Guest Article #68

The Importance of Standards for Green ICT…and the World

Nothing defines our era more than Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It is central to every facet of modern life and yet, despite its all-encompassing application, remains on the fringes of debates concerning climate change and sustainable development. ITU, however, remains committed to its view that ICT has an essential role to play in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

Applied in most sectors of an economy, ICT's potential to combat climate change lies chiefly in its ability to reduce the carbon footprint of high energy-consuming sectors; particularly in energy generation, waste disposal, building construction and transportation.

ITU is thus engaged in an effort to raise the profile of ICT as a topic in discussions relating to the environment, and has been involved in the UNFCCC process since 2007.

In addition, the first ITU Green Standards Week was held in Rome, Italy, from 5-9 September 2011, and extended ITU's efforts at raising awareness of ICT's role in promoting environmental sustainability and, in particular, how standards can help to achieve this. One of the most striking examples of this role is ITU's universal charger for mobile devices which may eliminate an estimated 82,000 tons of redundant chargers, and consequently reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6 million tons per year.

One of the ITU's unique characteristics is its function as a bridge between the public and private sectors. In this light, establishing standard methodologies to assess the environmental impact of ICT was the first item on the agenda in Rome. ITU has been working with industry and government representatives to construct such standards, and is proud to announce the first level of approval (known as consent in ITU) on two internationally agreed standards: ITU-T L.1410, “Methodology for environmental impacts of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) goods, networks and services,”  and L.1420, “Methodology for energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions impact assessment of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in organizations.”

The ICT community needs to present reliable data proving ICT's ability to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Governments need accurate figures displaying the degree to which green ICT implementation can reduce energy use and emissions, and therefore costs to a government and its economy. The private sector requires dependable figures on which to base projections of the revenue and costs associated with the use of green ICT. Given a sound business case, directors and shareholders will be far quicker to embrace green technology. The revenue must justify the costs, and with a standard methodology to judge the effect of green ICT applications over time, and factoring in the expected adoption rate for these applications in a global, interconnected marketplace; the business case for green ICT will become a great deal more compelling.

The second major issue to come to the fore in Rome was that of e-waste. The ICT industry has demonstrated its commitment to the reduction of its own carbon footprint, and e-waste has thus become a prominent concern. Increasing consumer demand for ICT and the rapid progress of the ICT industry has led to a growing volume of e-waste, an influx of e-waste exports to developing countries, and the exposure of a very blatant need to address this issue. ITU is thus working with its membership and others including the United Nations University, the UN Environment Programme, the Basel Convention, CEDARE and StEP on this issue, and will launch a global survey assessing the topic on 1 November 2011.

The Green Standards Week also explored a new method to monitor and evaluate climate change; the use of submarine communication cables to monitor climatic conditions. A global real-time network, this proposed technology relies heavily on the establishment of comprehensive technological standards. The case was interrogated by experts from the science, engineering, business and law communities; experts all agreeing upon the need to work collaboratively on the introduction and operation of this technology.

Approached from all angles, the discussion formed a comprehensive overview of the steps required to develop and introduce this submarine system, and successfully laid a foundation for future debates on the topic. Workshop participants recognised the great potential of the proposed network, and have called upon the ITU, UNESCO/IOC and WMO to establish and coordinate a task force composed of experts from the science, engineering, business and law communities to thoroughly investigate how this submarine network might be brought into existence. The growing number of natural disasters in recent times has violently asserted that, alongside attempts to mitigate it, adaption to climate change is an issue of extraordinary importance. While further disasters are inevitable, excessive losses of life need not be, and this network may be just the system to achieve this.

The outcomes of these discussions in Rome – some encouraging, and some pointing to the magnitude of work remaining – will be taken forward to the 17th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UNFCCC, to be held in Durban, South Africa, in November-December this year. The ITU will continue to voice its message that ICT has an integral role to play in greening our global economy, and that sustainable development – whether related to ICT or not – cannot be achieved without collaborative mechanisms among industry sectors, and between industry and government.