5 reasons why tech companies have not embraced green ICT

Although greenhouse gas emissions from ICT is considerably less than that of other industries, current levels could double by 2020. Here are five reasons why tech companies have not yet embraced green ICT.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernpixel/Earlier this week, 22 April 2013 to be exact, Earth Day was celebrated. Earth Day, which was first held in 1970, is an expression of support for environmental protection, which has become increasing relevant, as we all (as global citizens) are becoming more aware of the fragility of our world.  In respect of ICT, one of the key focus areas is its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, which has been linked to, among other things, increasing temperatures worldwide; melting icecaps; rising sea levels, and the still debated “climate change”.

In a study conducted by leading IT research and advisory firm, Gartner, in 2007, and as noted in our article, Making the world a greener place: Decreasing ICT’s carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions attributed to ICT was estimated at less than 2%:

Gartner’s estimate of the 2 percent of global CO2 emissions that ICT is responsible for includes the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area network (LAN), office telecommunications and printers. Gartner has also included an estimate of the embodied (that used in design, manufacture and distribution) energy in large-volume devices, namely PCs and cell phones. It also included all commercial and governmental IT and telecommunications infrastructure worldwide, but not consumer electronics other than cell phones and PCs.

However, although the use of ICT does contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across a number of industries and sectors, by providing more environmentally friendly options to traditional business practices, its increased use and application is also causing its contribution (to greenhouse gas emissions) to grow. According to the Vice President of the European Commission, ICT’s contribution to the European Union’s electricity consumption and carbon emissions could double by 2020.

It is within this context that we ought to be asking ourselves what can be done to ensure that there is greater mindfulness and use of ICT, especially in commercial applications to safeguard our environment. Our earlier post, 5 ways to reduce your computing carbon footprint, considered this primarily from the individual consumer perspective. In this post we highlight 5 reasons why commercial entities have not yet fully embraced green ICT.

1. Ignorance

To varying degrees, there might still be some ignorance and general reticence among commercial companies about practices that could be adopted that reduce carbon emissions. Among device manufacturers it might be fair to expect that they are aware and have incorporated, to some extent, designs that result in more energy efficient appliances. However, large scale commercial users, such as data centres, may still not be fully aware of the methods that can be used that can have a positive impact on the environment. Moreover, the majority of companies might be guided by what is considered best practice in their area, and currently there might not be significant industry literature, or a critical mass of companies that have adopted progressive (or more advanced) greener ICT techniques.

2. Greening can be expensive

With the growing sophistication of today’s ICT devices, such as mobile/cellular phones, tablet computers, and PCs and laptops, more complex production processes are generally required. This not only includes assembly of the final product, but also the extraction and processing of raw materials used to build components used in the assembly process. Hence a critical focus for device manufacturers is managing the cost of production.

However, greening those processes could be prohibitively expensive, which could affect the overall viability of the businesses involved. Reducing greenhouse emissions might not be limited to developing more efficient and environmentally conscious techniques to extract and process raw materials and to assemble devices, but could also include where the products are assembled – in order to reduce transport-related emissions, and bring them closer to the markets they serve.

3.  No true global policy has been established

Currently, there is no global policy mandating specific standards that explicitly aim to reduce carbon emissions. As was noted earlier in this post, there is still some debate among the scientific community about the impact of global warming on climate change. Moreover, there are still countries worldwide that have not agreed to Kyoto Protocol or  to targets that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hence there is a sense that we are still in the every early stages of fostering the political will in individual countries that can lead to a truly global consensus, which in turn can have an impact on how ICT-based products are manufactured and used

4.  Limited national policies mandating greener ICT practices

In a similar vein as the previous point, at the national level, very few governments have attuned their attention to the impact of ICT-generated carbon emissions on the environment. Some countries have established policies regarding the disposal of computer/tech related equipment, many of which has toxic material, which can contaminate food and water supplies. However, considerably less attention has been given to emissions. One likely reason for this, as mentioned earlier and in the grand scheme of things, ICT’s contribution to greenhouse emissions is considerably less than those from agriculture, energy production, transportation, etc. Hence there might be a greater imperative to address those areas first, where more significant savings/results can be realised.

5. Users not demanding greener products.

Finally, it is important to highlight the clout that we as consumers have, but are not using, to effect changes across both government and industry by demanding (even more) greener products. For example, although we might grumble among ourselves about how quickly our mobile cellular phones discharge, have we truly made it a deal breaker in terms of the products we purchase? Businesses and governments do respond to customer behaviour and pressure, hence we should not underestimate our ability to influence their practices and outputs, if we truly believe that aggressive reduction of greenhouse gasses is important for the long term well-being of the planet.


Image credit:  Southernpixel Alby (flickr)