Green Software and Hardware Obsolescence

Play this article

Table of contents

No heading

No headings in the article.

Our software is virtual, can seem abstract but it is at the heart of social injustices, armed conflicts, and a pollution epidemic poisoning soil, waters, children.

Software, with all its wonderful conveniences and indulgences, drives the manufacture of ever newer gadgets, which includes the extraction of precious and rare metals from the earth, often in conflict zones, and with tremendous ecological and social impact.

Software too drives their forced and premature obsolescence, as newer and newer APIs demand more and more powerful device defaults, meaning that the rich simply discard gadget after gadget, often in perfectly working order, because devices become simply too slow or battery intensive to run newer operating systems, web apis and more powerful applications. The poor, who can't afford to upgrade, whether that is farmers in Kenya or local authorities in England, simply miss out, and reconcile themselves to digital exclusion, security vulnerabilities, and performance restrictions.

The vast, vast majority of the electronic waste of perfectly working hardware driven by our software designs is never recycled, and a significant proportion of what is "recycled" is in fact simply dumped, in Africa, India, China. Without proper disposal mechanisms, regulatory frameworks or enforcement mechanisms, the waste full of poisonous lead, lithium, mercury and more, seeps into the soil and water and generates brain damage in the children who play and drink and occasionally work in the wasting regions.

Again, you might ask, as a technologist, business or NGO harnessing technology for positive purposes, what this has to do with you, since you've never been near a mine, have no idea how to make people recycle their devices safely, and can't control the demand for novelty and power. You are not a politician or aid worker.

And yet you can probably do more than most politicians and aid workers.

There are ways of designing our software that allow us to tap into the latest capabilities of hardware, operating systems and the web API, without killing the planet and poisoning children. In the following presentation, created for the Code For All Summit, I propose 4 principles that can help you both, enjoy your work as a technologist and build amazing apps with bells and whistles... and sleep well at night as a responsible global citizen.

1) Green By Default 2) Green Mode Design 3) Green Partnerships 4) Green Voice

The presentation below (best viewed on desktop) guides you to 3 questions each you can ask your dev team and your product team to ensure the apps you build are not built at the expense of our planet, or of people's lives. Let me know your thoughts!