When it comes to environmental stewardship, I have always felt a vague satisfied smugness when I compare the software industry that I work in to a host of other industries. After all, unlike a car dealership selling gas guzzlers, my industry comes up with tools to keep people from travelling like video conferencing and cheap phone calls. And I have to admit - my company’s footprint is pretty darn small. We e-fax, we web conference, we generate electronic contracts, we email invoices. And no one could possibly begrudge me a little self-congratulation for whipping up notepad or excel on my computer when brainstorming instead of a pen and paper.

But some of that smugness evaporated when I read a recent Gartner study stating that the information and communications technology (ICT) industry accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions - on par with the aviation industry! Within the ICT industry, 40% of emissions are from PCs and monitors and a solid 23% from data centers. So what does this mean for web software developers like us at Lance Technologies? I jotted down (in notepad, of course) the obvious countermeasures:

1. Strategic server provisioning. We have paid little attention to server sprawl. Only a couple months ago, we fired up five servers - one per application! The solution: more strategic thinking - for instance, is virtual private server technology better suited to host multiple applications on one server?

2. Evalutate new technology such as virtualization. We need to be better at evaluating processing loads and using virtualization technology to consolidate servers.

3. Do we really have to keep workstations on all night? No, so we won’t.

After the obvious items, I began wondering about the value of frugal application design. I recall developing web apps a few years ago when 56k modems were still a big part of the landscape. I remember serious attention being paid to web optimization. Then broadband came - speed at work, speed at home, speed with an aircard in the middle of a field - and we became lax in design. It’s not uncommon to see web applications using PNGs instead of optimized JPGs or GIFs. Similarly, often only cursory evaluation of the efficiency of presentation layer code is done. (”Might CSS have been better than using excessive nested tables?”). The same analysis holds true of backend code. If you can do something in five lines, don’t be a slob (mentally and environmentally) and use fifteen! Lastly, “frugal design” also means desiging applications that are not gold-plated with excessive, rarely-used features. The more “stuff”, the more processing, the greater the CO2 footprint, and all for naught!

4. Frugal Design as a Mantra. At Lance Technologies, we have still kept up with the “frugal design” ideology - vaguely. But it needs to be articulated and made tangible.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person to have this thought. Steve Souders performed an intriguing thought experiment that suggests that if Wikipedia web optimized its home page (expires header for better caching), it could save 500-1,000 pounds of CO2 annually. As Steve so aptly put it, “Make your pages faster. It’s good for your users, good for you, and good for Mother Earth. (High Performance Web Sites Blog)”

And that brings me to Part II of this Environmental Stewardship miniseries: Technology, Poverty, Stewardship: Life Lesson from “My Name is Earl”