7 Ways Developers Can Contribute to Climate Action

Whether you’ve just started out as a software engineer or you’ve been at it for decades, you too can play a role in helping to positively impact the environment.

When people first consider this, they tend to think about the impact writing efficient code will have. Of course, you should always write efficient, elegant code. But unless the code you’re creating is going to be used by millions of people, it may not be where you can have the biggest impact from a climate perspective (code being used by millions or billions of people is probably highly optimized anyway!).

In this article, we’ll look at seven other ways you can help.

Choose Where You Spend Your Career

Being an engineer means you have one of the most sought-after, transferable occupations on the planet. In virtually any city in the world, you’ll be in demand and probably well-paid, so you have plenty of options. Choosing to work in a place that’s at the intersection of your cares and your code is one of the easiest ways you can have an impact. Engineering is also one of the few careers where the job can be done remotely, and there’s a growing list of companies focused on hiring people to work remotely.

Find Time to Contribute to Open-source Projects

Open source enables us all to benefit from a collective effort and shared knowledge, so the benefits are already clear. But what you may not be aware of is the mass of open-source projects specifically targeted at helping the environment. Open source also powers some of the biggest sites on the Internet, so you may also find your code being used at that billions-of-people scale mentioned earlier. While it’s easy to find projects you can work on via a quick Google search, this article highlights a few.

Apply Your Skills to Non-profits

A lot of the work being done to combat or deal with the impacts of climate change are being done by the non-profit sector, and the one thing the non-profit sector always has is a lack of capital and a lack of talent. When people think of volunteering, they tend to think of painting a shed or handing out food at a shelter, but you can potentially create a bigger and more lasting impact by applying your skills and experience.

I worked with a non-profit to help design, set up and configure Salesforce’s (free for nonprofits) service, so they could run more efficiently and at a higher scale. Hour for hour, this was the best way I could help them to have a bigger impact.

Influence the Way the Product is Designed

With the rise of agile, squads (pioneered by Spotify), and cross-functional teams generally, the dynamic within the team has changed. Engineers now have a seat at the table to drive what the software does, how it works, and even the end-customer problems it solves. This means as an engineer you can either walk into the room and be told what is being built or you can stand up and help drive that outcome, by considering the climate change impact of a design decision. A great example of this might be to set default shipping options to a lower-impact option on an eCommerce site, or Google Maps defaulting to a walking option instead of driving.

Support Other Engineers in Climate-focused Ventures

You don’t have to be the one writing the code to help the one that is. If you have a unique set of skills, then seek to grow your network with people working in ventures having an impact and at the intersection of your skills and experience. Then make the offer to help them through mentoring, resources, or just as a second set of eyes as they deal with that gnarly problem everyone hits from time to time.

Go Remote

The macro-environmental benefits of remote work, telecommuting or even choosing to work from home a few days a week are well-documented. More and more companies allow it already, and if they don’t, it’s an easy conversation for you to start with your employer or manager. Would you like me to be more productive, cost you less in overhead, be happy, and probably hang around longer? Then start with one day a week. For more information on remote work in general, check out this great report from usefyi.com, and our recent guide on making a remote development situation work for you.

Write About Your Own Experience

Every act of writing is an act of learning and can be an act of teaching. Whether you’ve tried one or all of the options above, or something else, simply writing it down and putting it out for others to see serves as the information and inspiration for 100 others to do the same. So much behavior change is rooted in social proof — the tendency to only do things when we see others doing them. So make a start today, and write about what you did or what else you think we can all be doing.