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Information & Communication Technology

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Business Imperatives for Green ICT

Marghanita da Cruz, April 2010

Abstract: This article explores the imperatives for green Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). There are financial and environmental, both social and ecological, reasons for green ICT. Energy costs are increasing and greenhouse gas emission need to be reduced. Obsolete computers and other electronic equipment are a hazardous waste, their disposal can be costly and their recycling valuable.

Increasing Energy Costs | Environmental Obligations | E-Waste | Reducing costs and environmental footprints | Reducing costs and environmental footprints | Strategic E-Learning | References | Author

Increasing Energy Costs

In March 2010, the NSW Independent Pricing Authority (IPART) approved increases in Electricity prices and predicted further rises of between 20% and 64%1.

With business as usual, the current Australian Government's Electricity bill of $170,000,0002 could increase by 64% or around $110,000,000, without providing any new capacity to meet demand.

To stay below the 2o Celsius temperature rise and keep climate change at a manageable level, greenhouse gas emissions need to level off by 2020 and be reduced by 50% by 2050.3.

IPART has predicted that the implementation of a CPRS will contribute to the increase in electricity prices in NSW1. A CPRS would also affect Fuel prices for motor vehicles and air travel.

Using ICT enabled business processes can provide time and energy efficiencies by reducing the need for business travel.

The energy used by the Australian Government data centres currently contributes about 300,000 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas Emissions annually2. It is estimated that, in 2010, Computers and Telecommunications contribute 2% of the world's Greenhouse Gas emissions and ICT can be made more efficient4.

Environmental Obligations

Australia and the EU have ratified the Basel Convention which covers the movement and disposal of Hazardous Waste between countries. Australian Legislation requires the sound management of hazardous waste to protect human health, and the environment, against the adverse effects that may result from the waste.

Equipment may be repaired, refurbished and upgraded for re-use, which delays it becoming hazardous waste5. However, new equipment is usually more material and energy efficient6.

From a social responsibility perspective, mining and transporting raw materials, to manufacture, distribute and operate computers, damages ecosystems, threatens livelihoods, lifestyles, and human life7.


In November 2009, Australian Governments agreed to develop a national policy for waste management to meet Australia's obligations on hazardous wastes, address market impediments and streamline a co-regulatory framework.8. In practice, the management of domestic E-waste is falling on local councils and businesses have to dispose of their own e-waste.

Since November 2008, the Sydney City Council has collected nearly 55 tonnes of e-waste for recycling9. Overtime, e-waste breaks down leaching dangerous toxins into the groundwater and contaminating soil. 98% can be diverted from landfill and recycled.10

As the price of the precious metals increases, the value of e-waste increases. At a spot price of around AUD1250 (14 April 2010), the 7500lbs of Gold which could be recovered from 100 million mobile phones 11 would be worth 150 million Australian Dollars.

However, the recycling of the components in computers can be dangerous to workers and the 2% of e-waste that ends up in Landfill is often still toxic. The EU has issued the RoHS directive and member countries are introducing regulations to restrict the marketing of products containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants12.

Reducing costs and environmental footprints

Organisations can manage energy usage and improve their environmental footprint, by implementing policies to:

As countries implement requlations to protect the environment. Manufacturers of electronic equipment will need to comply with regulations which impose restrictions on the marketing of products which do not comply with specified levels of hazardous substances or energy ratings.

Pricing and regulations may also affect the ongoing use and disposal of equipment.

Educate Users

The environmental footprint of organisations can be reduced by printing less - this saves paper and ink. It also reduces the need for controlled storage and destruction of the printed documents.

Rather than asking the recipient of an email to "Think of the environment before printing this email!" the sending organisation could review the value of long disclaimers, appended by automated systems and encourage the inclusion of a URL instead of an attachment, which provides for better record management, information access and authority.

System Des gin should assess cost of consumables ink, paper, removable media including CDs, DVDs, Tape and where end-users have discretion educate them to make considered and informed decisions.

Tuning settings on desktops and laptops can reduce energy requirements and on laptops, provides an added benefit of extending the battery life. For example, not using active screen savers and setting monitors, desktops and laptops to enter sleep mode can provide some quick wins13.

Data Centre and Workplace Design

Designing data centres and workplaces to passively dissipate the heat generated by computers will reduce cooling requirements and energy used by air conditioning.14. Choosing appropriate and energy efficient air conditioning 15 and utilising the heat generated by computers to heat buildings16 also reduces energy demand.

Capacity planning often focuses on peaks. However, in quiet times, idle computers consume energy (which emits greenhouse gases) and generate heat within data centres. Ensuring their is sufficient rather than excess computer capacity helps to minimise energy requirements.17

ICT as Enabler

Telecommunications enables data centres to be located in cooler climates. Using electronic tools, instead of face to face meetings and paper correspondence, provides time and energy efficiencies. Reducing business travel dramatically cuts energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Strategic E-Learning


  1. Media Release - IPART releases Final Report and Final Determination on electricity prices to 2013 - March 2010
  2. Australian Government Data Centre Strategy 2010-2025
  3. What Science Is Telling Us About The Climate-Change Challenge (US Whitehouse blog, September 29, 2009)
  4. Worthington, Green Technology Strategies: Energy saving - Data Centres and Client Equipment
  5. Worthington, Green Technology Strategies: Materials Use
  6. Ecologically Sustainable Sydney: Computer Recycling
  7. W.Virginia mine blast ups price of coal for steel (Reuters Apr 13, 2010), Flood in new China coal mine traps 123 miners (Reuters Mar 28, 2010), Oil rig leak could have been prevented (ABC Jan 13, 2010) and Check on reef damage as coal ship Shen Neng 1 refloated (The Australian April 13, 2010)
  8. National Waste Policy (EPHC 5 November 2009)
  9. City of Sydney - E-Waste Dropoff Collection
  11. Wastes - Partnerships - Plug-In To eCycling (United States of America, Environmental Protection Agency
  12. Restrictions on Hazardous Substances EU Directive 2002/95
  13. Green ICT Quick Wins (Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance), 7 April 2009)
  14. Cooling the data center (Andy Woods, Communications of the ACM, April 2010)
  15. Tips for choosing an efficient air conditioner ( 02 February 2009)
  16. Computer Clusters That Heat Houses (MIT Technology Review June 23, 2009)
  17. Recipe for efficiency: principles of power-aware computing (Parthasarathy Ranganathan, Communications of the ACM, April 2010)