7 Ways to Practice Green Coding in Your Next Projects

Jenna Bunnell
Published 06/12/2024
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Seven Ways to Practice Green CodingWhile most people would think of congested roads or coal-fired power stations when asked about the causes of climate change, the truth is that software development has a shockingly large impact, too.

In response, green coding – and more broadly, green computing – has been developed as a way to limit the environmental impacts of the field.

We’re going to look at the ins and outs of green coding, why it’s needed, and examine eight easy ways that you can implement it in your next project.


What is Green Coding?

Green coding is a computing practice that allows developers to code in an environmentally sustainable way. It involves reducing how much energy is needed to process lines of code, building in ways to improve energy usage overall, and creating sustainable practices across your development team.

Green coding should go alongside other eco-friendly practices in the development process, including reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and using sustainable materials.


Why is Green Coding Needed?

The increased need and desire for green coding is largely due to the high energy usage and environmental impacts of traditional coding methods during software development and deployment. Some of the main issues that green coding practices can help with include:


Computing consumes a lot of energy

As technology has advanced, the energy consumption of the information and communications (ICT) sector has greatly accelerated. Data centers especially have seen a marked increase in energy consumption in recent years, with steeper growth projected in the years to come.


Computing consumes energy in four key areas:

  1. Processing – Software consumes energy whenever it’s running. Complicated software and large files require more processing time, and thus consume more energy.
  2. Infrastructure – The physical hardware of an IT infrastructure requires energy to run. Many organizations are likely to have overly complicated or overprovisioned computing infrastructures which leads to inefficient energy use. Implementing practices such as consolidating servers, utilizing energy-efficient hardware, and optimizing block storage usage can significantly reduce energy consumption in this area.
  3. Development – During the coding process, developers write lines of code which are parsed and processed through a device. Running this device requires energy, which in most cases creates carbon emissions.
  4. Consumer usage – Once an application is released, it will be used by consumers. Each instance of software running requires energy, and developers have no control over the energy source consumers use.


Larger blocks of code are less energy efficient

Developers are continually trying to create more functionality in their software, such as adding IVR functionality or incorporating machine learning algorithms. This often results in longer lines of code, or functions which demand heavy computer resources for minimal efficiency.

The more code that needs to be processed, the more energy that needs to be consumed by the devices processing it, and the greater the environmental impact.

It’s not just writing the code that is a problem, either. It’s common for developers to save each version of their coding as a project progresses, keeping backups just in case they need to be reverted to later. These files can end up taking up far more hard drive space than necessary, which contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions generated by data storage.


What are the Benefits of Green Coding?

Green coding not only brings benefits to the environment, but also to the organizations implementing it.


Improved development discipline

Instilling best practices in your development teams fast tracks them to success in many areas. Green coding can be a great example of this. It empowers programmers and developers to simplify elaborate infrastructures. This skill can then be applied to every instance of coding, saving time and money by reducing the amount of code software engineers write.


Reduced energy costs

The less energy your organization uses, the lower your energy bills. Reducing costs in this area is more important now than ever, as the cost of electricity continues to rise.

Additionally, involving your IT manager in the implementation process can ensure that infrastructure changes, such as adopting renewable energy sources or transitioning to microservices architecture, are efficiently executed and aligned with the organization’s overall sustainability goals.


You can even combine this with implementing renewable energy sources – for instance, installing solar panels at your main offices. Reducing the amount of energy spent not only has a positive impact on environmental sustainability, but on the long-term financial sustainability of the business, too.


Progress towards sustainability targets

Many modern organizations have net zero emission goals or similar strategic initiatives designed to increase their sustainability. Initiatives such as hybrid work powered through remote software can help you to meet these targets by reducing the daily commute of your employees, but green coding can play a key part too.

Not only can it help businesses to meet their compliance goals, it also highlights to consumers that they’re environmentally conscious – which is great for attracting customers and promoting a positive brand image.


Enhanced website development

Integrating green coding principles can also impact your website development processes positively. Utilizing efficient coding practices and opting for eco-friendly website builders can contribute to reducing the energy consumption of your online platforms.

This not only aligns with your sustainability goals but also enhances the overall performance and accessibility of your websites.


7 Ways to Successfully Practice Green Coding

There are a great number of ways that you can implement green coding in your organization. Here are seven key steps that will help you to get it right.


1. Understand your current environmental impact

Before you can take steps to reduce your environmental impact, it’s a good idea to know exactly what it looks like. That way, you can draw up plans and make well-informed decisions about what sustainable software development initiatives you can implement for maximum effect.

There are a variety of measurements that you can use to assess and understand your environmental impact. For example, the sustainability dimensions measurement takes into account the three key pillars of sustainability; social, economical, and environmental, to help you achieve a fuller picture of your software’s sustainability.

Many software and cloud providers offer tools and dashboards to help you understand the impact of the services you use. Solutions like the AWS Carbon Footprint Tool and the Azure Emissions Dashboard will give you insight into the resources that your workloads run on.



2. Implement cultural changes

Implementing green coding is easier if you’ve taken steps to introduce green thinking in your organization. This is a cultural change that encourages employees at all levels to consider sustainability in their day to day actions at work.

Change is most effective when employees and leaders are on board. You can encourage adoption of green coding and general sustainability practices with consistent messaging to your teams, supported by training sessions and materials.

Software for project management can even be used to reiterate sustainability goals to team members at every stage of a project, tying them to existing targets and deadlines.


3. Follow lean coding practices

Part of the Agile movement, lean coding is a software development approach that emphasizes efficiency, simplicity, and minimal waste. It’s a similar concept to lean manufacturing, only applied to software development rather than physical products. It results in code which delivers value to the end user, while avoiding unnecessary complexity which results in wasted resources.

Mary and Tom Poppendieck outline seven key principles that guide lean software development in their book, Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit:

  • Eliminate waste – don’t produce anything that doesn’t add value
  • Build quality in – ensure that quality is everybody’s responsibility along the delivery pipeline to reduce testing and excessive defect logging
  • Create knowledge – provide an infrastructure to properly document and retain learning for future production runs
  • Defer commitment – keep your options open and only make decisions once the necessary data has been collected to back them up
  • Fast delivery – prioritize speed to put a product in front of the customer quickly, then enhance incrementally based on feedback
  • Respect for people – communicate proactively and effectively, resolve conflicts, and empower each other as a team
  • Optimize the whole – meet quality requirements at every stage, even under the pressure to deliver at speed


4. Adopt renewable energy

Green coding is focused mainly on software design and operation, but there are other changes that your organization can make to further your environmental sustainability efforts on a larger scale. One of these is adopting renewable energy.

Using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power can significantly reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and reduce your carbon footprint. This is a practice that’s being increasingly adopted by businesses across the U.S. as the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources increases.

Additionally, consider hosting your applications and services on virtual private servers (VPS hosting), which can offer energy-efficient solutions by optimizing server utilization and reducing the environmental impact of your software operations.

This can include utilizing cloud-based virtual data rooms for secure storage and collaboration, further minimizing the need for physical hardware and reducing energy consumption. By leveraging virtual data rooms, organizations can not only streamline their document management processes but also contribute to their green coding initiatives by reducing their carbon footprint associated with traditional data storage methods.



5. Shift to microservices

There are two main architectural approaches to software development; monolithic and microservices.

In a monolithic architecture, an entire application is developed as a single unit, with all components and functionality packaged together. This means that if one component experiences high demand, more often than not the entire application must be scaled. This can mean that resources are used less efficiently.

In a microservices architecture, however, an application is broken down into smaller independent services that can be individually deployed and scaled. This leads to better resource utilization, server utilization, and overall greater energy efficiency.

If you want to boost your green coding efforts and you’re currently running a monolithic development architecture, switching to a microservices architecture could be a logical place to start.


6. Use automation

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are two hot-button topics when it comes to saving organizations money. But they can do so much more than powering the chatbot use cases you may have seen.

Many organizations turn to automation to aid their green coding efforts. It allows for the spinning up and shutting down of environments, and helps developers to clean up and minimize code repositories. These practices are vital in reducing unnecessary energy consumption.


79% of companies who’ve implemented robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent process automation (IPA) rank it as being effective or highly effective in advancing their sustainability strategy.


7. Work in the cloud

Utilizing applications that run on distributed cloud infrastructure cuts the amount of data transported over your networks, thereby reducing the network’s overall energy usage. It can also streamline the ways in which you collect data by allowing for processes such as streaming data ingestion.

Cloud providers also employ virtualization, allowing you to run multiple virtual machines on a single physical server. This allows for higher server utilization rates, with workloads from different users or applications sharing the same physical infrastructure. This further reduces the energy consumed by your network.


Develop Applications Sustainably With Green Coding

while simultaneously reducing your costs and helping you to meet your sustainability goals.

There are a large number of ways that you can practice green coding in your projects. Automation, cloud-computing, and microservice architecture are all key approaches that will streamline your processes and reduce your energy consumption.

Of course, getting your developers on board with green coding is much easier if your entire organization adopts a culture geared towards sustainability. Assessing and understanding your environmental impacts, encouraging innovation, and adopting renewable sources of energy are all ways that this can be achieved.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.