So far, sustainability in IT has generally focused on hardware systems and their energy requirements. Software sustainability has tended to be left by the wayside, owing to a lack of established methods and standards to assess applications’ environmental impact. If companies do provide such information, it is difficult to compare and determine whether it might be a form of greenwashing. The ECO:DIGIT project is set to change all that.
The German Informatics Society, the Oeko-Institut, the Open Source Business Alliance, adesso and Siemens intend to create a platform that provides detailed and transparent information about the ecological footprint of software applications. The assessment process will take into account not only the resources consumed by applications and their underlying operating environments, but also the utilisation of raw materials and chemicals in producing, transporting and disposing of the hardware required to run the applications on end devices, at computer centres, on cloud infrastructure and in edge computing. The project stems from an idea proposed by adesso and has financial backing from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) as part of the GreenTech Innovation Challenge.
The platform will give businesses reliable data on the sustainability of their software applications and make it easier for them to optimise their approach. They can then determine with greater precision which applications have a particularly large impact on the environment, whether computing operations should be carried out on the client or the server, or whether an application must be backward compatible to avoid replacing large volumes of hardware. The information is also a valuable aid when it comes to meeting regulatory sustainability requirements and preparing sustainability reports.
ECO:DIGIT is managed by the German Informatics Society, which, together with the Oeko-Institut, the Open Source Business Alliance and Siemens, will mainly focus on the evaluation methodology and compiling the necessary values. adesso will concentrate on developing the digital test bench, which will aggregate and evaluate all the data. The IT service provider’s tasks also include preparing the architecture and operating concept and selecting suitable technologies.
“Service companies, where IT systems account for a large portion of their ecological footprint, are in particular need of sound information on the resources consumed by their software applications, especially if they are looking to become greener,” says Dr Angela Carell, Head of adesso research. “Since objective and standardised assessment methods have been lacking in the field so far, dedicated associations and companies have now joined forces to develop them. The funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action shows how important the project is to the economy.”
“Sustainability is a new quality criterion for software – much like stability, security, performance and usability,” says Thomas Bendig, Chief Innovation Officer at adesso. “With the ECO:DIGIT project, we want to enable companies and developers to measure, evaluate and optimise this metric of software quality. We envisage seeing the adesso-developed test bench integrated into development processes, allowing developers to test the sustainability of their applications and make better decisions. At the same time, the data will also help application companies to compare the solutions of different software providers.”