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Mar 5 2013


Sustainable ICT Practices: A Few Key Facts and Issues

Environmental Impact of ICT

Whilst Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have made remarkable contributions to business innovation and wealth generation for organisations, societies and nations, their production, use and eventual disposal also significantly contribute to environmental degradation. It is estimated that the full life cycle carbon footprint of the ICT industry

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represents between 2% and 4% of worldwide GHG emissions, which makes it larger than aviation and growing faster. ICT already consumes more than 8% of Europe’s electricity, and its energy consumption is expected to double by 2020.

However, the good news is that there is a massive potential for ICT to reduce GHG emissions across the rest of the economy particularly in the power, transport and building sectors. The scale of this ICT-enabled opportunity is estimated to be at 7.8 GTonnes of CO2e by 2020 (ITU, 2012). While all organizations can benefit from these efficiencies, they must also learn to control the energy use of ICT products.

This is our first blog in our series on Sustainable ICT Practices. It will cover a few interesting stats and briefly lay out some key sustainability issues that companies face in using ICT products and services today. It will look at this across four main ICT areas:

  • Data centres,
  • Desktop infrastructure,
  • Telecommunications Networks and;
  • Broadcasting services.

Data Centres

It is generally accepted that data centres

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are responsible for at least 0.25% of all CO2e emissions and just over 10% of all ICT-related emissions (ITU, 2012). Maximising the computing performance and expanding the availability of IT resources through data centres is highly energy intensive, which usually requires electric

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power and cooling. As a result, energy is the main limiting factor in the data centre environment, not only in terms of financial budgets, but also with respect to its environmental impact. Key to this is both the availability of grid electricity but also the mix of that grid connection and how “ clean “ that energy is. Given the increasing trend in ICT towards the provision of “ cloud “ computing services which will further increase the data centre footprint it is important that this is done in a sustainable manner

Desktop Infrastructure

Much of the energy consumed by IT equipment is wasted, mostly because computers are left switched on with no one using them, especially over night and at weekends. It has been found that an

average office computer is active

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for 6.9 hours in a day, of which it is idle for 3.9 hours. The main challenge with desktop infrastructure is ensuring the computers are in low-power mode during idle periods, and are switched off when not active.

Telecommunications Networks

Telecommunications network infrastructure and devices are responsible for over a third of ICT industry greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next decade, billions of people in developed economies will move increasing amounts of information, images and video over the internet and other networks. Though the telecommunication network still predominantly carries voice signals, nowadays the network is being used more and more to connect to the internet so that users of a smart phone can access applications over the Internet. The World Bank expects the number of middle class consumers in low- and middle-income countries to grow from 400 million in 2005 to 1.2 billion by 2030, many of whom will be going online for the first time. Cisco predicts there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020.

The key challenge in communication networks is to reduce the energy consumption in the base stations by making them more energy efficient and/or making greater use of renewable sources of energy.

Broadcasting services

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The volume of information broadcast across the world has more than quadrupled during the two decades from 1986 to 2007. It is estimated that around 80% of the industry’s carbon emissions relate to the emissions from the multitude of devices used by their customers in accessing the output of the broadcasting industry.

However, delivering a broadcasting service usually requires the use of TV monitors, radios, networking, data centres, and telecommunications. Therefore, improvements in any of those areas can be potentially beneficial to the sustainability performance of a broadcasting service.

The upcoming blogs in the series will get into details of each of the four ICT areas mentioned above. Stay tuned to this space to find out more about Sustainable Data Centres, which will be the second blog in the series.

About Carbon Masters

Carbon Masters is a carbon management consultancy which helps organisations in the public and private sector to measure, manage, reduce and report their carbon emissions.



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