Special Feature

Green ICT in Gear

Posted on October 27, 2011

Technological innovations have been something of a double-edged sword, both contributing and reducing greenhouse gases, International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Telecommunication Standardization Bureau director Malcolm Johnson has said. At present, information and communications technology (ICT) accounts for 20% to 50% of a business' carbon emissions—and 2% of emissions globally. But on the upside, green ICT can slash 30% to 60% of an organization's emissions. These can also prevent five tons of carbon dioxide for every one they produce.

Ultimately, smart ICT applications can be used to cut down as much as 7.8 gigatons of carbon emissions by 2020, according to Molly Webb, head of strategic engagement at The Climate Group. The non-profit organization's recently released SMART 2020 report lists five critical sectors for ICT solutions: transport and logistics, smart buildings, smart motors, de-materialization or the use of e-content, and smart grids.

In a previous interview, ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré remarked that ICT is rife with opportunities for emission savings, particularly in areas known for producing the highest volumes of carbon dioxide, like waste disposal, construction, and energy generation. The integration of renewables and optimization of transmission also counts for 85% of today's smart grid power solutions, while the rest comes from demand response and consumer change.

Whereas there are numerous ICT point solutions, Ms. Webb insisted that only when integrated in a collective effort can all of these truly have an impact.

As part of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an ITU report entitled "Using ICTs to Tackle Climate Change" was released last December and described how technology can help bring about a low-carbon economy. Not only does technology open the gates to more sophisticated tools to curb emissions, but it can also boost energy efficiency within other sectors. Likewise, ICT-based systems enable developed and developing countries alike to keep an eye on climate conditions on a global scale.

And in the Information Age, greening the technological aspects of a job can lend businesses a corporate edge and attract eco-conscious talent; the Telework Association asserts that these days, ICT makes more flexible work arrangements possible—like cutting down on travel time by letting employees work from home or outside of the office.

But, the corporate landscape may be losing sight of its green goals, as many players still lack maturity in terms of ICT sustainability, as Tokyo-based multinational Fujitsu revealed in this year's annual "ICT Sustainability: The Global Benchmark" study. The multi-country report has linked clearly-defined power costs with how much an organization is up to speed on current ICT sustainability issues. Over half of the respondents from the seven surveyed countries didn't know how much electricity their ICT activities used, although more awareness was observed from larger companies that had more advanced technology and green practices.

Until the data on power consumption can be quantified, Fujitsu global executive director of sustainability Alison Rowe said that the impact of sustainability initiatives will also remain unmeasurable—and companies won't be driven to make smart ICT a priority.

While ICT is a powerful tool on the road to low-carbon construction, its lack of energy-use measurement has hindered much recognition for its savings potential. This is according to Dr. Idris Sulaiman, a visiting fellow from the Australian National University.

During the "Green Convergence: Integrating Green ICT and Green Buildings" forum organized last month by the Philippine Green Building Council (PhilGBC), he maintained that like all technology enablers, ICT applications also have their performance risks. But to beef up their effectivity, he cited a need for better training, due diligence, and a clear line of communication along the management chain. — Victoria T. Vizcarra