What Can a Software Company Do to Make a Better World?

Creating software that manages resources, philanthropy and funding for start-ups with causes and more.

Autodesk has sponsored this post.

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

A software company, even a big one, uses relatively little of the Earth’s resources. Code is produced from mental energy, with calories provided by the company cafeteria and coffee.

But if you are leading a software company with your conscience, you’re conscious of your software being used in big projects—many of them in industries known to be energy and resource intensive, such as construction and manufacturing.  One such leader is Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, who looks beyond simply developing the applications used in much of what has been constructed and manufactured. He understands the effect of those industries on our Earth.

“It is more important now than ever before to be aware of the impact of what we make and build,” says Anagnost in the prologue of Autodesk’s recently released FY22 Impact Report, which not only addresses sustainability, but also resilience (to the pandemic, and whatever is next) and includes philanthropy.

“As we look to the long term, climate change and labor market inequities demand increasingly bold and urgent action,” says Anagnost. “And in the near term, global conflict, high inflation, prolonged supply chain disruptions and increasingly distributed workforces have immediate economic and social implications.”

Autodesk is the only design software company of the Big Four (the others being Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Siemens) to be located in California, a state known for its progressive and environmentally conscious leaders. It’s no surprise that California has led the nation with sustainability initiatives, of which the California Clean Air Act may be the most well-known. ­

Taking the lead in assessing the impact of his company’s software is Joe Speicher, VP of ESG and Impact at Autodesk. Speicher is taking the reins from Lynelle Cameron.

Autodesk’s sustainability initiatives include making its applications available at no cost to nonprofits, startups and entrepreneurs that aim to make a positive environmental impact in areas such as renewable energy and efficiency.

Practicing what they preach, Autodesk’s headquarters are located in the historic Landmark Building on Market Street in San Francisco, a building that has been retrofitted to achieve LEED Gold certification. There you find the recently reopened Autodesk Gallery, a showcase of projects on which Autodesk software was used. Many projects on display have an emphasis on sustainability and have been recipients of Autodesk’s philanthropy.

Providing leadership to the construction industry may have the most impact of any industry Autodesk serves. Construction projects are huge, and waste can be as high as 38 percent—considerably more than manufacturing. Having availed themselves of mass production, manufacturing companies are relatively efficient, produce less scrap, order less stock material, etc. than construction firms, for whom every project is a one-off.

Autodesk has championed preconstruction as well as modular construction, which allows for some of the efficiencies of mass production: less wasted material and quicker manufacture. Assembly of whole segments of a building, such as whole rooms, or walls and roofs, takes less time and is safer on a factory floor than the piece-by-piece construction on-site.

Autodesk, through the Autodesk Foundation, has been a massive contributor to Build Change, an NGO with a mission to shore up collapse-prone buildings. Almost six million people live in buildings built without code in Bogota, Colombia, one of the most earthquake-intensive regions in the world. Autodesk has provided $2 million, plus $2.6 million worth of software to Build Change. This includes providing Autodesk Construction Cloud, AutoCAD, Revit and Dynamo, which uses generative design of building spaces and substantially speeds the design and building of the thousands of retrofits Build Change tackles.

The Autodesk Foundation also invests in both nonprofits and startups that improve resilience in poor countries most affected by climate change effects on agriculture, energy and food production with a dose of technology. In addition to South America, Foundation funding goes to projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Southeast Asia.

Autodesk cloud-based applications can be considered as promoting sustainability in and of themselves. Indeed, they do promote working remotely and traveling less, whether commuting or flying to meetings—both activities with big carbon footprints.

You can read Autodesk’s FY22 Impact Report.