Carbon Footprint In Technology

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🧑‍💻 Rubén Sánchez
📆 May 2nd, 2022

Many actions related with just living like travelling, eating or going to the bath contribute to the carbon footprint. It's your carbon footprint.

Greenhouse gases are emitted through the production and consumption of goods and services. Carbon footprint is a concept used to quantify the impact of an activity, person, organization or country on the climate change.

Technology also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. Technology, is the basis of the modern world and we have to contribute on first, to being aware of its impact and second, to study how to minimize this impact.

How much carbon is emitted to produce a t-shirt, meal or phone? It will depend on production and consumption choices. If we take the example of transport, taking the plane emits 285g of carbon per kilometre, compared to 104g for a car and 14g for a train. The same goes for the type of meat or fish you eat or the type of jeans you buy.

Footprint in the code

An interesting post from the author of Mailchimp Wordpress Plugin it makes us aware that the footprint we are leaving, comes from huge invisible and unconscious actions.

At this post Danny explains how he reduced global emissions by an estimated 59.000 kg CO2 per month by removing a 20 kB JavaScript dependency in Mailchimp for WordPress. As he said, "There’s no way we can have that kind of effect in other areas of our life."

But he goes further, because we can do something as software engineers. According to httparchive.org, the average website on desktop is about 4 times as large as in 2010. On mobile, where data transfer is way more expensive in terms of energy usage, the numbers look even worse: from 200 kB up to a whopping 1,9 MB!

The internet as a whole currently accounts for 2% of global emissions. That's the same as all global aviation.

At the end, his conclusion is overwhelming. As web developers we have a responsibility to stop this madness. Did websites really get 4 times as good? Is this motherfuckingwebsite clocking in at 5 kB in total really that bad in comparison?

Tools for reduce footprint

The main tool, if you have a job related with IT is optimizing resources. Resources that, although they are cheap and ethereal, end up in an excessive consumption of energy and in a considerable and exponential footprint increase.

In this ethical duality that the current economic system presents, some cloud providers are taking big efforts to offset their footprint or offer tools to monitor our pollution. That is the case of Cloudflare that last year become Carbon Neutral or Amazon which has build a Carbon Footprint Tool.

This tool helps you meet your own sustainability goals, and is available to all AWS customers at no cost. To access the calculator, just open the AWS Billing Console and click Cost & Usage Reports. You will be able to see time period with month-level granularity, and also a carbon emissions summary, geographic, and per-service form.

Also, at ethical.net you can find excellent posts about how to make technology more ethical. There are plenty of companies that are looking to not just to offer technology solutions but also reduce the footprint.

Today the true software craftsman knows that craftsmanship must be in balance with ethics. Despite having jobs where the impact of our carbon footprint is not visible, we cannot ignore our big responsibility.

Rubén Sánchez

Founding member of The Crafters Lab

Rubén is a software developer and founding member of The Crafters Lab.

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