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ICT sector examines how to measure its impact on environment

ICT sector examines how to measure its impact on environment

Several information and communication (ICT) technology organisations from around the world, among them Nokia, Ericsson, Dell and HP have joined forces to measure their carbon footprint as part of the ICT footprint initiative launched by the European Commission. 


Huge rise in ICT energy consumption

In spite of having a positive impact on the environment (you can find out more about this impact in Apahia’s white paper ‘ICT and Climate Change’), it is estimated that ICT products and services are responsible for 8 to 10% of the EU’s electricity consumption and 2.5 to 4% of its carbon emissions, with this contribution growing and possibly doubling by 2020.

While most evidence points to the manufacturing phase of ICT as the largest environmental footprint of the sector, there are also significant energy needs in data centres, with definite numbers hard to calculate.

Estimates show that every minute of the day, 48 hours of new video content is uploaded onto YouTube, 700,000 Facebook users share content, Google receives over 2 million search queries, and 200 million emails are sent.

Given that a single search query may produce from a few tenths of a gram to a few grams of CO2 emissions, the carbon footprint in this regard can prove to be substantial.

Currently calculations of the ICT carbon footprint vary significantly and are highly dependent on the different methods used, highlighting a need for transparency in the sector in order to accurately identify the source of emissions and measure them. This will enable the implementation of best practice scenarios, as well the inclusion of ICT energy efficiency criteria in procurement decisions.


Developing a common methodological framework

The overarching goal of the ICT footprint initiative is therefore to develop a common methodological framework for the measurement of the energy consumption and carbon emissions arising from the production, transport and selling processes of ICT goods, networks and services. Or in other words: to agree on how to measure the carbon footprint of everything from the supply of raw ICT materials, their recycling, the manufacturing of products such as a laptop, to the impact of services like hosting data in the cloud.

In March 2013 the first study under the ICT footprint initiative was published, identifying the results of the pilot-testing of 10 international standards of measuring such emissions.

The testing involved 18 tests of the international standards, provided by international standards bodies and organisations. The tests were carried out over a period of 10 months, from December 2011 to September 2012, by 27 ICT companies and associations.

The results showed that 10 measurement tools and standards tested by the organisations were comparable. The European Commission is now planning to get the ICT and relevant industries to put these methods into everyday use, and will in the coming months consult with stakeholders and the industry on how best to achieve this.


Picture by Flickr/Keoni Cabral

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