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Design for Environmental Sustainability in Computing (DESC)

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Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.


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 alone. Purely 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.

Program contacts

Erik N. Brunvand
Program Director, CISE/CNS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-8950 CISE/CNS
Linda Bushnell
Program Director, CISE/CNS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-8950 CISE/CNS
Varun Chandola
Program Director, CISE/OAC
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-2656 CISE/OAC
Dan R. Cosley
Program Director, CISE/IIS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-8832 CISE/IIS
Damian Dechev
Program Director, CISE/CCF
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-8910 CISE/CCF
James E. Fowler
Program Director, CISE/CCF
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-5111 CISE/CCF
Rebecca Hwa
Program Director, CISE/IIS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-7148
Alex K. Jones
Program Director, CISE/CNS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-8950 ENG/ECCS
Juan J. Li
Program Director, CISE/OAC
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-2625 CISE/OAC
Sylvia J. Spengler
Program Director, CISE/IIS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-7347 CISE/IIS
Ann C. Von Lehmen
Program Director, CISE/CNS
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-4756 CISE/CNS
Goli Yamini
Program Director, CISE/CCF
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-5111 CISE/IIS
Danella Zhao
Program Director, CISE/CCF
desc@nsf.gov (703) 292-4434 CISE/CCF

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