The environmental impact of ICT: reducing the ICT footprint and rethinking progress & technology with sustainability in mind

November 16 2016

The environmental impact of ICT: reducing the ICT footprint and rethinking progress & technology with sustainability in mind

Posted by r.meneses

The digital transformation of society is having a positive impact on the environment as less paper is being used, and less traveling is needed… or not? All that glitters is not gold and switching to a digital approach is not immune from drawbacks in terms of global sustainability: the ICT itself is responsible for a high percentage of the total carbon emissions, due for instance to the electricity it uses and the cooling systems it requires. Remarkably almost 10% of all energy used and 4% of carbon emissions in the environment are calculated as coming from ICT only.

Luckily reducing the carbon emission of ICT goes hand in hand with becoming more energy efficient and so with saving money. This is a great incentive for moving towards greener ICT. And this is where comes into play. The goal of is to support organisations, in particular SMEs, in reducing their carbon footprint and becoming more energy efficient, promoting the adoption of carbon footprint methodologies in the ICT sector., a Coordination & Support Action project, funded under the Horizon2020 programme of the European Commission, offers a catalogue of methodologies for adopting low carbon solutions, an online marketplace for bringing together suppliers and buyers of ICT energy efficiency solutions, and a self-assessment tool to help users to calculate their organisation’s carbon footprint.

Sustainability through ICT is a complex matter, raising interesting debates among researchers, like the open discussion about virtualisation. Virtualisation of servers and storage allows companies to use thin clients which are cheaper and less energy consuming. VMWare calculates that during 2015 alone the CO2 avoidance associated with customers using their virtualization products was 67 million MT CO2e: that’s equivalent to removing 14 million cars from the road for one year! On the other hand, other experts in the field highlight that virtualisation implies a more complex underlying infrastructure and increased demands on network connections, therefore a net improvement in carbon footprint may not be granted in all cases where virtualisation is adopted. Be that as it may, innovative solutions are being studied to dramatically improve energy efficiency in virtualisation scenarios, too.

On the basis on their direct experience, VMWare decided to take action and defined their own sustainability roadmap covering issues of green economy, but also of social and ethical sustainability and supporting a culture of inclusion and diversity. You may take a look at their “Force for good” impact report for more details.

More info on interesting debates about ICT impact on carbon footprint and methodologies to measure it can also be found on our website, at, where one can also register to our newsletter and be updated on effects of virtualisation and other lively discussions taking place in the field.

Sustainability is about leaving the world as a better place for the coming generations. Not only in terms of environmental impact and consumption of resources, but also in terms of the society we are developing. It is important that all stakeholders take their responsibilities: from governments defining appropriate laws, to companies enforcing them but also moving towards a more responsible behaviour beyond the mere respect of laws.

Best practices for reducing ICT’s environmental impact and methodologies for measuring products’ and organisations’ carbon footprint are already out there: researchers and innovators are putting their fair share of effort in this direction. Nonetheless, reckons that most of the 10,000,000 ICT-intensive SMEs across Europe simply lack the basic knowledge or awareness to address the problem. This would be a missed opportunity for a healthier environment and for SMEs to increase their competitiveness in the medium-long term & lower their bills.

That’s exactly why we invite all European ICT-intensive SMEs to join the online marketplace: get informed, in a simple and straightforward way, find your sustainable solutions (and become more energy efficient)!

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