Towards better accounting for the impact of ICTs on the environment

Green IT aims to address the environmental impact of industries, products and services in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. The development of this market rightfully raises concerns about the state of the environment, as the growth in electricity consumption and the level of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to this sector cause panic.

Excerpt from GREEN IT: myth or reality by Laurent MOLINARI

The term “GreenIT” is short for “Green Information Technology”. This concept appeared several decades ago, but its real emergence in the fields related to information and communication technologies occurred only recently. Awareness of the entire sector’s impact on the environment is now growing worldwide. This field is designed to study the impact of information and communication technologies on the environment, as well as the means, solutions and methods for measuring, understanding, controlling and finally reducing them. One of the features of the concept is that it brings together an ambivalent vision of the role of ICT in relation to society. This is a demonstration of the dangers of a society of technological overconsumption for some, an opportunity to change the world with the help of technology for others. This ambivalence is characterized by specific terminology. It is difficult to establish the exact origin, but the separation of the concepts of “Green IT” 1.0 and “Green IT 2.0” has been carried out for several years, in particular by analytical firms.

Two sides of the same coin

ICTs do not have the image of a polluting industry. However, one of the best-known and widely shared figures indicates that the sector will account for 2% of the global greenhouse gas footprint, placing it on par with the air transport sector. In France, ICT accounted for 13.5% of electricity consumption in 2008, or almost 5% of greenhouse gas emissions in France. The concern is mainly based on the sharp growth in this sector. A global trend that reveals the obvious: while the overall impact of computer systems is relatively modest, an increase in the number of users (34 million Internet users and 15 million mobile phone users in 2008) regularly leads to an explosion in energy consumption in general and increases pressure. the materials needed for their manufacture. But if ICTs, due to the rapid growth in their use and therefore the infrastructure and equipment associated with them, are a major environmental challenge, it seems that they also offer opportunities for transforming society and can fulfill the ambitions associated with sustainable development.

Thus, the concept of “Green IT 2.0” brings together all the concepts in which ICTs are levers to transform and improve the impact of human activities on the environment. The concept combines all methods and actions that allow, through the implementation of innovative solutions, to reduce the impact of the existing sector of activity on the environment. Ecological footprint CO2 (GHG emissions) is often the only metric that is monitored. Among the key themes and most profitable contributors are CO2, dematerialization of exchanges and remote communication are the most important examples. The first relates in particular to paper flows: invoices, orders, administrative procedures, etc. The ecological balance here depends on the expected savings in the physical means of production of media of exchange (paper, desktop publishing systems, etc.) and vehicles for these media.(postal mail in case of orders). The second is primarily based on video conferencing or even telepresence systems. In this orientation, the goal is clearly to develop remote work (telework) in order to play on CO emissions.2 transport operations, which are a strategic subject in the fight against global warming.