Connect Asia-Pacific summit 2013 | Credit: ITU - Photo: 2013

ICTs Increase Carbon Footprint Which They Can Reduce

By Kalinga Seneviratne* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BANGKOK (IDN) – Information Communication Technology (ICT) is generally supposed to promote good environmental protection through use of e-services such as paperless communications and teleconferencing that reduces travel, especially air travel. But, increasingly questions are being asked whether adopting ICTs is really contributing to reducing the carbon footprint.

“ICT sector has a carbon footprint very similar to aviation industry,” argues Laina Raveendran Greene, the CEO of GETIT (Green Energy Technology and Infocommunication Technology).

“In ICT sector, take India for example, mobile communications burn about 2.7 billion litres of diesel. (Thus) one of the initiatives going on in the ICT industry is how to reduce their own footprint,” she said in an interview with IDN at the ITU Telecom World 2013 conference in Bangkok in November.

“GSMA has green power for mobile groups, India has policies that are encouraging green energy, even energy efficiency that reduces fuel consumption. Another component to greening ICTs is how you design the whole life cycle of the product from cradle to grave and back to cradle,” Greene said.

“In the past, the industry never looked at these issues. Lot of time 1 to 2 percent of mobile phones got recycled. Part of it is that consumers were not aware about it. There was also no process put in place for people to recycle. Now there is green awareness, people are designing for reuse of equipment,” she.added.

In November 2009 the GSMA – which represents mobile operators worldwide – together with the Climate Group, published Mobile’s Green Manifesto, which set out how the mobile industry planned to lower its greenhouse gas emissions per connection, and demonstrated the key role that mobile communications can play in lowering emissions in other sectors and industries.

The Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) has created a Green ICT Task Force to carry out its strategic objectives. It believes that in all European countries the public sector is usually the biggest customer of ICT products and services. The power consumption and the wasteful usage of ICT resources at the public sector of many European countries are not controlled.

CEPIS argues that ICTs have been contributing to environmental problems: computers, electronic devices and ICT infrastructure consume significant amounts of electricity, placing a heavy burden on our electric grids and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, the total footprint of the ICT sector – including personal computers (PCs) and peripherals, telecoms networks and devices and data centres – was 830 Mt CO2 emission, about 2% of the estimated total emissions from human activity released that year (a figure equivalent to aviation). ICT hardware poses severe environmental problems both during its production and its disposal.

“Having its carbon footprint is one thing, but reducing it is more exciting, as ICT is used as a tool for reduction of greenhouse gases in other industries. Those numbers are exciting, anything from 30-40 percent, depending on how it is used,” argues Greene. “Take smart buildings, for example. If buildings are connected with sensors … if a room is not being used lights could go off, that is energy efficiency. So ICT can be a tool for reduction of climate change . . . it will be better to use green ICT as a tool for greening other industries.”

‘Green and Cool ICT’

In December 2009, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UNESCAP) published a consultancy report on Green ICTS done by Preminda Fernando and Atsuko Okuda that argued “green and cool ICT” initiatives and applications, such as mobile communications, videoconferencing, e-government and dematerialization of content, can play a major role in reducing CO2 emissions, and ensuring sustainable development and green growth in order to meet development goals and improve quality of life in Asia and the Pacific.

It estimated that approximately 7.8 GtCO2e (Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent) emissions can be reduced by 2020 through proper ICT deployment, which also includes using ICTs in agriculture for purposes such as information dissemination and marketing, that could reduce travel.

The issue of the environmental impact of the powering ICTs, especially powering the broadband or mobile rollout into rural areas came up for discussion at the Telecom World 2013 conference in Bangkok.

“One of the major challenges around delivery is power,” said Areef Kassam from the US-based Energize the Chain, speaking in a panel discussing broadband roll out to rural areas in the developing world. “Electricity is often either unavailable or unreliable and when operators add the high energy costs of running generators into the equation, it takes the business case out of the service (it also makes) charging smartphones difficult.”

But, Amit Kumar Singh, marketing manager of Coslight India Telecom, told IDN that his company can provide very cheap hybrid mobile diesel-solar power generators manufactured in China to fuel the systems, that could also make the power supplies for ICT applications more Green.

“We have to find alternate power sources to save the future for a better green world,” he argues. ”Solar, wind and lithium technology with combination of diesel gensets and power grid will help to reduce dependency on diesel fuel alone. So government should take initiative to facilitate joint exercise between telecom operators and power solution companies to function like a catalyst for fast implementation of smart power solutions in telecom industry.”

“Consumer behavior change is a key component for any tool,” argues Greene. “If you switch off lights with sensors then you don’t need consumer involvement, but often if you are not in a situation to put in the sensors or whatever, you require behaviour change. It happens when people have an incentive and ICTs can be used as a tool where people are given rewards for recycling or they are seen cool among friends if they are more green than others.”

*Kalinga Seneviratne is IDN Special Correspondent for Asia-Pacific. He teaches international communications at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 01, 2013]

The writer’s previous IDN articles:

Top left photo: Connect Asia-Pacific summit 2013 | Credit: ITU

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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