David Mytton

What is sustainable computing?

Published in Data Center Energy, Data Center Water, Environment.

What is sustainable computing?

I’ve started maintaining a website page of interesting and useful resources related to sustainable computing. The first part of that involves defining what sustainable computing is.

My definition is below.

What is sustainable computing?

Sustainable computing concerns the consumption of computing resources in a way that means such usage has a net zero impact on the environment, a broad concept that includes energy, ecosystems, pollution and natural resources. 

I consider that individual impact on the environment rounds to zero because although some people will change their behaviour, most won’t. This means that systems need to change. Energy production, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture. The transition to sustainability needs to be done on behalf of the individual by the system and at a large scale, so individuals can benefit from that change by default.

In computing, this means the organisations responsible for manufacturing components, building equipment, writing software, operating data centres, and running networks have responsibility for achieving sustainability.

Sustainability strategies in computing tend to focus on energy and the transition to renewables – the use stage. This is important, but not the only factor. 

Sustainable computing therefore involves not just renewable energy, but also minimising water stress, developing policies around the right to repair and recycling of materials through a circular economy, energy efficiency of hardware and software, promoting good governance of resources, transparency, and consistent reporting.

Check out the sustainable computing page for links to useful communities, data, papers, reports, and tools, and some brief comments on each.