The Global eSustainability Initiative has released a report showing that while information and communications technologies (ICT) use a lot of energy and have an impact on global warming, that impact might not be negative. It is true that electronic equipment worldwide is about on par with aviation for CO2 emissions with 830 million tonnes (or 2% of total), but the other side of the coin is that these technology could help avoid 7.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2020, or 500% more than what they caused.
How Computers Make us Greener
The most obvious way that electronic equipment can make us greener is by reducing transportation emissions: Videoconferencing, email, audio calls, etc. That should all add up to between 140m and 220m tonnes of CO2 a year in 2020. But the real big improvements are elsewhere: Improving logistics (f.ex. planning better routes for delivery vehicles, managing supply chains better, etc) could save 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2, using data networking to create a "smart" grid could save 2 billion tonnes of CO2, and computer-controlled buildings that can manage lighting and ventilation depending on how many people are inside could save a further 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2.
But it won't happen on its own:
None of this will be easy. The industry can supply the hardware and software, but the bigger problem is the "wetware"—people, economics and politics. The right skills are often scarce. Incentives are lacking for businesses to invest in carbon-reducing technology. There need to be new technical standards. For transport, power grids and buildings to become more efficient, there must be rules on how, for instance, refrigerators should talk to electricity meters, and thermostats to heating systems. But the internet shows that when common standards are agreed on in an industry, great things can happen. The technology industry's contribution to tackling climate change may come from its standards bodies as much as its clever gizmos.
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