While it's most certainly not on individuals to single-handedly reverse climate change, it can feel good to take actions that make a positive impact on the environment. And for programmers and software developers, specifically, there are a few easy changes we can make to our day-to-day that'll help us be more sustainable in our consumption and development of tech.
From browsing the internet with a tree-planting search engine to lending your skills to environmental open-source projects, here's a list of ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and become a more sustainable programmer.
1. Browse the internet with Ecosia
Programmers quickly learn to turn to Google when they're stuck on a coding problem, whether they’re trying to resolve an error or find a helpful snippet to plug into their codebase. But our Googling comes at a cost, because every single internet search produces carbon dioxide.
Instead of using Google, try switching to Ecosia, a search engine that relies entirely on renewable energy and dedicates 80% of its profits to fighting deforestation.
Deforestation is the destruction of our forests, and it’s a major contributor to climate change. Switching your go-to search engine is a small action that can make a substantial difference: Ecosia has planted over 148 million trees to help save our forests, approximately one for every 45 searches performed on the site.
2. Contribute to environmental open-source projects
Open-source projects are always looking for contributors. With projects focused on the environment, you get to work with like-minded programmers, and write code that helps support all kinds of climate initiatives. (Not to mention, you'll also gain valuable experience that could help you build out your portfolio and land a job.)
You can find hundreds of environmental open-source projects under climate change on GitHub, whether you’re interested in creating scalable climate models, analyzing weather data, or working in any other aspect of climate tech. The online index Open Sustainable Technology keeps a running list of open-source projects specific to climate tech and recruiting participants. You can also find open-source opportunities on social media, especially on Twitter.
3. Repair devices instead of replacing them
If you’re someone who instinctively replaces your devices when they break or become slow, consider sending it in for repairs instead. Tech production comes at great cost to our planet, from the collection of raw materials to the carbon emissions produced by manufacturing and transportation. By repairing your broken tech, you're helping reduce the demand for new devices and the amount of e-waste that's damaging our planet. And in many cases, repairing your device is a more affordable and eco-friendly option than buying new ones.
Some handy folks or hobbyists might want to take it a step further and try fixing the problem on their own. The platform iFixit offers free repair guides for a wide range of devices, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and gaming consoles. Each guide explains which tools you'll need (and where to find them) and how long it'll take to perform your task. They even provide a difficulty rating to help you gauge whether or not the problem is worth tackling yourself.
4. Be responsible with your e-waste
E-waste — that is, discarded electronic devices — is a growing problem. Studies show that only 17% of all the e-waste produced worldwide in 2019 was properly recycled, leaving the rest to end up in landfills, where harmful materials like lead, mercury, and arsenic seep into our environment.
Manufacturers can reuse recycled materials and components (like metal, plastic, and batteries) to create new devices, which helps conserve our raw natural resources and reduce our carbon footprint. So before you throw away your old iPhone, try to find an e-waste recycling facility in your area. Some retailers (like BestBuy and Staples) and manufacturers (like Samsung and Apple) allow you to drop off or mail in your old devices. If you live in the U.S., the EPA offers a list of organizations that can help you recycle your e-waste.
5. Buy refurbished tech
When the time comes to replace your old tech, consider buying a refurbished device instead of a brand new one. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google offer refurbished products at discounted rates, along with warranties that’ll help protect you if anything goes awry.
You might hesitate, worrying that a refurbished product might come with some critical flaw or not function as well as a new one. But there's a difference between "refurbished" and "used." Refurbished products are typically returned soon after purchase, and they're tested and repaired by their manufacturer to ensure proper functionality. That means you can get a like-new device while avoiding the environmental costs of production and saving older devices from becoming e-waste in landfills.
6. Follow sustainable software design principles
Regardless of your specific company or role, you can help build greener, more eco-friendly software. Asim Hussain, green cloud advocacy lead at Microsoft, created a framework of sustainable software design principles to help developers make their applications more efficient and minimize their carbon emissions.
These principles range from energy consumption to hardware utility and data transmission. At its core, sustainable software design means coding with the environment in mind.
Looking for more ways to help protect our planet? Check out our Learn to Fight Climate Change course.