Global ICT carbon emissions 'unsustainable'

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Global ICT carbon emissions 'unsustainable'

Gartner estimates sector produces as much CO2 as the aviation industry.

The global information and communications technology industry accounts for approximately two per cent of global CO2 emissions, new estimates reveal.

Gartner stated that the figure, which is equivalent to that of the aviation industry, is "unsustainable".

The analyst formulated the figure based on carbon estimates of the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area networks, office telecoms and printers.

Gartner has also included an estimate of the embodied energy in large-volume devices used in design, manufacture and distribution, namely PCs and mobile phones.

It also included all commercial and governmental IT and telecoms infrastructure worldwide, but not consumer electronics other than mobile phones and PCs.

"During the next five years, increasing financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures will force IT organisations to get more environmentally sustainable," said Simon Mingay, research vice president at Gartner.

"When enough buyers start demanding it and we get beyond the superficial, being 'less bad' will no longer be anywhere near acceptable enough.

"That point will be reached in 2007 and 2008 for some geographies, particularly Europe, while other countries and regions will take longer."

Gartner believes that the ICT industry needs to gain a better understanding of the full lifecycle of ICT products and services, and innovate to reduce the environmental impact.

This does not currently happen because of the lack of a commercial or legislative need to do so. However, Gartner anticipates that buyers will ask more detailed questions about lifecycle assessments during the next three years.

"Vendors are being forced to gain a better understanding of the lifecycle due to new legislation and directives in countries and regions worldwide, as well as an increasing interest from clients in lifecycle assessment," said Mingay.

"The areas for innovation to reduce CO2 emissions are in the reduction of the materiality, energy consumption and use of hazardous substances throughout the lifecycle, in addition to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling and the use of recycled materials."

Mingay added that IT organisations need to start by familiarising themselves with existing enterprise environmental objectives and corporate social responsibility policies.

"Few IT management teams are aware of their enterprise's corporate social responsibility and environmental policies, and they have not mapped out the implications for their own activities," he said.

"They need to decide whether to take a proactive response, a measured response following the market and legislation, or a passive approach that just meets legal requirements. The roles, responsibilities and programmes will be very different for each."

Gartner urges IT organisations to develop a strategy to address the current negative effects of using ICT, as the growth in power requirements, and levels of waste that it produces, renders the current state unsustainable.

Such a strategy should include the following:
  • Start measuring power consumption
  • Consume fewer servers and printers by increasing utilisation
  • Stop over-provisioning
  • Improve capacity planning
  • Improve cooling efficiency
  • Turn power management on, use a low-power state or turn equipment off after hours
  • Extend the life of assets by reusing within the enterprise and externally
  • Ensure and validate the correct disposition of all electronic equipment
  • Analyse all waste

Once initiatives are in place to reduce the negative effect of using ICT, Gartner recommends IT leaders to develop initiatives that use ICT to reduce the enterprise's overall environmental presence.
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