Assessing the environmental impact of software

Efficiency Angel

Article from Issue 258/2022
Author(s):

Germany created Blue Angel, the world's first eco-label for software, back in 2000. The methodology behind Blue Angel could serve as a model for other countries as governments turn their attention to the environmental impact of software.

It is one of those annoying things that I hope consumers will never get used to, nor should they accept it. A device that costs a large amount of money is suddenly no longer of use simply because the required security update is not available. Or perhaps the new application software needs more powerful components or the interfaces are incompatible with other devices? In all these cases, consumers have no option but to replace devices that are actually still working. In other words, the software forces an unnecessary upgrade to the hardware. This common scenario can lead to significant waste of energy and raw materials.

The greatest environmental impact from information and communications technology products happens during the manufacturing process. A rumor still persists that replacing existing technology with more energy-efficient technology is good for climate protection, but the truth is, considerably higher CO2 emissions are produced during manufacture of that "energy efficient" device than during use, so in many cases, the best thing you can do for the environment is keep using the device you already have rather than drive demand for more production.

Now you could argue that short replacement cycles would not be so bad if accompanied with an effective program for recycling. But, in practice, recycling processes do not exist for some metals, which means that valuable materials are irretrievably lost when you throw away a computer. Large quantities of electronic scrap ends up in landfills.

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