Greening ICT, An Emerging Field

June 14, 2010

In 2009 we started conducting interviews on green activity in the information and communication technology field.  Judging from the explosion of blog posts and industry articles in late 2008 and early 2009, there was interest in the topic of green ICT from the sustainable design and green computing communities, as well as from technology companies, like as IBM and Apple, and governments, particularly from the EU. That spurred us to investigate further.

A working definition of Green ICT should consider at least two aspects:

(1) We can make ICT itself can greener by using more efficient, less wasteful designs and manufacturing processes for ICT devices and infrastructures.  This involves things like cutting out e-waste by designing longer lasting or less toxic devices to reduce the amount of discarded computer or cell phone parts with chemicals, lead, etc. that are harmful to both people and the planet. Greenpeace’s Toxic Technology Report Card, which rates computer, cell phone, and gaming device makers on the environmental impact of their products, is a good example of activity in this area.

Another area of focus for green ICT is figuring out how to reduce the amount of energy that computers and related infrastructure use, with strategies ranging from shutting down unused office machines at night and over the weekend to re-designing data centers to consume less electricity.

(2) Additionally, information and communication technologies such as pollution sensors and environmentally-sensitive design software can make the relationship between humans, technology, and their impact on the environment clear, and therefore help us make smarter decisions. For instance, programs like IBM’s Advanced Water Management initiative could help infrastructure planners keep rivers cleaner and reduce drought due to over-usage of water for irrigation. Or, software like ECOTECT can help architects design more energy efficient buildings.

Green ICT spans a number of professions and industries – telecommunications companies, cell phone designers, consumer advocates, and computer manufacturers all have a hand in the mix.

Check out some of our interviews on the promises and perils of information and communication technologies vis-à-vis the environment, here.

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Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Systems