What is claimed to be the first public document to look at the energy demands of IT products and services and set out a plan to cut IT’s carbon footprint has been published by Intellect, the UK tech industry’s trade association.
The document – entitled "High Tech: Low Carbon" – also looks at the impact of technology on other sectors, and argues that if low-carbon technologies are not implemented soon it will cause irreparable harm to the environment.
According to the report, the energy use related to ICT currently accounts for about 2% of global CO2 emissions, but if nothing was done to improve tech’s energy efficiency by 2050 there could be a five-fold increase in emissions related ICT and a six-fold increase in the emissions related to consumer electronics.
Intellect said, however, that there were already clear signs of energy efficiency improvement in both sectors. It said this was already helping to mitigate the risks.
Intellect said it believes the industry can exceed the target set by the CBI Climate Change Task Force for a 30% improvement in the efficiency of electrical equipment by 2030. It said many products could exceed these targets by 2010.
The report identifies 26 different technologies that can be applied by other sectors of the economy to reduce their carbon emissions. These technologies are not simply ICT-related but encompass related fields such as engineering and biotechnology.
Intellect said that innovation and the intelligent use of technology would be key to reducing carbon emissions across the economy. The technology sector should take a leading role in these two areas, it said.
In the document Intellect also comes out in support of carbon accounting. It said that making carbon accountable would help drive demand for energy efficient products and services, iron out perverse incentives and create a level playing field for energy efficient manufacturers while stimulating investment in low carbon technologies.
Intellect’s report makes four main commitments to tackle climate change:
• The body will lead a systematic approach to monitor and measure emissions generated by products and services form the UK technology industry. Intellect is working with scientists and technology experts to develop a mechanism to help quantify ICT-related emissions
• It will work to improve environmental performance throughout the technology supply chain.
• It will stimulate and encourage behavioural change. Intellect is building a web-based tool that will enable consumers to compare the energy efficiency and environmental credentials of a wide range of electronics products against their functionality and purchase price.
• It will identify and accelerate the development of the best low carbon technologies. Intellect is creating a panel of technology experts from both business and academia will work together to develop a comprehensive summary of the best opportunities for emissions reduction and how they might be optimised.
Intellect’s environment leadership group, which includes Microsoft, Intel, HP, Sharp, Fujitsu and Deloitte, will participate in these programmes and will also work with Intellect to ensure it meets these commitments.
John Higgins, director general of Intellect, said: “It is clear that there is considerable scope for improving the energy efficiency of ICT and CE products, irrespective of our sector size, our contribution to GDP or anything else. However, it should also be clear that the technology sector is embracing the challenge of energy."
However, Higgins also admitted that improving efficiency wasn’t enough in itself. “We have to find ways to completely decouple economic growth from energy consumption,” he said.