Scientific assessments of the environmental impact of information and communications technologies (ICT) are generally insufficient, write Lan Yi and Hywel R. Thomas in this paper from the University of Cardiff.
The paper addresses the issue of the environmental impact of ICT by providing a review of previous technological devlopments in this area, giving a critical summary.
In Europe, information technologies have a positive environmental impact, note the authors. They cite examples including the dematerialisation of transport, such as the switch from air travel to videoconferencing, and the digitalisation of information represented by the switch from catalogues to websites.
However, ICT equipment contains toxic and hazardous substances and is energy consuming, the paper says. In this regard, the study outlines three categories of environmental impact for ICT:
- Environmental impact of business creation and development: Manufacturing ICT equipment uses resources and generates carbon emissions. The disposal of ICT equipment also raises environmental concerns;
- Environmental impact of ICT use in business applications: The use of ICT has a generally positive impact on the environment, for example, the switch from travel to video conferences;
- Environmental impact of mass use of ICT over the medium to long term: For example, if more and more people work at home due to increased use of ICT, they are more likely to take leisure drives.
Traditional environmental assessment approaches are “insufficient to accommodate the digital technology revolution” and “cannot accommodate the challenge of measuring the impact of ICT on environmental sustainability”, concludes the paper.
A more predictive and empirical model of assessing the impact of ICT on the environment would be more beneficial in the long term, add the authors.