The rise of the green software developer

In this guest post, Donna Lyndsay, head of innovation at the national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, on the role software developers and data scientists must play in the creation of sustainable tech solutions to the climate crisis

As the effects of the climate crisis continue to demonstrate the need for urgent action, governments, industries and individuals are increasingly seeking to implement more sustainable practices, initiatives and behaviours. Governments around the world are creating legislation and regulations to reduce carbon emissions. Businesses are reacting to pressure from stakeholders to ramp up environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) programmes, and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of small changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

These elements create a collective effort to create a more sustainable world, but to truly accelerate our response to the climate emergency, innovation must be prioritised. Today, the key drivers of innovation are technology and data, which is why software developers and data scientists are now on the front line when it comes to the creation of sustainable solutions across industries.

Opportunities for developers

As with governments, businesses and individuals, developers are being increasingly incentivised by sustainability-focused projects, with many motivated to ‘do good’ in their work. Ordnance Survey’s recent survey found that 54% out of 500 developers surveyed said they like to be part of the greater good and make a difference. Many developers believe their work helps achieve sustainability goals, with 94% having their own ideas for developing sustainability projects, showing that they are highly engaged with the process.

Opportunities for developers to bring their enthusiasm and skill to sustainability projects is also increasing. With a focus on environmental sustainability to alleviate climate change, the UK government’s Green Industrial Revolution plan tackles areas like energy sources, tree planting and transport emissions. This includes phasing out the sale of standard petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and achieving zero exhaust emissions by 2035. Sustainability projects currently involving developers stretch across all the major areas identified by COP26; from legal and construction to banking and sustainable development, with 63% of respondents anticipating the latter to remain the main focus.

Unlocking innovation with geospatial data

While developers enjoy sustainability-focused work, there are challenges that come with such projects, beyond the standard deadline and budget pressures. The main challenge to overcome, as with many projects, is gaining access to trusted data that is easy to use. Until recent times, geospatial data was incredibly difficult to access and use. To harness this data, the ability to work with complex file formats and a knowledge of geographical nomenclature were essential, but today such data is much more accessible through the likes of APIs and more user-friendly file formats. This is a boon for sustainability projects, which typically involve physical spaces, such as sites for energy or transport infrastructure. In every case, the context of the land or asset, and its surrounding environment, must be fully taken into account, which is where accurate geospatial data becomes essential.

Today, with a wealth of platforms, services, and geospatial data providers available, software developers working on sustainability projects can readily harness accurate data—from 3D terrain data to topography layers—to develop and enhance solutions.

Creating a sustainable mindset with geospatial data

As geospatial data helps us to understand the physical environment, its application for helping us understand our impact on the environment is clear. People are inherently visual creatures and if they can see the cause and effect in a situation, such as the affect rising temperatures are having on our land and homes, they are more likely to take positive action. This is where research around climate change can quite often fall down, as people can’t be told the narrative through numbers alone; data visualisation is essential.

A compelling example of how data visualisation can be used is a tool developed by data scientists at EarthSense. Using pollution data from across London, the team created a pollution map that allows people to enter their postcodes to find out if they live in a highly polluted area. By doing this, people can see the data in action, make informed decisions about their future and alter behaviours that might contribute to the problem.

This is just one example of why developers have an important role to play in bringing sustainability concepts to life, allowing people to truly engage with information through practical and accessible tools. It also reveals how data can empower people with the knowledge and understanding needed to create a more sustainable world.

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