It brings together companies like Microsoft, Google, Intel and technology consultancies to develop metrics, standards, tools, and certifications around sustainable software. Crucially it is pretty independent and agnostic despite having major technology companies as members.
The foundation is rapidly becoming a central platform for the software sustainability community by providing a variety of comprehensive resources. Ranging from the Green Software Practitioner course which is a great introduction to the field, providing certification from the Linux Foundation. To the Green Software Patterns catalogue, the go-to reference for any sustainably minded developer.
They have working groups developing a Carbon Aware SDK, a Software Carbon Intensity Metric (SCI), and reviewing how to design software to optimise for energy usage and carbon reduction. There are also projects in an incubation status that are worth following, like the Impact Engine Framework, which aims to aid in the estimation of emissions using standardised models.
Green Web Foundation:
Where GSF looks at sustainable software development, Green Web Foundation focuses on sustainable web design and hosting. It provides training and resources for web developers to build websites that use less energy and resources.
Some of their recommendations include only embedding necessary media, optimising images, and choosing energy-efficient web hosting such as green hosts running on renewable energy. If you are looking for advice on optimising your front end or web application this is a great place to start. It’s also worth checking out their Green Web Library which is a helpful catalogue of links to papers and data sources.
Sustainable Web Design
Sustainable Web Design (a collective group including Chris Adams of The Green Web Foundation, Rym Baouendi - Medina Works, Tim Frick - Mightybytes, Tom Greenwood - Wholegrain Digital and Dryden Williams - EcoPing) are also worth a mention - they go into detail about the methodology behind co2.js and resources for designing/building a better web. They have been very helpful in our understanding of current web site carbon calculators. Our initial view is that we should also be thinking about taking a critical view on UX - unnecessary features, functionality and take into consideration grid carbon intensity and making applications more carbon aware. (Look out for a future blog in the series in this area).
It’s also worth noting that Tim Frick of Mightbytes is also the author of the O’Reilly book Designing for Sustainability and Mightbytes created Ecograder one of the most comprehensive web carbon calculators we’ve come across so far.
ClimateAction.tech brings together the tech community to take action against climate change. This global non-profit runs hackathons, workshops, and other events to foster collaboration on climate solutions.
It has working groups on topics like cleantech, sustainable digital infrastructure, and green IT education. ClimateAction.tech aims to accelerate sustainability progress by mobilising tech talent and connecting key stakeholders. One of the most valuable things they run is their slack channel (open to all) which is helpful for networking and finding the latest resources that those in the wider community are sharing.
Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance:
On the infrastructure side, the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA) is advancing sustainability in data centres and internet architecture. This European association has members ranging from research institutions to big tech companies.
SDIA provides analysis and policy recommendations on topics like data centre energy efficiency, circular economy practices, and low-carbon cloud infrastructure. It acts as a central voice on sustainable digital infrastructure for the European Commission and other policymakers. They produce useful publications if you want insights into on premise / data centre considerations: https://sdialliance.org/our-publications/
CNCF TAG Environmental Sustainability
A Technical Advisory group focusing on Sustainability that is run by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Part of the Linux Foundation (of which Scott Logic is a member) centring their efforts around open source technologies within the cloud native landscape.
They hold open fortnightly meetings where they discuss a variety of topics. Previous topics include: discussion on GSF’s Impact Engine and demos of various other sustainability focused tools.
BCS Green IT Specialist Group:
Being organised by the British Computer Society this one has a UK focus: the BCS Green IT Specialist Group promotes sustainability within IT and advocates for reducing technology’s environmental impacts. This team of volunteers runs talks, continuing professional development training, and networking events to bring together green IT professionals.
It also participates in consultations for developing regulations around topics like electronic waste and energy efficiency. The BCS Green IT SG aims to make sustainability a central part of technology practice and policy in the UK.
Government Digital Sustainability Alliance:
The Government Digital Sustainability Alliance (GDSA) focuses on bringing sustainability best practices to digital services and procurement for the UK government. It’s a partnership between the government and its digital suppliers.
“The overall main purpose of GDSA is promoting and progressing knowledge, and capabilities to deliver sustainable digital data and technology across UK Government and their suppliers. GDSA collects, shares, and demonstrates best practice aligned to Defra and the UK Government’s sustainability commitments. GDSA feeds recommendations into updates and the creation of policy and strategy.
GDSA is a collaborative working group from existing or prospective digital and data suppliers to the UK Government working in partnership with members that includes businesses of all sizes.”
Industry Standards Bodies
Industry standards bodies such as The Open Group are also working on sustainability standards and best practices for technology. The Open Group Sustainability Work Group has developed guides for topics like sustainable software and sustainable architectures. It aims to create standards that technology vendors and purchasers can adopt to drive sustainability across the IT ecosystem.
Other standards bodies like ETSI, ISO, and ITU are also addressing sustainability within their respective technology domains.
Major Cloud Providers and Tech Companies
Many of the largest cloud computing providers and technology companies are also taking steps to reduce their environmental footprints.
Microsoft has set goals to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove all historical emissions by 2050. It is focused on renewable energy procurement, energy efficiency, and carbon removal.
Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud provider, aims to reach 100% renewable energy across its data centres by 2025 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. It also provides customers with tools to track and reduce their carbon footprints.
Google claims to have matched its annual electricity consumption with 100% renewable energy since 2017 and is working towards 24/7 carbon-free energy. It also provides a carbon emissions dashboard for Google Cloud customers.
Apple has pledged to become 100% carbon neutral across its supply chain and products by 2030. Its new M1 chips demonstrate performance gains that come with energy efficiency benefits.It also recently released a somewhat divisive mother earth video on the topic of how Apple is performing on sustainability.
Tech companies hold a huge sway over the future of sustainable computing. By improving their own operations and providing customers with tools to reduce footprints, they can significantly move the needle on sustainability. As customers of these services we need to keep holding them to account and push for further transparency and progress on sustainability. Particularly as their business and operating models (including built in obsolescence) can be a source of conflict with holistic sustainability.
All of the cloud providers mentioned above have started to produce useful resources on sustainability in the cloud aimed at helping their customers reduce the environmental impact of their operational cloud usage. Advice ranges from effective region selection to improving data classification policies, but it should be noted the advice focusses on operational carbon and doesn’t tend to talk more about embodied and full lifecycle considerations. You can read more on the topic of Cloud Carbon footprint in this recent blog by Darren Smith.
Not just private companies inform, steer and influence the computing industry. Governing and standards bodies (such as ISO, ITU etc) also have a big impact by regulating the industry we work in. You can choose to follow the opinions of private companies or switch providers but with the ability to introduce laws, the words of governing bodies are very impactful to the computing industry. Being aware and up to date with the current and upcoming regulations means that we adhere to these agreed laws and can plan and adapt to the future of the computing industry.
The U.K.’s commitment to be net zero by 2050 requires some drastic policy changes. The tech industry has previously been held up as the solution and so new policies have ignored the tech industry but now the government is becoming more aware that the industry is also part of the problem. This means that the tech industry will start being held more accountable for it’s environmental impact. We are keeping a watchful eye for future UK regulation in this space.
With some of the highest environmental standards in the world it’s not surprising that there are some significant changes on the horizon to help even out the playing field with non-EU countries. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will do just that and will eventually apply to computing services. If your business operates across the E.U. border then you may be forced to report and charged a heavy tax on the carbon emissions of your imported goods and services.
We plan to talk more about standards and relevant regulation in a future edition of this blog series.
As you can see there are plenty of places where you can build out your network, find information and share ideas. Sadly there isn’t always alignment between all these different groups - partly as this is still relatively new, a lot of this falls under GHG scope 3 (which is more of a voluntary area of the GHG reporting protocol and therefore aren’t agreed to global standards). This is probably one of the big reasons why getting a trusted independent partner that has done its homework and isn’t afraid to challenge hype and greenwash is so valuable. If you could use help in this area (or would like to collaborate on this work) please do get in touch.
Scott Logic is committed to Open Source and Open Standards and as far as practically possible we will contribute back our learning and research in this space to many of the independent organisations listed. Why? We don’t believe in hoarding this information (the topic is bigger than one organisation) and there is value in being transparent and as a relatively small organisation we benefit more from collaborating with the community than trying to do this alone.