Issue: December 2014, GREEN IT! – Information, communications and climate action


IT: environmental blessing or curse?

Editorial by Michael Sailer, CEO, Oeko-Institut

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine life without IT and telecommunications. Many of us here at the Oeko-Institut have smartphones and tablets, just like most of the people around us, who use them to upload their holiday snaps to the cloud or to play online computer games. All these mobile and stationary devices and applications consume precious resources and large amounts of energy in their production, use phase and end-of-life disposal. In our energy consumption projections back in the 1980s, we factored in an unknown variable – an economic sector with high energy consumption – without knowing precisely what that might be. Today, we see that this was a proxy for information and communication technologies (ICT) – a sector with potentially major impacts on the environment, but one which also offers a wealth of applications that could help to protect the climate and the environment; smart meters and smart management of power grids are obvious examples.

Today’s ICT industry is located in this field of tension between environmental benefits and burdens. This applies both to the products themselves, whose design should be as efficient and pollutant-free as possible, and to the networks and data centres which comprise a vast industry and play a key role in determining the ICT sector’s environmental performance and carbon footprint. This latest issue of eco@work explores various dimensions of green IT and discusses options available to policy-makers and businesses.

For me, one aspect is of particular concern: looking beyond the environmental and climate implications for a moment, it is clear that data acquisition and storage will be a key issue for the IT industry in future. Applying sustainability principles here, I believe that there is considerable scope for improvement in this sensitive area – firstly on the part of users, who should think very carefully about which data they wish to share and with whom, and consider the possible consequences of their online activities. And secondly, of course, the major IT companies have a particular obligation to manage their customer data responsibly. In my view, policy-makers also have a role to play here by creating the frameworks needed for responsible and, indeed, sustainable data management – not only by the IT companies.

I hope you find this January issue of eco@work interesting, and I wish you all the very best for 2015.

Michael Sailer
CEO, Oeko-Institut

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