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Why Sustainability Should be an Integral Part of Quality Policies

Rik Marselis
October 19, 2023

Sustainability as an afterthought? No longer. Find out how integrating sustainability into the quality policy not only helps the planet but also saves costs. From energy-efficient IT to social impact, discover the multifaceted benefits of ‘sustainability-by-design’.

“Why should I completely shut down the test environment over the weekend? Getting everything up and running again is a hassle, and I’m not being judged on sustainability, after all. My job is to ensure that everything continues to function well.” A common response from IT managers when asked why applications run non-stop without any interruption. This often occurs in organizations where sustainability is treated as a separate entity. However, things change when sustainability becomes an additional focal point within the entire Quality Engineering policy, alongside the evaluation of functionality, user-friendliness, speed, and security. Let’s call it ‘sustainability-by-design.’

Twenty years ago, software testers were primarily focused on identifying problems, and applications primarily needed to be functionally sound. However, times have changed. End-users now take center stage and expect IT to constantly adapt to the rapidly changing needs of different user types. Sustainable IT is still in its infancy, and while awareness exists, the big question is how to integrate sustainability into the daily practice of quality engineering.

It starts with adding sustainability as a new aspect to previously established quality considerations. No, this doesn’t entail additional investments. In practice, the addition of sustainability to quality criteria only results in cost savings. So, if there isn’t (yet) widespread support for embedding sustainability into the quality engineering policy, the business case is easily made.

From Green IT to Sustainability

Integrating sustainability into quality management aims to minimize the negative impacts of IT deployment on the environment. The development, setup, maintenance, management, and replacement of software and systems are all geared towards sustainable and energy-efficient use. This goes beyond Green IT, which often involves a specific digital solution designed to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. It’s possible that replacing an exifusting solution with a greener alternative may cause more environmental harm in the long run, for example, due to the use of scarce materials.

Furthermore, the current focus on sustainability often extends only as far as the design, development, and construction process of IT. Sustainability becomes truly effective in quality criteria when the entire life cycle, from the drawing board to system retirement, is examined. For instance, less structural maintenance may be more sustainable than low energy consumption during application development. Allocating more resources in the development phase of a digital product may be necessary to reduce energy consumption during operation. In short, look primarily at the future impact.

Sustainability as a quality aspect consists of three subdomains. First, there is the environmental impact of IT, including energy consumption, CO2 emissions, pollution, and the use of rare natural materials. Economic sustainability is the second component, providing insights into financial consequences such as costs, revenues, profits, and technical debts. The third, and equally important, subdomain is the social aspect: the impact of IT on individual citizens, groups of people, or even society as a whole. Consider unintentional discrimination by artificial intelligence, for example.

All stakeholders should have a clear understanding of the scope of sustainability as an integral part of the quality policy. Therefore, adding this aspect is truly a management decision. If this policy adjustment is a step toward a sustainable society and simultaneously saves money, there is essentially nothing standing in the way of making this decision.

About the author

Quality and Testing expert | Netherlands
Rik Marselis is principal quality consultant at Sogeti in the Netherlands. He has assisted many organizations in improving their IT-processes, in establishing their quality & testing approach, setting up their quality & test organization, and he acted as quality coach, QA-consultant, test manager and quality supervisor.


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