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COP28, Code and the Climate

With 2023 and the COP28 summit concluded, we explore how software engineers contribute to the fight against climate change with Codesmith alum Kristen Althoff, who works in climate tech for Arcadia.

The Role of Technology in Climate Change

The technology sector accounts for 2-3% of global emissions, roughly the same as aviation, meaning modern engineers must consider how to build for a sustainable future.

While technology and innovation offer many solutions to environmental problems, increasingly energy-intensive processes like running data centers and the growing number of connected devices and servers globally now pose their own threats.

Digital energy consumption is now increasing by 9% every year.

Consequently, sustainable software engineering—programming with a focus on energy efficiency and sustainable practices—is slowly pushing its way into industry parlance, as the true cost of tech and its carbon footprint comes into focus.

Engineering For The Environment

Kristen Althoff is a Software Engineer at renewable energies company, Arcadia, where she works on their ARC platform.

She joined Arcadia in June 2022 shortly after graduating from Codesmith’s Software Engineering Immersive program. 

“I really wanted to work in either education, biotechnology or climate,” she says. “There aren't as many companies involved in climate tech as you might think.”

Arcadia was founded in 2014 to leverage the power of tech to break the fossil fuel monopoly, facilitate access to clean energy for companies across all industries, and fuel the US energy grid with renewables.

“My team’s data helps companies, like EV companies for example, tell their customers in specific areas how much it's going to cost at a certain time to charge their vehicles.” 

She says the tech revolution, particularly the rise of AI, “is a growing problem” with regard to carbon emissions. “All of a sudden, we have these humongous data sets and search engines that we have to support.”

“We have people at Arcadia talking about serverless functions and looking into different ways to minimize carbon emissions depending on which servers we are using at certain points in time with our apps.”

She points out how even climate tech companies created to solve the climate crisis also contribute to it themselves, on top of all the other tech companies.

“There’s a million FinTech companies, a million online shopping companies—the issue is really about structurally changing the tech industry. Climate tech companies also have to take a step back and realize that we're using storage and a lot of energy ourselves.”

Asked how engineers at Arcadia respond to events like COP28, Kristen says the “relationship with climate policy is pretty good.” 

They coordinate company “initiatives to sign people up for community solar” and use COP to capitalize on existing customers and “show them legislation that's related to greater climate action and get them involved in those actions, as well as signing petitions.”

Environmentally Conscious Engineers

Green coding practices have emerged as software engineers look to implement sustainability into the code they build.

Some of these techniques include using efficient algorithms and data structures, reducing memory usage, minimizing network traffic and bandwidth, applying caching and compression, applying modular and reusable design patterns, testing and debugging your code regularly, and documenting code clearly and consistently.

Additionally, Kristen says that one way Arcadia is also looking to influence how engineers contribute to climate tech and climate change is by scouting for engineers already focused on environmental issues, which is often the younger generations.

“Arcadia hires people who are really interested in climate and are invested in the mission behind the work,” Kristen says.

“For example, I went to the Grace Hopper conference last year. It’s very targeted at women and non-binary people from college who are trying to get different jobs. And there were so many people who were really excited about our mission,” she says.

“Whereas older generations maybe need to be convinced a little more, it was so energizing to see so many young people who know so much about the climate and feel personally invested.”


“There's a lot of questions about whether mining for metals for tech is simply so unethical that we can't justify it anymore”


Hard Talk About Hardware

Beyond energy usage and data storage, Kristen also points to the role of tech hardware in environmental degradation.

“At Arcadia, we're having more discussions about the resources used to build hardware, computers, and technology itself, the huge amounts of minerals mined from the deep sea - is deep sea mining worth this trade-off?”

Sustainability arguments in the tech industry aren’t just limited to environmental degradation, but also the human rights issues that so often intersect with climate change.

“With the problems in Sudan and the Congo, for instance, there's a lot of questions about whether mining for metals for tech is simply so unethical that we can't justify it anymore.”


“Climate optimism is really important to get other people engaged in climate change. Instead of denial or a desire to just not confront it”


However, hand in hand with these discussions are those about solutions and changes engineers can make personally to contribute.

“Day-to-day conversations about lifestyle choices with people at my company have trickled into my own life. Thrifting, for example, and buying secondhand is something I’ve become interested in since working at Arcadia.”

Despite the tendency of COP summits, and climate conversations more broadly, to inspire dread, Kristen says in the climate tech landscape there is plenty of climate optimism.

“The conversation is more like ‘look at all these opportunities to do more of this, or let’s explore all these different ways we can get people involved in climate action and make a really big effect.’”

“Climate optimism is really important to get other people engaged in climate change. Instead of denial or a desire to just not confront it,” she says. 

While the range of reactions to climate breakdown can be disheartening, the choice of modern engineers and the tech industry to lean into environmental issues is encouraging, and will likely be a central part of the future of software engineering.