Transformation²: Making software engineering accountable for sustainability

Elsevier,   Journal of Responsible Technology, Volume 10, 2022, 100027
Christoph Schneider, Stefanie Betz

Software engineering, as a central practice of digitalization, needs to become accountable for sustainability. In light of the ecological crises and the tremendous impact of digital systems on reshaping economic and social arrangements - often with negative side-effects - we need a sustainability transformation of the digital transformation. However, this is a complex and long-term task. In this article we combine an analysis of accountability arrangements in software engineering and a model of sustainability transformations to trace how certain dynamics are starting to make software engineering accountable for sustainability in the technological, cultural, economic and governance domains. The article discusses existing approaches for sustainable software engineering and software engineering for sustainability, traces emerging discourses that connect digitalization and sustainability, highlights new digital business models that may support sustainability and shows governance efforts to highlight “green and digital” policy problems. Yet, we argue that these are so far niche dynamics and that a sustainability transformation requires a collective and long-lasting effort to engender systemic changes. The goal should be to create varied accountability arrangements for sustainability in software engineering which is embedded in complex ways in society and economy.