Information and communication technology (ICT) has produced a global revolution in how billions of people work, socialize, manage their finances, and take care of their health—and it allows people to process and analyze mounds of data that can be used to make our lives better and more efficient. However, therein lies a two-edged sword: ICT enables unprecedented benefits, yet it currently consumes unsustainable levels of energy. This in turn results in contributions to greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, according to the GeSI Smarter2030 report.
Therefore, ICT offers both an opportunity and a challenge. The more widespread its use, the more productive and connected we become. Yet if its energy demands are not drastically reduced, the digital age could conceivably go dark, stunting progress as we know it. The solution, then, is for ICT to go green.
To do so will mean overcoming technological, economical, and public policy hurdles. That is the raison d’être for the IEEE Green ICT Initiative and the focus of its upcoming global conference, the Greening through ICT Summit (GtICT), to be held on 3 October in Paris. The conference’s mission is succinctly captured by its theme: “Sustainability in a Connected World.”
THE GROWING IMPACT OF ICT
The GeSI report reveals that ICT produces about 2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, on par with the aviation industry. But ICT’s rapid growth outpaces aviation, and in three years it is forecasted to double its emissions. Internet traffic, which relies on ICT, is expected to increase up to 40 percent each year. In two decades, that equals an increase of 1,000 times its current traffic. At that rate, ICT could consume about 60 percent of all global energy resources by 2027.
And those numbers are conservative. The burgeoning Internet of Things industry could accelerate the projections.
As a researcher in green ICT, I’m optimistic that the world’s best innovators will move the needle on this vital issue. Our collective efforts must forestall unsustainable outcomes. I’m personally excited to attend the summit in Paris because the challenge is too great for any individual or group to tackle. It requires a multidisciplinary approach. After all, global challenges require global solutions.
IT TAKES A GLOBAL VILLAGE
The effort involves developing policies, working with industry, changing human behavior, and creating technical standards. It will require action from the highest levels of governments worldwide down to each individual.
Critical questions will be explored at the summit: Should nations coordinate and enact policies that will encourage green ICT? And, if so, how and in what form? Will incentives to save energy while increasing businesses’ bottom lines be a sufficient driver for those in industry to make changes? How—and how swiftly—can green ICT be put to use in domains in which it currently isn’t fully applied, such as in agriculture, smart cities, and manufacturing? As the global telecom industry moves to 5G, how can we ensure that it integrates our latest efforts in green ICT?
You, the reader, can help this mission simply by being aware of this global issue. Someday you may be called upon to favor products that bear a green ICT stamp of approval, just as the Energy Star symbol signifies energy-efficient household appliances in the United States. And you can alert your colleagues who work in related fields to attend the summit in May.
As a technologist, I have contributed to advances in green ICT that make me optimistic we can slow, and even reduce, energy consumption from devices. I’m also keenly aware of the breadth and depth of the challenge. I believe this is one of the most crucial challenges of the 21st century.
IEEE Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani is the cochair of the IEEE Green ICT Initiative.