Much of the positive impacts of sustainable ICT will come from the bottom up instead of the top down
Charles Despins, IEEE Senior Member and Co-Chair, IEEE Sustainable ICT initiative, explains that widespread adoption of ICT solutions in various industries could enable the elimination of 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Information and communications technology (ICT) encompasses the tools and networks used to create, store and share information. That includes computers, the internet, telecommunications and broadcasting technologies. With the rapid rate of change in all things internet-related, ICT is consistently at the center of the technology conversation. New device turnover raises the question of how to make the relatively short life cycle of phones and computers more sustainable.
In a recent interaction, Charles Despins, IEEE Senior Member and Co-Chair, IEEE Sustainable ICT initiative and Vice President of research, partnerships and faculty affairs at École de technologie supérieure (ETS) at the Université du Québec, mentions, “Information and communications technology (ICT) (and the so-called digital revolution in a broader sense) are a double-edged sword in terms of building a sustainable future. On one hand, ICT’s energy consumption and carbon footprint have grown substantially in recent decades. This has been a result of the development of networks, increased usage and non-renewable energy sources powering (at least partly) these ICT infrastructures.”
He informs that ICT life-cycle management also remains a challenge, exemplified by a growing e-waste problem. “On the other hand, detailed studies have shown that widespread adoption of ICT solutions in various industries could enable the elimination of 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as substantially contribute to the achievement of at least half of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.”
” Over the last decade, the ICT industry has made great strides on the ‘sustainability in ICT’ front (improved energy efficiency is a good example). Much more needs to be done, but the process is engaged. Going forward, with ICT gradually immersing itself in every industry and area of human activity, sustainability through ICT is a huge opportunity but also a daunting challenge. It requires a much stronger dialogue and concerted actions between the technology and ICT industry community, the other industry sectors that use ICT and public policy makers.
“With respect to the latter, this means engaging at the national government level but also at regional and municipal levels. Notably, when we talk about ‘smart’ cities, ‘smart’ must also mean ‘sustainable,’ notes Despins.
Further in this 21st century, the social impacts of sustainable ICT will range from clean, healthy and prosperous communities to individuals fully empowered to pursue their own goals. However, at the current time, as we discuss 5G, 6G and novel applications, just under 50% of the world’s population does not even have access to the internet.
“In this respect, there is a rich-and-poor-country digital divide as well as an urban-rural divide in many developed countries,” says Despins, adding that as engineers, we must engage at the local level to make our own communities smarter and more sustainable. Much of the positive impacts of sustainable ICT will come from the bottom up instead of the top down.”