University of Calgary professor Richard Hawkins says there is no evidence that information technology (IT) reduces the world's environmental footprint. "It was once assumed that there was little or no material dimension to information technology, thus, it should be clean with minimal environmental impact," says Hawkins, the Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy. "However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated." Hawkins says that digital technologies require a lot of energy to manufacture, and they create a massive amount of electronic waste. Electronics also use a lot of electricity, with some estimates claiming that technology uses about the same amount of energy as the world's air transport system.
Hawkins notes that many IT manufacturers are developing more environmentally friendly technology. "But probably most of the negative environmental impacts occur in the form of completely unintended, second, and third-order effects," he says. "These 'rebound' effects may not be mitigated by inventing 'greener' IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes." Hawkins says the problem is that IT has been applied so extensively that its environmental implications, both positive and negative, are often overlooked. Hawkins is developing a more reliable basis for identifying and analyzing IT's contribution to the environmental footprint.
From University of Calgary
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