Decarbonize Software 2023 - Redefining the Future of Software 

Posted on November 23rd, 2023

On the foothills of COP28, we hosted Decarbonize Software on November 16, a global virtual event that united software sustainability leaders and advocates across the technology, ICT, and energy sectors.

Decarbonize Software 2023 - Redefining the Future of Software 

The event celebrated progress in green software and provided a forum to showcase community-driven initiatives to decarbonize software. Given the increasing role of software in contemporary life, discussions centered on what engineers, developers, designers, and solution architects can do to enhance energy efficiency and reduce resource consumption.

Here, we revisit the announcements, stories, and insights shared at Decarb.

Facing an upward trajectory

Asim Hussain, the Chairperson and Executive Director at the GSF, set the stage, acknowledging that green software is in an era of growth.

In addition to market trends in legislation, solution adoption, and cultural change, he noted how several projects at the GSF are reaching maturity and establishing themselves as industry standards, including the Software Carbon Intensity (SCI) specification, soon to become an ISO standard, and the Carbon Aware SDK, a signature devkit for carbon-aware computing. Additionally, the Green Software Practitioner's Course has become a sought-after training for businesses, having successfully trained over 50,000 participants in less than a year. The foundation has also initiated nine new projects, including but not limited to Impact Framework, Real-time Energy and Carbon Standard for Cloud Providers and the Green Software Maturity Matrix.

Market, regulatory, and organizational shifts towards software sustainability have contributed to GSF's growth. In addition to upticks in training completion, podcast subscribers, website traffic, and newsletter subscribers, the GSF has welcomed 19 new member organizations. Among them are two steering members, reflecting an appetite to help lead the pace of change in green software. 

Green software is growing, and it’s our collective responsibility to prioritize decarbonizing software to continue on an upward trajectory and normalize the application of green software patterns. 

It’s all about measurement

Reducing software's carbon emissions remains a big challenge for many organizations. It’s no surprise that measurement took center-stage at Decarb. 

The discussion led by Charlotte Degot, CEO and Founder at CO2 AI, and Diana Dimitrova, Managing Director and Partner at BCG X, provided valuable insights into the state of carbon emissions measurement. When sharing the key findings from CO2 AI and BCG's 2023 Carbon Emission Report, a survey incorporating feedback from 1,850 respondents across 23 countries and 18 industries, Diana highlighted a concerning stagnation in the comprehensive measurement of Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. However, they highlighted signs of improvement in emissions measurement, including a 19-percentage point increase in respondents reporting partial coverage of Scope 3, indicating a growing focus on measuring indirect emissions to assess reduction efforts.

Based on the survey, companies reducing emissions in line with their ambitions tend to exhibit collaborative efforts with suppliers, assess emissions at the product-level, use digital technology solutions, and have a positive outlook toward regulations. Of those surveyed, 40% estimated an annual financial benefit of at least $100 million for meeting emissions reduction targets, marking significant economic incentives associated with effective emission reduction strategies.

Johann Hemmann and Yvette Nartey from CODE University presented Paan, addressing the need for a unified approach to measuring and optimizing energy consumption in software applications. Their demo offered engineers valuable insights into adopting a unified and comprehensive approach to measuring and optimizing software energy consumption. It reinforced the need for shared learning and improvement.

Their demo showcased the importance of visualizing energy consumption data through a dashboard, enabling easy identification of data spikes or abnormalities and empowering developers to make informed decisions regarding code optimization or design changes. They also discussed the potential integration with the Impact Framework, emphasizing compatibility with the SCI calculations, reporting, and optimization.

Note: Yvette and Johann plan to extend platform support beyond Android to include iOS and cloud providers like AWS. They actively seek test users for further validation and feedback, opening up opportunities for collaboration within the software development community.

In addition to their session, Angel Cațaron and Stefanie Wolf introduced Siemens' Sustainable Software Engineering Framework, which defines seven essential topic clusters to realize a reduction of energy and resource consumption. This framework integrates sustainability as a built-in quality across the software life cycle. It emphasizes balancing sustainability with other attributes, incorporating topics like architectural patterns, code efficiency, efficient agile processes, and green DevOps. 

Their presentation focused on measurement and estimation methods for energy consumption. The measurement aspect introduces two key components: physical access to hardware for direct energy consumption measurement and models for situations without direct access. This prompts developers to consider the practical challenges and variations in measuring energy consumption based on their specific development environment. Including models for conditions without direct access offers a practical solution, encouraging developers to explore flexible measurement approaches.

AI as Earth's Ally

With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), we took time at Decarb to discuss how AI might assist our efforts to decarbonize software. 

The discussion led by Charlotte Degot, CEO and Co-Founder at CO2 AI, and Diana Dimitrova, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group, stressed a dual focus on collaborative and technological solutions in accelerating software sustainability. They gave examples of Klöckner's software calculating product carbon footprints, and how the Economist Group uses CO2 AI to streamline emissions data collection and target setting.

With that said, it’s no secret that AI has an environmental footprint, and discussions around whether the benefits outweigh the costs remain contentious. Tammy McClellan, Senior Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft, and Jesse McCrosky, Head of Sustainability at Thoughtworks, addressed the relationship between responsible AI and environmental sustainability.

Jesse shared the significance of transparency in AI systems, describing it as legible, auditable, and actionable to meet the specific needs of stakeholders (learn more here). He also highlighted how mathematical models and scenario-modeling dashboards can inform decisions to meet sustainability goals (learn more here).

The importance of prompt engineering, reducing token throughput, and employing application-specific models were detailed for enhancing AI efficiency and lowering carbon emissions. Finally, the importance of open source data and tooling and shared models to counter emissions related to AI training were key takeaways for the audience.

Entry tools and resources to green software

Chris Howard, Head of the Open Source Program Office at EPAM, shared insights on how EPAM is integrating sustainability practices into its software engineering processes. The challenges he outlined, such as dealing with infrastructure, historical architecture, governance, legislation, and shifting requirements that often make staying within time and budget a real issue reflected the complexities many software engineers often face when attempting to develop sustainable software. His use case demonstrated how organizations can advance in supporting clients to develop greener, more sustainable software aligned with environmental targets despite these challenges.

EPAM has taken essential steps towards integrating Green Software Practitioners (GSP) into their learning platforms, forming a working group to review and adapt GSF practices, and aligning these practices with existing delivery processes. These initiatives have presented a clear path for companies to be proactive in their approach to green software. They have also reinforced the collective belief within their company that software development must fully integrate sustainability.

Furthermore, Chris emphasized the value of the GSP course, noting that clients have become far more engaged in understanding the level of engineers who have completed the GSP training. Highlighting a growing revenue stream attached to green software, aligning with broader industry trends.

Dan Benitah, Software Solutions Architect at Avanade, and Vaughan Knight, Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, both lead contributors to the Carbon Aware SDK project, highlighted how to optimize energy consumption and minimize carbon emissions by using real data to avoid assumptions when making sustainability decisions. They showed how to shift energy-intensive tasks to times of lower carbon intensity to reduce carbon emissions, which encouraged attendees to apply sustainable principles when making architectural decisions and in their daily workflows.

In addition, Chris emphasized the importance of creating a safe space for diverse roles to contribute ideas and perspectives throughout the project lifecycle, emphasizing the need to bring everyone to the table to shape sustainable solutions and avoid late-stage roadblocks. Dan and Vaughan stressed that even minor adjustments, like shutting down development and test servers on weekends, can contribute to building a greener software ecosystem. 

Big unveilings 

One of the big reveals at Decarb 2023 was the launch of The Green Software Champions program, built to celebrate and showcase the impactful work of individuals dedicated to decarbonizing software.

Adam Jackson, the Community PM at GSF, featured the directory, showcasing various contributors, from writers and speakers to project leads and maintainers. Overall, the Green Software Champions program is a dynamic platform to recognize and connect with individuals driving sustainability in green software. Interested candidates can follow the application process, which requires a minimum of two activities in the past year and at least one in the past six months. 

The second unveiling was the introduction of Impact Framework, an open-source tool in alpha designed to standardize software measurement when calculating the environmental impacts of software, including but not limited to carbon emissions. The framework includes manifest files, models, and an impact engine. Navveen Balani, Chief Technologist at Accenture, and Srini Rakhunathan, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, offered their thoughts on the potential applications of IF in the future, particularly in measuring the Social and Environmental Sustainability (SES) of AI models. 

Navveen suggested extending the framework to measure SES during training and inference phases to capture factors like GPU usage and carbon emissions. Integration with existing models for carbon emission calculation and open-source collaboration were also highly recommended. 

Srini focused on the framework's flexibility, allowing it to adapt to various architectures and use cases in enterprise or consumer settings. The concept of "bring your model" was highlighted to tailor the framework to different situations.

Software practitioners can test Impact Framework at Carbon Hack, scheduled for the end of February 2024. Stay tuned for details

We hope you enjoyed this recap of Decarb 2023! 

A big thank you to our incredible line-up of speakers for making this year's event a resounding success:

Angel Cataron, Asim Hussain, Charlotte Degot, Chris Howard, Dan Benitah, Diana Dimitrova, Jesse McCrosky, Johann Hemmann, Navveen Balani, Srinivasan Rakhunathan, Stefanie Wolf, Tammy Adkins McClellan, Vaughan Knight, and Yvette Nartey. 

Decarb 2023 is made possible through the support of GSF's Steering Committee Members:

Accenture, Avanade, Boston Consulting Group, GitHub, Globant, Intel, Microsoft, NTT DATA, Siemens, Thoughtworks, and UBS.

Dive deeper into the community-led sessions and GSF announcements. Watch Decarbonize Software on-demand

This article is licenced under Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0)