Dear Colleague Letter: Design for Sustainability in Computing

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

March 15, 2022

Dear Colleagues:

Environmental impacts of computing technologies extend well beyond their energy consumption and require a holistic focus on broader sustainability. Negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of rare earth elements, and e-waste are exacerbated by the proliferation of computing throughout society and treatment of computing systems as disposable commodities with planned obsolescence. Furthermore, environmental concerns range from the better-known carbon footprint from energy consumption (e.g., cloud) to equally important concerns of embodied carbon[1], generation of methane, carcinogens, volatile organic compounds, and eutrophication, among others. Widespread use of compute intensive techniques (e.g., blockchain and artificial intelligence), handling and moving massive amounts of data, the rollout of next generation wireless/edge networks, and growth of smart devices amplifies the environmental concerns of this proliferation of computing. A new sustainable way of thinking about computing, across the full lifecycle -- including manufacturing, operation, and disposal -- is necessary to meet the needs of the present without compromising the wellbeing of future generations.

The current transition to a post Moore era is an opportunity to look well beyond power efficiency to make carbon and other sustainability metrics first order concerns in computing. This requires a paradigm shift towards design for sustainability that treats sustainability impacts as first order metrics and on equal standing with performance, reliability, usability, and operational energy efficiency. It is critical to consider sustainability across multiple dimensions (emissions, pollution, renewable versus limited resource usage, embodied costs, supply chain impacts, etc.) in every layer of the computing stack and across the computing spectrum from high performance computing to smart mobile devices. Design for Sustainability in Computing will require fundamentally new and disruptive research across all aspects of computing including modeling, design, reuse, programming, data management, fault tolerance, operation, and graceful degradation, of digital and computing-based technologies and their associated infrastructure.

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate supports research and education projects that develop new knowledge in all aspects of computing, communications, and information science and engineering, as well as advanced cyberinfrastructure, through its Core programs. The purpose of this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) is to encourage the submission of novel and high impact proposals that advance sustainability in all aspects of computing to the CISE Core programs (NSF 21-616).

This DCL neither constitutes a new competition nor a new program. Rather, interested proposers should prepare and submit proposals in accordance with the instructions in the CISE Core program solicitation (NSF 21-616) and the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Additionally, to call attention to responsiveness to this DCL, the Project Summary should include "SustainabilityDCL" in the keyword list. Proposals submitted to this DCL will count towards the proposal limits imposed in the CISE Core program solicitation.

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Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences