Sustainable software products—Towards assessment criteria for resource and energy efficiency

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Eva Kern
  • Lorenz M. Hilty
  • Achim Guldner
  • Yuliyan V. Maksimov
  • Andreas Filler
  • Jens Gröger
  • Stefan Naumann

Many authors have proposed criteria to assess the “environmental friendliness” or “sustainability” of software products. However, a causal model that links observable properties of a software product to conditions of it being green or (more general) sustainable is still missing. Such a causal model is necessary because software products are intangible goods and, as such, only have indirect effects on the physical world. In particular, software products are not subject to any wear and tear, they can be copied without great effort, and generate no waste or emissions when being disposed of. Viewed in isolation, software seems to be a perfectly sustainable type of product. In real life, however, software products with the same or similar functionality can differ substantially in the burden they place on natural resources, especially if the sequence of released versions and resulting hardware obsolescence is taken into account. In this article, we present a model describing the causal chains from software products to their impacts on natural resources, including energy sources, from a life-cycle perspective. We focus on (i) the demands of software for hardware capacities (local, remote, and in the connecting network) and the resulting hardware energy demand, (ii) the expectations of users regarding such demands and how these affect hardware operating life, and (iii) the autonomy of users in managing their software use with regard to resource efficiency. We propose a hierarchical set of criteria and indicators to assess these impacts. We demonstrate the application of this set of criteria, including the definition of standard usage scenarios for chosen categories of software products. We further discuss the practicability of this type of assessment, its acceptability for several stakeholders and potential consequences for the eco-labeling of software products and sustainable software design.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFuture Generation Computer Systems
Pages (from-to)199-210
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2018

    Research areas

  • Energy-aware software, Environmental criteria for software, Green software, Model of software impacts, Resource efficiency, Sustainability indicators
  • Informatics