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Sustainability 101: How IT contributes to emissions and local weather change

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Sustainability 101: How IT contributes to emissions and local weather change

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Do you’re feeling a bit misplaced when individuals seek advice from sure environmental sustainability subjects and aren’t positive the place to start out with regards to studying extra? Sustainability 101 is a weblog collection that you could flip to for details about totally different environmental phrases that will come up at work, throughout discussions with buddies, and even at your annual vacation gathering.


The time period IT (Info Expertise) has been in use since an article within the Harvard Enterprise Evaluation in 19581. Nevertheless what individuals consider after they hear the time period IT has modified dramatically through the years—from feeding punched playing cards right into a mainframe pc, to a smartphone accessing companies from the cloud.

When analysing greenhouse gasoline (GHG) emissions it’s essential to be clear concerning the scope being mentioned, so typically researchers will use the formal sector definition of Info and Communication Expertise2 (ICT). This sector definition states that ICT contains person units together with laptops, smartphones and tablets; networks together with fastened, cell and enterprise networks; and knowledge centres together with every part from enterprise knowledge centres by means of to the big hyperscale knowledge centres.

Along with finding out the ICT sector, researchers will typically additionally take a look at the GHG emissions from the Leisure and Media (E&M) sector, as this sector is tightly linked in the best way we eat many digital companies at present. This E&M sector definitions contains TV’s, gaming consoles, printers, scanners, and paper media.

Each these sector definitions proceed to evolve as new IT units and companies seem, corresponding to digital actuality (VR) headsets, wearables, and good house applied sciences. This continuous evolution of the scope is without doubt one of the issues that makes the evaluation troublesome and means care must be taken when evaluating outcomes between totally different researchers.

The IT business in our on a regular basis lives

As we speak we take many of those IT companies with no consideration. The film we watch at house on a Saturday evening could begin in a big knowledge centre, stream throughout the web, come into our home by way of a router after which be seen on a big TV display screen. Equally at work, once we name a colleague our speech is more likely to be damaged into digital packets and transmitted over the identical community used to entry the gross sales programs.

New applied sciences proceed to mature and turn into extra pervasive, corresponding to synthetic intelligence, the Web of Issues, huge knowledge, and the cloud. Cisco amongst others publish predictions of how these applied sciences will change our digital experiences, change the best way we work, and form our lives.3

As IT turns into an increasing number of pervasive in our lives, we naturally see an rising curiosity and debate round its affect on greenhouse gasoline emissions and local weather change.

How does IT contribute to emissions and local weather change?

Once we speak concerning the affect that IT has on local weather change, individuals typically seek advice from the carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is extra than simply the electrical energy utilized by a product. The carbon footprint appears to be like on the affect throughout the complete lifecycle of a product together with buying the uncooked supplies, manufacturing and delivery, electrical energy use in operations, and treating the product at finish of life.

Most research of the ICT sector point out that person units account for round half of the full carbon footprint. Breaking that down throughout a person units life cycle, round half of the carbon footprint is said to the use part, and the opposite half to the rest of the life cycle. The remaining carbon footprint of ICT is cut up between networks and knowledge centres as in determine 1. For these the biggest a part of the carbon footprint comes from the use part.

A graph about data emissions
Determine 1. Complete ICT Sector carbon footprint4

The GHG emissions from the use part of a tool depends upon the vitality supply used to make the electrical energy that powers it. In some nations, or for some corporations, they could use loads of renewable vitality, during which case the use part contribution to the carbon footprint could also be smaller. Nevertheless even when renewable vitality is getting used, rising vitality effectivity remains to be a spotlight as estimates present ICT at present makes use of round 4% of worldwide electrical energy4.

Though conclusions from totally different research range, it’s estimated that the ICT sector causes between 1.5% and 4% of worldwide GHG emissions. That is mentioned to be the direct carbon footprint.

IT has the potential to assist scale back world GHG emissions

Whereas the direct impact of ICT will increase GHG emissions, the oblique results may result in a lower, or a rise. Examples the place ICT may assist lower emissions are leveraging synthetic intelligence to enhance gasoline effectivity in automobiles or utilizing video conferencing to exchange a enterprise journey. Examples the place it may result in a rise in emissions (typically known as a rebound impact) are the place the associated fee to drive a automobile per kilometre decreases as a result of effectivity good points, so individuals drive longer distances, or after assembly by video convention then flying to satisfy in particular person.”

Research of the potential of ICT to lower GHG emissions often both concentrate on one particular use case corresponding to video conferencing, which is then studied intimately, or do an estimate throughout a number of totally different business sectors like transport, buildings, or vitality. The sort of evaluation could be very sophisticated and whereas a variety of research estimate that ICT has the potential to cut back world emissions 15% by 2030, the vary of estimates varies from 1.3% to twenty%5.

General, the accessible printed knowledge means that ICT has the potential to assist scale back world GHG emissions considerably, however extra real-world knowledge is required to know each the alternatives and the dangers. Whether or not ICT can finally scale back emissions relies upon not solely on the expertise, but in addition our potential to grasp rebound results.

Actions Cisco is taking to assist scale back emissions

As a big, world firm, we wish to do our half to lower the GHG emissions related to our enterprise and assist our prospects do the identical. A key precedence is constant to enhance the efficiency of our merchandise whereas sustaining, or reducing, their vitality use. This enables us to deal with our direct GHG emissions and reduces world vitality demand. We do this by means of product enhancements corresponding to extra vitality environment friendly energy provides, analysis into various strategies of cooling, and subsequent era ASICs. We’re additionally giving our prospects extra perception into their vitality utilization by means of vitality dashboards like in Nexus Cloud, and giving them the flexibility to avoid wasting vitality by setting insurance policies to change off options exterior of workplace hours like in Webex Management Hub.

Along with serving to deal with direct emissions we additionally take a look at how we can assist scale back emissions in different sectors by means of improvements like Sensible Buildings6. Lastly in fact we take a look at how we will scale back our personal emissions from our inner operations like our knowledge centres and we share our classes learnt so others can do the identical7.

The function of IT in local weather change is sophisticated and we recognise that as an business we nonetheless have loads of work to do. Nevertheless, if we be taught to harness the ability of IT properly, it may turn into a key enabler for the transition to a internet zero world.

Keen to be taught and have interaction extra on environmental sustainability? Within the subsequent weblog in our collection, we’ll share extra about virgin plastics.


Info relating to Cisco’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, targets and commitments, our newest affect, in addition to insurance policies and extra disclosures for specialised audiences, might be present in our 2022 Cisco Function Report and supplemental info in our ESG Reporting Hub.

  1. “Administration within the 1980’s” by Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler https://hbr.org/1958/11/management-in-the-Nineteen Eighties
  2. “Annex 1. The OECD Definition of the ICT Sector” https://www.oecd.org/digital/ieconomy/2771153.pdf
  3. “Tech Tendencies and Predictions That Will Form 2023” https://blogs.cisco.com/information/tech-trends-and-predictions-that-will-shape-2023
  4. “ICT Sector Electrical energy Consumption and Greenhouse Fuel Emissions – 2020 End result” https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4424264
  5. “A evaluation of assessments of the greenhouse gasoline footprint and abatement potential of knowledge and communication expertise” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195925522002992?viapercent3Dihub
  6. “Sustainability 101: How good buildings assist the planet and folks” https://blogs.cisco.com/csr/sustainability-101-how-smart-buildings-help-the-planet-and-people
  7. “Cisco IT Information Middle Sustainability” https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/options/collateral/enterprise/cisco-on-cisco/cisco-it-dc-sustainability-wp.html

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