That little smartphone in your hand might not seem like a big consumer of energy – until you consider the massive data centers required to feed information to your phone and millions of others like it. The world’s biggest data centers each require more than 100 megawatts (MW) of power capacity. That’s enough to power around 80,000 U.S. households, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
One way to address the problem is to develop software that will help data centers use less energy. That’s one of the goals of The Green Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce the environmental footprint of software and help the tech industry address global carbon emissions.
The foundation, launched in May, is comprised of a coalition of corporate heavyweights, nonprofits, and climate groups. It was founded by Microsoft, Accenture, GitHub (owned by Microsoft), ThoughtWorks, and later joined by investment bank Goldman Sachs and nonprofits such as Leaders for Climate Action, Watt Time, and The Green Web Foundation.
The Green Software Foundation will team up with the Linux Foundation and the Joint Development Foundation to help build “a trusted ecosystem” of people, standards, tooling, and leading practices for building green software, Microsoft said in a blog on May 25. Organizations committed to sustainability and green software development are encouraged to join the foundation to help expand the field of green software engineering, contribute to industry standards, and collaborate on innovative solutions that can lower the carbon footprint of software.
One of the foundation’s primary goals is to help the software industry contribute to the information and communications technology sector’s broader target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 45 percent by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Data centers currently account for about 1 percent of global electricity demand, Bloomberg reported. But that percentage is expected to rise as high as 8 percent in the next decade. The uptick can be attributed to more complex software applications, which require more computing power and electricity. To help address the problem, cloud-computing companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have announced plans to cut the emissions output of their data centers, while numerous other companies have announced carbon-neutral goals.
But the success of those initiatives depends on teaching software developers new green software engineering skills.
“The purpose is to build applications that we describe as carbon-efficient,” Asim Hussain, a Microsoft principal cloud developer advocate and executive director of the foundation, told Bloomberg. “To understand how to do that, you need to understand a set of skills that is not taught in traditional environments.”
Equally important is gaining greater insight into the amount of carbon emitted by individual software programs – something that’s difficult to gauge right now. To help come up with better data, the Green Software Foundation will analyze metrics such as how much electricity is needed, whether microprocessors are being used efficiently, and the amount of carbon emitted.
The foundation will also develop green software development standards and support the green open source ecosystem as a pathway to creating green software applications. In addition, it will encourage voluntary adoption of the green software standards and help guide government policy toward those standards. The ultimate goal here is to develop a consistent approach for measuring and reporting green software emissions.
“The scientific consensus is clear: the world confronts an urgent carbon problem,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said. “It will take all of us working together to create innovative solutions to drastically reduce emissions.”