Sustainable IT Procurement: What Is It Anyway?

Johannes Bock 7/20/2023

In this article, you will learn what sustainable IT procurement is, its relevance, and what you should pay attention to.

Table of contents
  1. The Green Software Concept
  2. Cloud Computing as a sustainable software solution
  3. Eco labels and standards for sustainable software
  4. Continuing education programs for sustainable software development
  5. Conclusion on sustainable IT procurement
  6. Tools for your sustainability management

Sustainability is a growing issue at all levels, but one aspect is often overlooked: the software! The integration of ecological and social aspects into the software purchasing process is becoming increasingly important for companies aiming for sustainable business.

Why is this topic relevant? Our world is increasingly determined by digital technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, or blockchain, the energy demand for these technologies is immense. Studies show that for example, training the AI behind ChatGPT required 1.3 – 7.5 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy. 1.3 MWh is enough to power an average US household for 120 years.

So, what steps must you, as a CIO or IT purchaser, take to introduce sustainable practices into the procurement process? From the inclusion of relevant criteria in purchasing guidelines, where tools like Softwaregini can help, to collaboration with sustainable suppliers and the consideration of the entire lifecycle of IT products, there are various ways to integrate ecological and social aspects. Today, we present to you some key approaches and measures that CIOs and IT buyers can take to promote sustainable IT procurement and achieve long-term benefits for companies and the environment.

The Green Software Concept

The Green Software Concept refers to the approach of making software development and use more environmentally friendly and sustainable. It aims to reduce the environmental impact of software and promote resource efficiency. The Green Software Concept covers various aspects, including Energy Efficiency, Virtualization and Cloud Computing, Green Data Centers, and fundamentally sustainable software development methods. Below, we would like to introduce some of these concepts in brief.

Energy Efficiency and Carbon Efficiency

Green Software aims to develop energy-efficient software and reduce the energy consumption of data centers. Through code optimization, efficient data management, and the use of energy-efficient algorithms, the energy consumption of software can be reduced. At the same time, software solutions can help optimize cooling requirements and load distribution in data centers.

The value of Energy Efficiency refers to the evaluation and selection of energy-efficient software solutions. By energy efficiency testing, considering energy consumption in requirements, and selecting energy-efficient software providers, energy consumption can be further reduced.

Carbon Efficiency, in the context of sustainable software procurement, refers to the evaluation and selection of software solutions based on their carbon emissions. It takes into account the entire life cycle of the software and evaluates its impact on the environment, especially the CO₂ footprint.

Hardware Efficiency and Virtualization

Hardware efficiency, as the name suggests, refers to the evaluation and selection of energy-efficient hardware and optimal resource utilization. By using virtualization, hardware usage can be increased, which reduces the number of physical servers and thus leads to less resource consumption.

Virtualization is a technology where a physical resource, like a server, is divided into various virtual resources. This allows multiple operating systems and applications to run on a single physical server, maximizing resource utilization and lowering (environmental) costs.

For efficient hardware usage, you can rely on providers who focus on energy efficiency and consider energy consumption in the requirements for the hardware infrastructure.

Green Data Centers

Green Data Centers, also referred to as green server farms, are data centers designed to reduce energy consumption and be more environmentally friendly. They use various technologies and practices to maximize energy efficiency and minimize the ecological footprint.

Some characteristics of Green Data Centers include:

  • Use of energy-efficient hardware and cooling technologies to lower energy consumption.
  • Use of renewable energy sources such as solar power or wind energy to meet power needs.
  • Virtualization and consolidation of servers to improve utilization and efficiency.
  • Efficient energy management through monitoring, measuring, and optimizing energy consumption.
  • Waste heat utilization, in which the heat generated by operation is used for other purposes, such as for space heating.

Green Data Centers help to reduce the CO₂ emissions and the ecological impact of data centers, which pose a potential environmental burden due to their high energy requirements.

Cloud Computing as a sustainable software solution

What if, instead of using your own internal IT infrastructure (on-premise), you use resources from the cloud?

Cloud computing is a concept where computer resources like computing power, storage space, and applications are provided over the internet. Instead of using local infrastructure, companies can access the services of a cloud provider and scale as needed. Cloud computing offers advantages like scalability, flexibility, and cost efficiency, but can also bring sustainability benefits.

But how sustainable is working with cloud computing really? We will show you the potential advantages and challenges of cloud computing with regard to sustainability.

Advantages of cloud software compared to on-premise servers

By sharing physical resources in the data centers of cloud providers, resource optimization is improved. This enables more efficient hardware utilization compared to on-premise solutions.

Large cloud providers invest in energy-efficient data centers with advanced cooling systems and optimized energy management. Through the consolidation of servers and the use of energy-efficient infrastructure, cloud platforms can reduce energy consumption and thus contribute to sustainability. In contrast, the operation of on-premise solutions requires a lot of expertise in configuration and sustainability requirements only increase the complexity.

Another potential advantage of cloud providers is the use of renewable energies. Many big cloud providers have committed to using renewable energy for their data centers. This contributes to the reduction of the CO₂ footprint and supports a cleaner energy supply.

Demand Shifting

If suddenly more power is needed – for example, to train AI models – this power often comes from a power plant that can be flexibly ramped up or down. Since power plants that operate with fossil fuels have a high level of flexibility, peak loads are often balanced with fossil energy. Accordingly, carbon intensity increases when additional energy demands are covered by fossil power plants.

However, those who can flexibly control their energy demand according to the carbon intensity of the energy sources are more climate conscious. With software solutions in the cloud, there is often a lot of flexibility with regard to the time (temporarily) and the place (spatially) at which workloads are executed. If this flexibility is utilized, this is often referred to as so-called “Demand Shifting”.

Studies show that these measures can reduce carbon emissions by a whole 45 % to 99 % depending on how many renewable energies are connected to the data centers.

Definition Box: Spatial Demand Shifting: Spatial shifting could, for example, switch hemispheres depending on the season to benefit from more sunlight.

Definition Box: Temporary Demand Shifting: With temporary shifting, you shift your demand to a different time of day when the sun is shining more or the wind is blowing stronger and the carbon intensity is therefore lower. Thanks to advancements in weather prediction, we can now predict future carbon intensity quite well.

Demand Shaping

The Demand Shifting strategy is to shift computations to regions or times when the carbon intensity is lowest. A similar strategy is Demand Shaping. However, instead of shifting the demand to another region or time, we adapt our calculations to the available supply.

The well-known Eco-Mode is an example of Demand Shaping. We also encounter this in everyday life with cars or washing machines. When you switch on the Eco-Mode, you consume fewer resources but sacrifice some performance. So, you have a choice.

Software applications can also have Eco-Modes, which automatically or with your consent make decisions to reduce carbon emissions. An example of this is video conferencing software that automatically adjusts streaming quality. It reduces video quality to prioritize audio quality in case of poor internet connection.

Demand Shaping is part of the larger concept of sustainability, which is about consuming less. We can achieve a lot by becoming more efficient, but at some point, we also need to actively consume less. As Green-Software practitioners, we would stop a process when carbon intensity is high, rather than shifting the demand. This reduces both our application demands and the expectations of our users.

Eco labels and standards for sustainable software

With all the aspects you can consider for sustainable IT, sometimes it's hard to see what makes sense and what doesn't. But don't panic, there are various environmental labels, standards, and certifications that can support you in selecting and developing sustainable software. These certifications and standards are developed by independent organizations and serve as proof of environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions.

However, it is important to note that certifications for green software development are still in a very early stage and there are hardly any standards yet. The development of such standards and criteria is still underway, to better assess and certify the environmental compatibility of software. Therefore, the available environmental labels and certifications can vary in their requirements and evaluation criteria.

Nevertheless, these certifications and environmental labels can and should gradually serve as a guide to identify and select sustainable software solutions. They help in considering the ecological footprint of software products and provide some guidance in decision-making. It is advisable to check the exact awards criteria and approaches of the respective certifications and to keep up to date with current developments in this area.

Blue Angel

The ‘Blue Angel’ environmental label is a German certification that checks various products and services, including software, for their environmental friendliness. The award guidelines for software products cover various aspects such as energy efficiency, resource conservation, emission reduction, data protection and data security as well as user-friendliness.

The criteria stipulate, for example, that the software should minimize energy consumption and use energy efficient algorithms. They also demand the reduction of resource consumption, the implementation of security measures, and the protection of personal data. In addition, requirements for documentation and user-friendliness are set.

The universal document viewer Okular, developed by the ‘Free Software Brotherhood KDE’, was the first software product to receive the new environmental label. The Blue Angel recognized Okular for its energy efficiency, resource conservation, and transparent interfaces, making it the world's first eco-certified computer program.

Green Software Design Label

The Green Software Design Label (GSD-Label) is a certification system that aims to promote and mark sustainable and environmentally friendly design of software products.

The label serves as an assessment instrument with which software developers and providers can demonstrate their commitment to green and sustainable software design. It aims to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly software design and enable companies to communicate their efforts in this regard. The GSD Label is intended to offer environmental benefits such as a visible contribution to climate protection and energy savings. It is also intended to convey economic benefits such as more efficient software, savings in operation and development, and a positive external perception.

The certification confirms that best practices for reducing the CO₂ footprint were applied in the conception and development of the software.

Continuing education programs for sustainable software development

Currently, there is no specific, universally recognized certification for software engineers in the field of sustainable software development. However, there are various options for software engineers to expand their knowledge and skills in this area. Looking at the growing demand and awareness of companies and users, which is becoming increasingly sharper, the field of sustainable software development will become more relevant in the coming years.

Anyone who is on this side of the coin and wants to be part of sustainable software developments can participate in trainings, courses, or certification programs that deal with sustainable software development. There are organizations and educational institutions that offer trainings and certifications in the areas of Green IT, sustainable software development, or environmentally friendly technologies.

The course The Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering by Microsoft, for example, includes various learning modules that explain the importance of sustainability in software development, introduce best practices for sustainable software development, and address resource optimization, energy efficiency, and other environmentally friendly aspects.

Another opportunity is offered by the course Sustainable Software Engineering from the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI). The course is offered online via the platform ‘openHPI’ and is aimed at software developers, IT professionals and other interested individuals who want to learn more about sustainable software development. The course covers the basics and principles of sustainable software engineering and addresses topics like energy efficiency, resource optimization, Green IT, software lifecycle, and best practices for environmentally friendly software development. It consists of video lessons, practical exercises, and quiz questions to assess the participants' knowledge.

The course is free of charge and can be completed by participants at their own pace. It provides a good opportunity to raise awareness of sustainable software development and to learn concrete measures to develop more environmentally friendly software.

Just as you check whether the staff of the software manufacturer undergo regular Data Protection trainings when choosing new software products, you can also ask for proof of regular Green IT trainings.

Conclusion on sustainable IT procurement

The sustainable software development and IT procurement is an interdisciplinary topic that goes beyond the sole responsibility of software engineers, CIOs, and IT buyers. Collaboration with professionals from other areas such as environmental management, energy efficiency, or sustainability management is essential to obtain a comprehensive understanding and expertise in the development and procurement of sustainable software and its demands.


Tools for your sustainability management

Are you interested in Softwares and tools for your sustainability management? Then check out OMR Reviews, where you'll find some exciting tools. We've put together a small selection for you here.

Johannes Bock
Johannes Bock

Johannes Bock, Co-Gründer von Softwaregini, ist erfahrener IT-Experte im Bereich IT-Strategie und IT-Beschaffung. Er begleitete bereits zahlreiche Unternehmen im DACH-Raum bei der Entwicklung ihrer IT-Zielbilder und Technologie-Auswahl. Mit Softwaregini unterstützt er nun IT-Abteilungen bei der Umsetzung ihrer Ziele über den Software-Auswahl-Prozess.

All Articles of Johannes Bock

Software mentioned in the article

Product categories mentioned in the article

Related articles

Join the OMR Reviews community to not miss any news and specials around the software seeking landscape.