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Information Technology and the Reduction of Carbon Footprints

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 2756 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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Information Technology has become part and parcel of the business processes across industries and the global pursuit of going “Green” will remain unachieved unless IT enables the reduction of Carbon-Footprints. Green-IT is an endeavor to shift to more efficient products and approaches to allow us to compensate more equipment within the given energy foot-print. Regulations on the building of data-centers, better technologies to do so, environment friendly usage of technology are the key-focus areas of Green-IT.

Green IT was the Top Strategic Technology for the year 2008 as per Gartner. It went ahead of the multi-core chips, powers supplies, fans and power management soft-wares and a lot of innovation, re-thinking and re-designing is happening in the technology vendor and business processes sphere.

IT is all-encompassing and holistic, supporting all the functions like supply-chain, logistics, travel, facility management, collaboration, personnel management and the overall brand.

In his book, “Green to Gold”, Daniel Esty a Yale Professor, elucidates that IT leaves its fingerprints on all the business processes and its carbon-foot prints are also every-where. IT has the responsibility as well as the opportunity to combat this menace.

Role of Information Technology in going Green to Gold

Information technology is an industry which has grown at a remarkably fast pace in the last few decades Fast growing computers and telecom network, ever-increasing demands for computing power, rapid increase in usage of computers, PCs, laptops, data-centers, mobile phones, etc have caused IT to leave a lot of Carbon-foot prints across the globe. The foot-prints are heading more towards the developing and less-developed countries. These ICT driven devices would become the biggest green-house gas emitters by 2020. But it has a potential to reduce far more of the carbon-footprints than it causes.

A McKinsey study has found that IT can help in eliminating 7.8 metric gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2020 which is equivalent to 15 percent of global emissions today and five times more than the estimated emissions from these technologies in 2020.

Source: McKinsey Report, “How IT can reduce Carbon Emission”, 2008

The carbon-foot print has been calculated on the basis of levels of emissions associated with the usage, manufacture and distribution of ICT. ICT emits about 2% of the emission globally which is estimated to become 3% or 1.54 metric gigatons, twice of what the UK produces today.

The rapid development in ICT in the countries like China, India and Brazil will cause the increase in gas-emission. The rapid development in ICT in the countries like China, India and Brazil will cause major increase in gas-emission.

• Emissions from manufacture and usage of PCs will double by 2020 owing to digitalization of middle class in the developing countries.

• Mobile-phones carbon-foot prints will triple by 2020 majorly due to consumption of silicon and other rare metals.

• But most of the damage is caused due to increase in size and number of data-centers serving the un-quenchable thirst for increased computing and processing power. This emission is expected to become 5-folds by 2020 as compared to what it was in 2002.

As the crisis is becoming fiercer by the day, it’s high time that corporate and government has started paying heed to this.

The technological advancement in the field of information and communication can be used to abate the emission of green-house gases caused by the very growth of ICT itself. Some of the possible technological solutions are explained below.

Virtualization 2.0:

Virtualization enables “to do more with less.”

The technology allows for consolidation of large no. of individual machines on one large server (like high density blade servers) resulting in lesser effective cost, and easier management. It also improves the productivity and overall ROI of the IT infrastructure with the use of SANs (Storage Area Networks) and other NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices which reduce redundancy and idle time for the scarce, energy guzzling resources. Virtualization improves the server utilization rates resulting in lesser no. of data centers required. The technology enables lesser energy consumption, lesser green house-gas emission, reduced heat generation, and lesser production of e-wastes.

According to Gartner, the total number of virtual machines deployed worldwide is expected to increase from 540,000 at the end of 2006 to more than 4 million by 2009. This technology can reduce the power consumption of data centers by 50-80 % and floor space by 65%.

Virtualization tops the list of top 10 Strategic technologies for 2009 published by Gartner. With Green IT being at number 4.

Material Recycling:

Around 20-30% of IT equipments become obsolete each year. The IT sector companies generated 3.3 lakh tones of e-wastes in the year 2007 in India. This number is expected to increase to 4.7 lakh tones by the end of 2011. IT sector during the course of their normal activities do not put much strain on the natural resources. But the wastes that they create like CPU, servers, printer cartridge etc. cause much strain on the ecological balance.

Many components of the e-wastes have plastic blends which do not bio-degrade easily. The e-wastes also contain lead, cadmium, mercury and bromine flame retardants which are harmful to environment. The lead in computer monitors (approx. 20% by weight); chips in mother board are all highly damaging to environment.

As per EPA estimates nearly 3 billion units of used electronic items will end up as waste in 2010. The average life of a desktop in USA has reduced to approximately 2 years. The consequence of reducing life span of electronics good is increase in amount of e-Waste.

The expenditure on IT equipment is exorbitant (almost double in 5 years) and so is the toll these put by them on the natural resources. If practices are adopted that increase their useful life, it will contribute a lot in tackling the problem of e-wastes. Many experts consider it as very effective way to tackle the problems of e-Waste; by reducing their creation.

E-Waste recycling helps us to recover some more value from the scrap/waste, reduce using up natural resources and prevent contamination of land and water by toxic wastes.

One way to deal with e-Wastes is to return the old machines back to the manufactures. In case the original manufacturer does not take the product back, it can be given to a responsible recycler. When the recyclers get e-Wastes they try to make it reusable by making changes in the equipments. Then the wastes are stripped into different components (process called de-manufacturing). The broad categories to which “de-manufacturing” is done can be to segregate plastics, metal non-ferrous and ferrous parts, circuit boards, CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) glass and Wood wastes. The steps followed at one such recycler (Waste Management) are shown below

After de-manufacturing parts are boxed and shipped for sale and re-use. The parts that cannot be re-used are sent for recycling and for safe disposal so that toxic parts do not come in contact with humans via rain water or land.

e-waste management in India

In India there had been no law/guidelines governing e-Wastes for a long time. However few states like Karnataka have started making rules related to e-Wastes and in April 2008 for the first time Government came up with guidelines on disposal of e-Waste.

Out of the total e-Waste created only two fifth used to get recycled. Now India is also adopting Extended Producer Responsibility, as per which now the producers will have to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products. So they will also have to take the responsibility of the recycling of their products.

For this they can take the help of a registered recycler or start their own recycling plant or make products that have very low level of “toxic” products and use such process so that at a later date recycling cost can be curtailed.

When talking about managing the e-Waste, the biggest challenge is tracking the machines so that the companies can collect them and get them recycled. This will call for great investment in infrastructure and lot of data base management. Many companies operating in India provide such services in other nation because the rules of the land dictate so. In India the rules were lax hence this practice was not adopted. However with Government’s intent of implementation of EPR, things are likely to change in future. One way to ensure better collection of e-Wastes can be to provide some financial incentives if they collect and recycle more than a certain amount of e-Waste.

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Regarding dumping of e-Wastes in India the law of country declares such activities as illegal. But the rules allow donation or charity electronic goods to come in the nation. Many companies exploit this loophole to dump their e-Waste in India, in the garb of charity. Till recently nearly 70% of the e-Waste in recycling plants of India had been exported or dumped or given as “charity” to India. India needs to make rules to stop such digital-dumping in future.

Green Computing: It is the study and practice of using computing resources efficiently. It aims at reducing the hazardous materials, maximizing energy efficiency during product’s life time and promoting recyclability and bio-degradability of the defunct e-waste.

A plethora of initiatives are being taken in this regards like

• Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI) which aims at reducing the electric power consumption by PCs in active and inactive states.

• The Green Electronic Council has come up with Electronic Product Environmental Assessment tool (EPEAT) like The Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator (EEBC) which assists the purchasers in evaluating green products by providing certificates like EPEAT Bronze™, EPEAT Silver™, and EPEAT Gold™ on the basis of compliance with the eco-friendly norms.

• There are global consortiums like The Green Grid (which has members like Microsoft, IBM, Dell, AMD, Sun Microsystems, and VMware etc) and non-profit organizations like Green Computing Impact Organization are also working in the field of green computing.

Power Management:

There are a number of open industry standards like Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) which allow operating systems to control the power saving options of the underlying hardware. For example

• CPU performance-stepping that dynamically adjusts the energy requirements of processor in proportion to the load.

• Dynamic control of server’s internal fan, Liquid cooling agents, and judicious arrangement of equipments in datacenters as per hot aisle/cold aisle layout also aids in reducing energy consumption.

Efficient power supply and power management of a desktop computer can reduce in-use power consumption by 10-30%. Thin-client computing can reduce life-cycle energy consumption by 70-80%. .

Video-conferencing & Telecommuting:

A lot of companies have adopted Video-conferencing and Telepresence technologies to reduce carbon-emission related to employee travel, to reduce office-space, heating and lighting expenditure. For example 40% of the Sun’s employees use telecommuting. This helped in saving an estimated 29,000 tons of CO2 emissions and enabled company cut on 6,660 office seats thus cutting real estate cost by $63 million in the last fiscal year.

Other initiatives like hotelling or flexible work-place reduce the space required per employee as space is reserved only when it is needed. Flexible timing and working from home also contribute to reduced green-house gas emission and power consumption.

Small Green Initiatives:

Paper-less Business Paradigm:

In a small and cost-effective way IT can assist in dematerializing the goods and processes by establishing paper-less work-place. Double-sided printing reduces paper consumption up to 40%. A paperless process is 100% paper free. Initiatives like Green PDFs which emphasize paper-less usage and sharing of information electronically can be taken.

The technology enabled tele-work for processes like e-billing, e-taxation and e-governance will reduce the deforestation and emission of green-house gases from fuels. Though it will consume electricity, but this model remains viable given the un-utilized exorbitant processing and storage capacities of computers and the amount of reliability, portability, retrieval efficiency and availability it provides.

ICT can facilitate in cutting down far more emission than it causes if energy productivity is focused in the sectors of buildings, power, transport and manufacturing.

Building Manufacturing Power Transportation

Optimize energy usage, Reduce office-space, Telecommuting, Work from home Smart Control systems for motors Sensors in Grids to monitor power loss and theft Smart technologies to manage truck logistics etc , Process of dematerialization of goods and processes

Better architecture, efficient technology to monitor lighting, heating ventilation E.g. In China, some plants could cut emission by 200 metric megaton per year One grid in India reduced power loss by 15% by the use of sensors Reducing transportation through telecommuting, video conferencing, internet shopping, downloading content

Smart buildings can save up to 2.03 metric tons by 2020 By 2020, 0.68 metric gigatons can be saved annually Globally efficient grids can cut 2.03 gigatons of emissions by2020 0.5 metric gigatons a year can be reduced by this

Economic downturn and Green IT

Global warming unlike the current economic scenario is not cyclical in nature. To tide over the problem of global warming companies had started taking attempts to be greener. Naturally Green IT was a part of many such endeavors. In the current economic downturn IT is looked upon as a medium to remove inefficiencies of the processes. However the fact still remains that the current economic scenario has caused the IT budget across industries to decrease. The global economic meltdown has caused short term liquidity crisis and lack of faith, which has resulted in many long term projects being put on shelf. Pursuing a long term strategic plan involves huge investment in research and development, in implementation cost etc. Investment in Green IT, if done properly, will lead to good returns in long run. But the impact of the current short term- medium term economic crisis is that it has lead to projects of Green IT being put on back seats.

However companies having means and willingness to pursue their long term ambitions still keep Green IT on the priority list. Companies from non IT business domain have continued their endeavors of becoming greener in their IT related activities and are going for upgrading of old infrastructure instead of disposing them and are going for environmental friendly servers.


The rate at which man has recklessly harnessed the natural environment has brought him to the crisis where he faces struggle for existence. It’s high time that businesses realize the gravity of situation and mend their ways. Information and Communication Technology which invariably touches every aspect of the business holds a lot of responsibility as well as opportunity to reduce the carbon-footprints created by man. Green-IT is a two-pronged solution to this problem where-in it can reduce the emission caused by IT itself by technologies like virtualization, better e-waste management, better power management as well as it can assist other businesses and technologies in reducing their carbon-emissions by enabling resource sharing and establishing paradigms like paper-less offices, telecommuting, teleconferencing etc .

This way it can first reduce and then help transform the world into a low carbon economy, thereby restoring “Greener Earth”. Information Technology can indeed take us from “Green to Gold “.


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