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The Carbon Footprint of the ICT Industry

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Information And Communication Technology

Information and communication technology (ICT) is something that we rely on very heavily. Telecommunications, internet, broadband, mobile phones, social networking, computing, teleworking and teleconferencing all rely on the ICT industry. This sector has come in for criticism in the past because of the high turnover rate of equipment, and the worrying trend for a large amount of ICT waste to either end up in landfill or to be shipped out to developing countries like India to deal with it in less than safe conditions for the workers there.

A new initiative is now being developed to look specifically at the carbon footprint of the ICT industry, and to recommend how this can be reduced. This will be an ambitious project that is being coordinated by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, the Carbon Trust, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute. All of these professional bodies are working closely with organisations, government departments and people within universities to develop guidelines for the ICT industry.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the ICT Industry

One of the first steps to reducing carbon emissions is to understand the level at which they are currently produced, and to set up an accurate measurement system. The guidance that is being put together during 2011, and that is due to be published at the end of this year, will show large ICT companies how to measure their carbon footprint, and how to report it accurately. Then, there will be detailed advice showing individual companies and company types what steps they can make to reduce carbon emissions over time. The monitoring and report system will need to be robust enough to allow the companies to track their carbon footprint during this time, to find out whether their measures have been successful.

What Will Carbon Emission Reduction Involve?

The Carbon Trust, which has a huge amount of experience helping industry to measure, monitor and reports its carbon footprints, is helping companies to see where they can replace raw materials, products and also services with ones that have less impact on the environment. This will increase the market competition for more ecofriendly services and products, so will have important knock-on effects in other industries too.

It will also involve individual companies taking a completely fresh look at all of their activities, looking at the way that they use energy, the travel policy for employees, perks such as company cars, attendance at meetings, particularly ones that involved a plane trip, and to look at every activity in terms of its efficiency and environmental impact.

The Industry will Grow, but Carbon Emissions will Shrink

One of the main objectives behind the new initiative is to stimulate continued growth of the ICT industry while cutting back on its production of carbon dioxide. The current economic climate requires a great deal of ingenuity to remain competitive at the moment and recent and new legislation is going to make it difficult for any industrial sector to grow in a way that is not sustainable.

A Worldwide Initiative?

Bringing us out of the global recession will mean that growth is inevitable but this should not be at the expense of environmental damage. The rules and regulations in Europe are among the strictest in the world. China, one of the fastest growing economies, is achieving better results now but a few years ago, industrial growth there was causing great concern among environmentalists. Rapid manufacturing industry growth, in particular, was causing an increase in water-based emissions and pollutants, as well as particulate emissions.

Various reports have emerged from China showing the appalling levels of pollution in some areas, which is putting workers and residents at great health risk. Recent estimates say that pollution is the root cause of the very rapid rise in cancer cases in China – and is responsible for cancer now being the leading cause of death in the country. Air pollution is extremely bad, and poor air quality also kills several hundred thousand Chinese people annually. Also a great concern is the level of water effluent, which has meant that 500 million people are without safe water to drink.

There appears to be little that the rest of the world can do, except to lead by example, and the new standards for the ICT industry in the west may eventually help China to manufacture electronics and ICT equipment in a more ecofriendly way.

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