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Evaluating the Carbon-Reducing Impacts of ICT

September 01, 2010
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  • The continued development of smart motors, smart logistics, smart buildings, smart grids, and dematerialization would cut emissions generated by the transportation, power, and industrial sectors.

  • A greater understanding of the carbon-reducing potential of these ICT products and services will greatly accelerate their adoption.

  • A standard methodology is therefore needed to assess ICT’s potential—or else, investment in the sector to combat climate change may slow and lose focus.

 

As reported in SMART 2020: Enabling the Low-Carbon Economy in the Information Age, information and communication technologies (ICT) could cut global “business as usual” greenhouse gas emissions by 15% and save up to €600 billion by 2020. The continued development of smart motors, smart logistics, smart buildings, smart grids and dematerialization would drive this reduction by decreasing the emissions generated by sectors such as transport, buildings, power and industry.

A greater understanding of the carbon-reducing potential of these ICT products and services will greatly accelerate their adoption. To this end, a common means of assessing the low-carbon enabling effects of ICT solutions is required. Without a standard methodology for assessment, the rate of investment in ICT to combat climate change may slow and lose focus, despite scientific consensus that immediate, direct action is needed to halt climate change.

In recognition of this urgent need, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) has taken the bold action of establishing a methodological framework for assessing the enabling effects of ICT—the ICT Enablement Methodology. Building on existing assessment standards and proposed methodological approaches, as well as the commitment of industry leaders and researchers, GeSI has developed a methodology tailored to the needs of the ICT industry and its customers, with a focus on ease of assessment where possible.

Developed in compliance with broadly-accepted guidelines for life cycle assessment (LCA) put forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the methodology proposes a three-step process to evaluate the carbon impact of ICT solutions. It emphasizes streamlining the evaluation process by identifying and assessing the ICT-related impacts that are most relevant to the goal and scope of each study.

By addressing the ICT industry’s assessment needs, GeSI’s proposed methodology represents an important step toward quantifying the gains realized across all business and public sectors through the application of ICT solutions. The methodology is intended for immediate use as a guide for assessing the net enabling effect of an ICT product or service.

The ICT Enablement Methodology also paves the way for further development, including the standardization of criteria for assessing specific types of ICT solutions. This will increase the ease and consistency of applying the ICT Enablement Methodology. In addition, development of compatible software tools will reduce resource and cost requirements.

To demonstrate the immediate relevance of the ICT Enablement Methodology, six case studies applying the methodology are included in this report. These studies were developed retrospectively, based on existing research.

GeSI believes the ICT Enablement Methodology and corresponding case studies represent a critical step toward common approaches to assessing ICT impact. However, only real-world adoption, use and refinement of the methodology will drive true acceptance. Therefore, the establishment of an ongoing dialogue and the development of additional case studies using this methodology are essential next steps.

GeSI looks forward to engaging the broader stakeholder community in the further development of the ICT Enablement Methodology. The introduction of this common approach for assessing the enabling effects of ICT will undoubtedly bring nearer the realization of a 15% reduction in global emissions from the use of ICT.

The total footprint of the ICT sector in 2007 was estimated as 2% of total emissions. On the other hand, development and use of ICT solutions has the potential to reduce global business as usual emissions by 15% by 2020. This figure comes from SMART 2020: Enabling the Low-Carbon Economy in the Information Age published by GeSI and The Climate Group in 2008.
Exact figures: €553 billion in energy and fuel saved an additional €91 billion in carbon saved, assuming a cost of €20/tonne, for a total of €644 billion savings.
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