Design for Environmental Sustainability in Computing (DESC)

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

The goal of the Design for Environmental Sustainability in Computing (DESC) program is to address the substantial environmental impacts that computing has through its entire lifecycle from design and manufacturing, through deployment into operation, and finally into reuse, recycling, and disposal. These impacts go well beyond commonly-considered measures of energy consumption at run-time and include greenhouse warming gas emissions (GHGs), depletion of scarce resources like rare earth elements, and the creation of toxic byproducts.  For instance, embodied energy, GHGs, and other harmful emissions from manufacturing computing systems can often be higher than the operational energy and resulting GHGs and harmful emissions systems will use and emit during their lifetime.  Data centers can directly impact local ecosystems through heat management practices, as well as impacting local power management and capacity.  Algorithmic, software, and workflow design choices; design of operating systems and middleware; and choices of programming languages and compilation can drive environmental impacts from provisioning, use, and effective lifetimes of computing.  Moreover, decisions about maintenance, repurposing and disposal of computing systems shape those impacts by affecting the need for additional systems manufacturing and disposal, the latter of which impacts contamination and consumption of landfill space.

The DESC solicitation seeks to bring together teams to work toward solutions that address sustainability in new and measurably different ways that are inclusive of the breadth of computing and information science and engineering research, with the ultimate goal of holistic order of magnitude improvements in the environmental sustainability of computing.  DESC projects should go beyond solely energy efficiency to address a more complete set of environmentally sustainable outcomes in terms of (but not limited to) metrics of GHGs, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), consumption and disposal of rare materials, heat, wastewater, recyclability, and longevity, along with potential interactions between these metrics.

DESC seeks novel approaches that address and raise environmental sustainability to a first-order system objective along with performance, energy-efficiency, security, and other common concerns, at all layers of system stacks and all steps in their lifecycles. Novel hardware and network architectures, sustainability-aware algorithms and data management tools, and methods for software and system design that support assessing and encouraging environmental sustainability are all needed.  Approaches to sustainably manage increasingly large datasets and workloads are crucial as are techniques to enhance computing capabilities while consuming fewer resources. Improved modeling and methodologies for organizational and end-user decision making around adoption, use, repurposing, and ultimately disposal of computing systems are also needed. 

Together, DESC proposals should seek to push the boundaries of system design and when possible seek ways to align sustainability with other metrics to increase both environmental sustainability and computing capabilities as well as the net benefit that computing brings to society.

DESC seeks to fund research that addresses environmental sustainability beyond energy efficiency alonePurely performance and/or energy efficiency computing proposals, proposals that seek to use computing to advance sustainability of other sectors are not in scope for DESC. Additionally, given there are traditionally three pillars in sustainability research, DESC is focused on environmental sustainability. Proposals that seek to solely advance the economic and/or social pillars of sustainability are not in scope for this program.


  • March 17, 2023; September 13, 2024: Type I and Type II projects
  • Proposals Accepted Anytime: Type III projects

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Proposals may only be submitted by the following:

  • Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
  • Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.

By the submission deadline, any PI, co-PI, or other senior project personnel must hold either:

  • a tenured or tenure-track position, or
  • a primary, full-time, paid appointment in a research or teaching position

at a US-based campus of an organization eligible to submit to this solicitation (see above), with exceptions granted for family or medical leave, as determined by the submitting organization. Individuals with primary appointments at for-profit non-academic organizations or at overseas branch campuses of US IHEs are not eligible.

An investigator may participate as PI, co-PI, or Senior Personnel in no more than two Type I project proposals, no more than one Type II project proposal, or no more than one Type I project and one Type II project proposal submitted to each deadline listed above.

There are no limits on Type III project proposals.

An investigator cannot be PI, co-PI, or Senior Personnel on more than two Type I awards and one Type II award through the lifetime of this program from FY 2023 to FY 2026. There are no limits on Type III projects.

These eligibility constraints will be strictly enforced in order to treat everyone fairly and consistently. Any proposal that exceeds this limit at the time of submission for any PI, co-PI, or Senior Personnel will be returned without review. No exceptions will be made. Proposals that are withdrawn prior to commencement of merit review, or those that are returned without review by NSF, will not count against this proposal limit.

Amount Description

Type I Small Projects: Up to $600,000 per award with duration up to 3 years

Type II Large Projects: Up to $2,000,000 per award with duration up to 4 years

Type III Workshop Projects: Up to $100,000 per award with duration up to 1 year

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences

External Deadline

September 13, 2024