Software Carbon Efficiency Rating  - A consumer-friendly rating for software carbon intensity

Posted on October 12th, 2023

Wouldn’t it be great to have a rating for the carbon efficiency of software? A benchmark that scores software with the same functionality, similar to what the Energy Star does for the energy efficiency of appliances or the EPA Fuel Economy Ratings for the mileage of cars?

Software Carbon Efficiency Rating  - A consumer-friendly rating for software carbon intensity

The GSF Standards Working Group has initiated a project  to close this gap, providing a tool for informing procurement decisions and potentially shaping regulations. 

How will consumers benefit from a carbon efficiency rating?

A rating system helps both consumers and organizations. For consumers concerned about their carbon footprint, the Software Carbon Efficiency Rating (SCER) will be an invaluable tool, allowing them to make informed decisions about their digital products. It will help them understand the environmental impact of the applications and empower them to make sustainable choices.

There are yet to be widely recognized standards for measuring the carbon efficiency of software. The absence of widely accepted standards for gauging the environmental impact of software has left consumers navigating in uncertainty when it comes to choosing eco-friendly software. The SCER aims to be a beacon in the fog, giving consumers  a clear signal about the carbon intensity of a software product. An example could be the choice between a variety of different music streaming services, and easily spotting the greenest option based on a  carbon efficiency rating. The SCER could set a new precedent for environmentally responsible software consumption.

What’s in it for businesses?

 Organizations can wield the rating system as a powerful procurement tool when making decisions about service contracts or software purchases, enabling them to make choices that boost operational efficiency and reduce their corporate carbon footprint.

Many companies need more information to make energy efficient decisions today. The imperative is there as environmental awareness among investors, the public, and other stakeholders continues to rise alongside the pressures of emerging requirements for carbon-based reporting.

For organizations seeking to manage their carbon emissions and make progress toward reduction goals, a standard like SCER will offer clarity and transparency, simplifying the path to taking impactful and purposeful action.Companies can also leverage SCER as a marketing tool to position themselves competitively based on the efficiency of their products.

How will the new SCER standard work?

TheGSF’s goal is for the SCER to provide comparable scores for software with the same functionality. Defining standard workloads for different types of software and measuring them is step one. This involves categorizing software and setting standards based on the functional unit of the SCI standard. For instance, the functional unit could be "per non-cached minute of streamed music" for a music streaming service. It also requires defining hardware standards for testing these workloads and the boundaries of the software under test.

Where does the project stand today?

The approach is to build on GSF member research. Aveva has developed a test platform using standard hardware to assess various energy consumption levels for different software configurations. The next step is to establish specific parameters for software of a particular category (e.g., databases) to make them comparable on this platform. The challenge will be to develop guidelines that help make informed decisions without being overwhelmed by the complexities of modern software architectures.

To find out more about SCER and how you can contribute, visit the project rep

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