Can software save the planet?

Software's capacity to model solutions to complex problems, enhance communication and enable e-commerce should help cut carbon emissions

The software industry may not be the first sector that springs to mind when thinking of those companies committed to tackling climate change, but software developers can make an important contribution to curbing carbon emissions, according to a new report by US industry body Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).

The report identified four main areas where the software industry can help cut greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that their unique nature meant that software firms needed to develop their own corporate and social reponsibility strategies, rather than adapt those used by other sectors.

First, the report argued that more effective information storage and presentation could help managers understand the challenge of redistributing resources to maximise carbon efficiency.

Second, it predicted that computerised simulation models could help policy makers understand what affects certain decisions might have on carbon emissions and weather systems.

Improved online communication was also highlighted as a means of cutting down on both business and leisure travel, while the report argued that the continued expansion of e-commerce business models will become increasingly vital to improving the efficiency of retail operations - cutting carbon emissions at the same time as saving time and money for sustainability projects.

"There are signs that these new applications are emerging and that they will profoundly transform economies, cultures and individuals over the long term," the report said.

Cody Sisco, BSR's manager for advisory services, said that the software industry had a "responsibility" to deliver these solutions as soon as possible.

The report was developed in collaboration with a number of software companies including Adobe, Autodesk, HP, McAfee, Microsoft, SAP and Symantec.

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