GreenCoding: Why Coding Needs To Go ‘Back To The Future’

Pete Coulter, UK Regional Director at GFT explores…

Coded software has dispersed into all aspects of our everyday life. Now, in 2022, thirty years after the boom of IT advancement, businesses are looking for greener ways to sustain technical innovation. It is estimated that by 2025, 25% of global electrical usage will be attributed to the internet.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency says that by 2025, 1% of all global electricity will be consumed by datacentres – as such, the sector must swiftly implement a sustainable approach. Efforts have so far focused on new ‘green tech’. However, it is the code within the tech, not the new technology itself that stands to make immediate environmental savings.

GreenCoding is the discipline of reducing the complexity – but not the functionality – of systems, so that they operate more efficiently. After a generation of applications that prided themselves on coding intricacy, it is time to go back to the future and prioritise simplicity once more, using simpler less complex code as we did 30 years ago. GFT is leading the charge toward IT sustainability, having internally trained 120 GreenCoders to focus on this approach, and is helping other businesses do the same.

To consider how to implement GreenCoding, we must adhere to the principles of green logic and green platforms.

Green logic

To implement GreenCoding sector-wide, we must change the way we approach website, app and software architecture. Just because we have hardware that can run enormous amounts of code, does not mean we need to run such heavy workloads when more energy efficient code will suffice.

A focus on benefit-driven content enables casual browsers and workers alike to access core information faster, saving time and energy costs, inducing quicker conclusions. With the sophistication and integration of coding elements and website content management systems (CMS), there is no reason why web users need to waste additional time searching for the information they require.

With new software development, often the new code is layered on top of, or ‘overlapping’ legacy coding blocks, as the previous code becomes redundant or duplicated. In order to save the energy expenditure of running ‘dead’ code that is no longer required, we need to remove it. Tree-shaking software can do this automatically, or the diligent GreenCoder can undertake this manually, if given the time and resources to do so.

To achieve a greener future in IT, we need to find the balance between quality and energy. File sizes of text, images or video can nearly always be downsized. A simple media compression tool can cut file sizes by more than half, delivering a better user experience (UX), faster navigation and lower energy use. Website developers need to know when to prioritise high-quality multimedia, and when smaller files can achieve the end-user goals.

Having fewer large files means reduced loading times, helps businesses with their search engine optimisation (SEO), whilst simultaneously improves sustainability. The impact of such a simple change cannot be overlooked. By reducing the resolution of screen images on a mobile banking app with 500,000 users, developers could save more than two days of operating time a year, along with the associated energy costs.

Green platforms

Although changing the dynamics of coding is the correct place to start, we must also consider the aptitude of the platforms being used when addressing sustainability in IT.

Host websites, apps and storage can all be overestimated, essentially facilitating the expenditure of unneeded and unutilised resources. This overestimation usually occurs in the planning stage and so developers, marketers and the C-Suite must work cohesively to accurately predict the amounts of storage needed to run specific software across applications.

Many large organisations have historically relied on replicated back-ups of critical systems that are ready to take over if the primary systems were to fail; of course, this consumes a large amount of duplicated resources and energy consumption. Prioritising a green approach, web developers and systems engineers need to track the variation of storage requirements, so that platform storage can be optimised for efficiency year-round.

To further negate the possibility of overestimation, businesses must also consider the traffic and functionality of their systems on personal devices. In the last quarter of 2021, worldwide web use on mobiles outweighed the desktop, with 54.4% of web use occurring on personal devices. Businesses must accept this transition and adjust their platforms accordingly to be as energy efficient as possible.

Using the foundational principles above will be critical to turning IT into a greener sector. Instead of prioritising product innovation, compute power, and extra functionality, we should go back to basics, building sustainable software from the ground up. Whilst designed to achieve the required functionality, code should be created as efficient as possible, limiting environmental impact first and foremost. As the practice of GreenCoding progresses to become the ‘new normal’ for IT, both local and global companies should get on board to support the drive towards a greener and more sustainable future.