What is Green IT?

Did you know that your online activity generates carbon emissions? Internet and Communication Technologies (ICT) have a significant environmental impact, as shown on this infographic. However, ICT has huge potential to reduce the footprint of other sectors.

The ICT industry – which delivers Internet, video, voice and other cloud services – produces more than 830 million of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. That’s about 2% of global CO2 emissions.

Data centres are often considered to be responsible for the ICT environmental footprint, but they represent only about 20% of the ICT emissions, networks represent another 20% and end-user devices about 60% (including raw materials, manufacturing and power supply during use).

Beyond carbon dioxide emissions, the ICT industry is also responsible for generating a lot of E-waste, or waste electrical and electronic equipment. In 2014 the global e-waste generation was estimated around 41.8 Mt (United Nations University). Driven by national e-waste legislation, around 6.5 Mt was estimated to be formally treated by take-back systems. As such, about 85% of e-waste end up landfilled, leading to both environmental and health issues.

Green IT

The good news is there are initiatives to limit the impact of ICT:

  • Free-air cooling – using natural cooling in the data centre
  • Software eco-design – aims at reducing the amount of physical computing resources required to run software and subsequently decrease energy consumption of the device supporting the software
  • A product stewardship programme to reduce specific E-waste streams, like the accredited voluntary scheme to collect mobile phones in New Zealand, RE:MOBILE

IT for Green

The ICT sector has an increasing environmental impact and solutions exist to mitigate its footprint. However, ICT has a huge potential to reduce the footprint of other sectors.

  • Transportation: GPS to identify the best route for shipment delivery and therefore reduce fuel consumption. An efficient car-pooling system is possible at a regional or national level if a web-platform is set up
  • Server virtualisation and cloud computing to reduce the number of devices needed in datacentres
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology to enhance visio-conference and homeworking and eventually reduce transport

In New Zealand, the growing number of electronic devices sold in NZ every year, the new installed network infrastructures (e.g. 4G) and initiatives from the Ministry for Environment to set up more product stewardship schemes will support Green IT uptake.

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