Software Design for Sustainability
Why sustainability matters
Whether or not you believe in climate change or think it’s a hoax, one thing is for sure: the life on planet Earth as we know it, isn’t sustainable. We are polluting and using too much while producing and preserving too little. This has ultimately led to a disbalance in the powers that keep life as we know it viable. Whether it’s extreme droughts, forest fires, unprecedented temperature highs and lows, or natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, the planet is trying to send us a message – change the way you live or suffer the consequences.
What is sustainability, really?
Well summed up by Nathan Shedroff, the author of Design is the Problem, ‘sustainability is an approach to design and development that focuses on environmental, social and financial factors that are often never addressed.’ In its theoretical definition, sustainability’s focus is on designing and developing solutions that improve life on Earth by making the most out of our natural resources, while ensuring their continued survival and, likewise, the survival of the species.
What do sustainability and software have in common?
Software solutions are used to manage people, resources, and processes today. While it can be difficult to grasp that software can be environmentally biased, the way it ultimately serves us has wide-ranging implications for the health of the planet, and for society as a vital part of it.
Apps, websites, enterprise software systems, IoT algorithms, AI algorithms, and any kind of code that’s used to manage business transactions today, has the potential of being less or more sustainable, whether its purpose is directly related to environmental considerations, or not. Is sustainability a concern that software designers and developers should keep in mind, going forward? The answer – absolutely! By designing and building IT solutions that help us preserve, reuse and replenish natural resources, we can ensure the longevity of our forever home, and the perpetuation of our species. What could be more important than that?!
Criteria for sustainable solutions
Software aside, for a system or a solution to be considered ‘sustainable’ according to modern definitions, it needs to meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Lowers or at least neutralizes carbon emissions
- Helps improve societal well-being by enabling more nutritious, replenishable nourishment
- Encourages reusing, recycling or exchanging of goods (carbon-neutral activities)
- Reduces non-compostable waste
- Discourages overconsumption
- Helps replenish natural resources
- Creates conditions for the preservation of all species
- Encourages sourcing goods locally
What does sustainable software look like?
Some apps and products are more sustainable than others by intention, though to varying degrees. Using a scooter-sharing app is more sustainable than using a ride-sharing app, which is more sustainable than using a taxi, but less sustainable than using the bus. Still, if taxi ordering apps feature the option of sharing rides with others, this would make them slightly more sustainable, as customers would now have the option to reduce their carbon footprint.
What’s ultimately good for the planet is good for the consumer, too, and we need to get out of the old-fashioned mindset that we shouldn’t have to endure even the slightest inconvenience to help save the planet. The truth is that we can only collectively make a difference, not by engaging in massive gestures but by doing our own small parts, day after day. As popular sustainability wisdom goes, we must all do an imperfect job of being sustainable rather than strive for perfection, 100% of the time – that is not only unrealistic, but also very intimidating to many.
Selecting a sustainability-minded software partner
When selecting a development company to work with, there are some questions that can help you discover more about their commitment to sustainability and whether they are living and breathing these principles:
What are some ways that you have built in sustainability into your company culture or way of work?
Examples include a home office policy that’s observed rather than just touted, a commitment to eliminate single-use plastics at the office, a commitment to reduce printing, providing electric vehicles or hybrids to employees as company cars, and more.
How can you help us be more sustainable with the solution we are building?
Depending on the type of software, website or app you aim to build, there are different sustainable options that can be integrated. The goal of these would be to encourage behaviors that are in line with bettering our health and the environment.
Whether this includes flashing a reminder pop-up about saving paper when the print button is clicked, providing a way for consumers to recycle packaging, reuse an existing product or bike instead of drive, there is almost always a way to design a more sustainable, future-minded software product, app or website.
Verhaert Digital is a development partner who would gladly have the sustainability discussion with you. Contact us to find out why we think this is important.