There is a clear worldwide trend, for both government and business, toward paying greater attention to environmental issues. Some of this attention is increasingly being directed to the ICT industry and the part it plays as both a villain and a hero. The news is not all bad, as this increased attention provides substantial business opportunities for ICT companies with solid green credentials.
ICT the Hero
It is clear that technology has played a pivotal role in delivering the research capability, necessary to undertake complex climate modelling. This computer modelling has enabled the community to focus more precisely on the impact contemporary society is having on the environment.
It is also clear that technology itself is delivering broad environmental savings for government and business as a whole. Examples can be found the Federal government’s eGovernment Strategy. Goals have been set for a 50% reduction in the number of government forms by 2010, as well as a 10% annual reduction in the number of letters from government. Both initiatives not only improve customer service but also contribute to substantial savings in energy and non-renewable resources.
ICT the Villain
However there is a very big downside that largely relates to consumables, power consumption, and the disposal of old equipment.
In a recent presentation at the National Press Club, Richard Barrington, Sun Microsystems’ Head of Public Policy in the UK outlined some sobering statistics about technology’s significant impact on the environment.
The average citizen in a western country will throw away three tonnes of technology in their lifetime.
Computer data centres typically consume large amounts of energy just to cool the devices. Unless this heat can be recycled, it will account for a significant amount of wasted energy. Google headquarters, for example, is believed to consume the same amount of energy as the town of Newcastle NSW.
Many recent media articles have focused on the contribution of ICT to greenhouse gas emissions. Recent estimates suggest that ICT use by Australian businesses generated almost 8m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005, approximately equivalent to the civil aviation industry. According to research group Gartner, power consumed by personal computers alone accounts for 0.5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions.
In March 2007, EDS announced its aim to slash greenhouse gas emissions in Australia and New Zealand in a wide-ranging program that will aggressively target a reduction in carbon use by 25 per cent within the next three years. Last week, EDS Australia announced a partnership with Fuji Xerox to streamline its document production requirements to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by up to 79%.
We have seen commitments from HP, Dell, IBM, Wyse amongst many others focusing on Green IT. Many IT suppliers are participating in initiatives such as Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a US-based organisation that brings together industry, consumers, and conservation organisations to significantly increase the energy efficiency of computers and servers.
The sustainability and environment are clearly areas of growing concern for both industry and regulators. At an industry policy level, the AIIA has already been quite active and there is clear movement among vendors to demonstrate their green credentials. The big outstanding question is where future government regulation and purchasing policy may move. Coming government and opposition ICT election platforms may provide some clues for these future directions.