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Can More Efficient IT Be Worse for the Environment?

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3 Author(s)
Tomlinson, B. ; Univ. of California, Irvine, CA, USA ; Silberman, M.S. ; White, J.

Understanding the role that energy efficiency can play in enabling IT to serve sustainability is critical, both to the computing industry and to the global ecosystem. The information and communication technology sector accounts for 2-2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions and is growing rapidly. Making IT more efficient can also contribute to unsustainable economic growth and related environmentally harmful activities. Many factors influence whether a given effort to increase energy efficiency aligns with sustainability. Our objective here is not to undermine efficiency efforts. Efficiency tends to foster economic growth, which is a policy goal for all industrialized nations and often increases people's standard of living. However, many computing professionals seek to improve efficiency because they believe it is a reliable way to reduce humanity's environmental impact. Unfortunately there is no clear consensus on this relationship in the environmental science and economics literature.Identifying which particular energy efficiencies can be sustainability-directed is currently very difficult. In pursuing sustainability through efficiency, we must first determine the conditions under which efficiency aligns with sustainability and undertake only the efforts that satisfy those conditions.

Published in:

Computer  (Volume:44 ,  Issue: 1 )