Last week I was invited to a breakfast on “Green IT” in Sydney where Fujitsu launched their report: “Global State of ICT Sustainability: Is the IT industry going backwards?” We were told that they are now avoiding the term “Green IT” . “Green <anything>” is no longer trendy as we are all swamped by other concerns brought on by the GFC. “Green” is now hidden under a more general concern with economic sustainability.
Despite the anti-green trend, what I call “Green IT” involves strategies to reduce the Carbon footprint of IT. These have been on the agenda for the last few years following a surge in advocacy for the environment around the time of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, the Stern Review and the Kyoto Protocol. In 2007 Gartner released a Report claiming that IT was responsible for 2% of the world’s GHG emissions, which is comparable the much-maligned aviation industry. The Fujitsu report shows that things are getting worse. As our global use of ICT grows so does its Carbon Footprint has now climbed to 2.7% and estimated to reach 6% by 2020. The main culprits are equipment lifecycle (procurement and e-waste), end-user computing (desktops etc), enterprise systems, networks and data centres. The report also tackles a more positive aspect of “ICT”, namely the view of IT as a “low carbon enabler”. The latter is popularly called “Greening by IT” in contrast to the traditional Green IT focus on the “Greening of IT”, where IT is castigated as a major polluter. My field of Information Systems (IS) uses the term “Green IS” to focus on both the positive and negative aspects of IT in respect of the environment.
As green is no longer trendy and attention goes off the environment, major degradation goes unnoticed. The rapid disappearance of the polar ice cap, at an all-time low in 2007, has sunk to these extraordinary low levels again in 2011. At the recent CHOGUM in Perth islands and low lying countries Tuvalu and Bangladesh, among the poorest countries on earth pleaded for help from the more affluent members of the Commonwealth against an imminent water crisis,
At the same time the world’s population has just topped 7 billion and the Occupy movement is drawing our attention to the inequitable distribution of wealth even among the developed countries. Equally skewed is the per capita Carbon footprint of the 1% compared to the 99%. So what to do? The climate change problem is a wicked one and too complex to ever hope to get everyone to agree on any one solution. It requires contributions, knowledge and expertise from many disciplines. My field of IS can contribute. It is concerned with how IT automates, supports and enables what we do. Many of us are into Green IS, which investigates ways to reduce the environmental footprint of IT while at the same time using IT, and the systems they drive, to enable others to reduce their footprint. Examples include: systems to reduce energy consumption through efficiencies; ways to measure, monitor and increase awareness of emissions; and technologies to reduce the need to travel by holding more meetings online.
The Association for IS is persevering with its Green IS agenda. We are holding a global virtual workshop, on November 4 2011, to try out different online applications for getting people together from all over the world to “meet virtually”. We just want to see what works for what. If you are interested please take a look.