Improving sustainability is an increasingly important business driver for organizations. ICT, at the core of most organizations’ operations, has a crucial role to play. Thought leaders and sustainability practitioners from different parts of our organization explore various aspects of that role, including how ICT is 'getting its own house in order', the sustainability benefits of ICT, future trends, practical advice and case studies to help organizations navigate their way through an often complex topic – and raise a few challenges along the way.
Cooking can be a pain if you don’t have time for it, or if you simply don’t enjoy it. There is a good reason why many people like eating out or eating off a package: it is easy, hassle-free, and you still get to eat, right? However, health-wise, it is always better to eat at home and to cook your meals. It is because you get to choose the ingredients that you want to use, and you get to see the cooking process.
One problem with eating out is you don’t get to be aware of what you are putting in your body. So, it is as if you are turning a blind eye to your health. Of course, anyone would want to take charge of their bodies and health, so to know exactly what you are putting in your body is essential. To do that, you need to learn how to appreciate cooking at home.
If you are strapped for time due to work, study, or personal reasons, then you have no reason to worry. Many busy people like you have started innovating on cooking hacks to save them time in the kitchen. In fact, if you type in “cooking shortcut” or “cooking hack” on a search engine, you will see thousands of results. It shows the demand for this type of cooking, given the busy lifestyles that people take. Or, to save time from shopping and overthinking about ingredients and recipes, an upsurge of meal kit delivery services (Sun Basket, review of the menu) are getting popular. With all the right ingredients and even the recipes delivered, cooking will just be a breeze.
Here are cooking shortcuts that you need in your life right now, to help you appreciate better the art and science of cooking:
1. Prepare in bulk then pack in sizeable portions
Buying in bulk is cheaper and is less of a hassle for you, saving you the need to go on many grocery trips. Preparation of ingredients takes a chunk of any cooking process, and it often discourages people from picking up cooking. However, if you buy and prepare in bulk, you get to do everything in just one go.
For example, you may want to prepare in bulk chicken and rice for the week. You can bake the whole chicken and steam rice that’s good for one week. After this, you can group them according to the recipes that you intend to have them in. Place them in containers or re-sealable bags, then freeze them. Should you need them during the week, you can simply open your fridge and get what you need for the recipe.
Many swear by this hack, and it has saved people a lot of time. What’s great, as well, is it got to encourage people to pick up cooking.
2. Prepare your sauces ahead
From the previous example, you already have chicken and rice in place. So now, if you have sauces in the picture, you can already pull off a great meal that your family and friends will enjoy.
Sauces can be time-consuming to make, so it is best to prepare them ahead of time. You can do this on the weekend so that you can prepare everything for the week ahead. You can make sauces in bulk, and then freeze them. You can just pop them out of the fridge and reheat as needed.
As for vegetables, many cooking hacks teach you how to prepare them in advance so you can use them as you go. However, it is still best to enjoy them fresh, so you get to savor its nutrients to the fullest.
You don’t need to get stressed out with cooking. Just learn a few tweaks, and practice them every day, so cooking eventually gets natural to you.
As technology keeps on upgrading and innovating to keep in touch with everyone’s needs, so does the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry.
SEO is a new breed of online marketing strategy that even esteemed Wharton Business School acknowledged the need to arrange a course for it. No doubt, it has taken the world by storm because of its effectivity. Imagine, even a two-year-old website can get to the top of Google searches just with a few SEO tweaks and updates as proven by Break The Web New York City. The power of SEO cannot be underestimated, and so it is understandable as to why so many online entrepreneurs integrate SEO tricks into their sites with the guidance of industry experts like Jason Berkowitz.
But just as to how quick technology keeps on changing, so does SEO tricks that work. SEO strategies that work in 2016 will most likely not work for 2017. And what works last month may not work for the following month. SEO professionals, therefore, must always be on their toes to be able to develop effective strategies for their clients.
For example, in the past, publishing bogus websites that backlink to your main sites to increase traffic may have worked for several years. But a big crackdown has since been made by Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. What has been working before is now illegal; although with a bit of strategy, some companies are still able to get through the system. With the increased sophistication of search engines, it is not surprising when yet another crackdown will be done on this back-linking strategy.
With now less than two months up until the arrival of 2018, what SEO trends should we watch for this coming year? Here are some SEO strategies that are foreseen to take over in 2018:
1. The increased usage of voice search
Type searches still dominate search engine websites, but there’s an increasing trend of voice searches being made. It is not surprising given that more and more people are getting more dependent on Alexa and Siri, Amazon and Apple’s digital assistants respectively. If websites can include voice search keywords in their platforms, then it would be better for their SEO rankings as this allows for more inclusion for more users.
2. The need for quality backlinks
Gone are the days when websites could backlink just any page (with permission, hopefully) in the hopes of increasing traffic. However, if quantity ruled the SEO world before, quality will now be a top priority. Search engines will be smarter with sifting through the quality of every website’s backlinks, with those with high-quality links getting the opportunity to gain high search spot. It is, therefore, going to be a challenge for websites to foster good partnerships not only with any other website but only with reputable sites. And of course, relations with big brands almost always come with a price.
These are the two top SEO trends foreseen to take over 2018, and it is up to online entrepreneurs on how they are going to take advantage of these changes. SEO must be used to complement great content, product and services; and so, the focus must not only be on SEO strategies, but also on what the company can offer potential customers.
Gone are the days when the term ‘vegan’ was only associated with diet. Nowadays, the vegan can also be used for skin care. And yes, there is such a thing as ‘vegan skincare.’
So what is Vegan Skin Care?
According to experts in the skin care industry, vegan skin care refers to beauty and skin products which were created without using ingredients from animals or animal byproducts. These products are mainly favored by those people who are against animal cruelty or those killing animals just to manufacture something. However, skin care experts say that we should not confuse vegan with cruelty-free products. They said that there are cruelty-free products which still make use of animal by-products such as milk, honey, and lanolin. When you say vegan, it means there is not even a hint of the animal part in manufacturing the said product.
These vegan skin care products are rapidly gaining popularity among dermatologists and skin care experts, as well as those who are supporting environmental and animal causes. Dermatologists favor these vegan products because they are natural and minimal, like the Korean trending 10-step process: https://www.peachandlily.com/pages/korean-skin-care-routine. Furthermore, it nourishes the skin instead of cause irritation, which other skin products do. Moreover, vegan products are perfect for all skin types and won’t cause any harm even to sensitive skin.
Additionally, vegan skin care products contain more minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins that help repair damaged skin and hydrate it as well. Unlike other usual products, the vegan produce doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, preservatives, and toxins that can potentially harm the skin over time.
One of the top benefits of using vegan products is that it is appropriate for all skin types. These products don’t use animal testing and only contains natural and organic ingredients which are proven gentle on the skin. They don’t have harsh artificial chemical elements usually found in commercial products.
Another essential benefit of vegan skin care product is its useful anti-aging factor. It is said that vegan products can provide the best anti-aging skin care results. It is because of the powerful combination of all-natural antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and botanical extracts which help regenerate and restore the skin and eventually helps make it glow.
We have heard time and again of the health benefits of biking regularly. Although it may get so tiring at first, you will surely gain a lot more advantages when you start this biking habit. Cities like Seattle and NYC have given incentives to people who choose to bike instead of using their car. That’s a lot of motivation there to get you pumped up and start a biking habit.
Here are some of the perks you can get from riding a bike:
1. Lose excess body fats and weight
And this is undoubtedly a good news especially for those who are struggling to shed off those extra pounds. Imagine losing weight while enjoying your ‘exercise?’ Since biking requires the coordination of your whole body to be able to drive, you will sweat a lot, and you are going to burn a lot of calories. Even if it’s just a leisure biking, you can still burn calories for just 30 minutes of pedaling and enjoying the sights during a Central Park tour.
2. It helps build muscles
There is no doubt that you are building your muscles while biking. While you are pedaling, you are using your gluteus muscles in the butt as well as the quadriceps in the thighs and your muscles in the calves. You are making these muscles stronger and firmer.
3. You can sleep sound and deep
When you bike at night, it is a surefire way to make you fall asleep faster and deeply at night. Since you will feel tired while biking, when you go home, it will just be easier for you to fall asleep. Some doctors even recommend biking for their insomniac patients due to its effectivity in making them fall asleep faster and sounder after the activity.
4. It makes you smarter
Cycling does a lot for your brain than any other physical activities. Biking helps build new brain cells especially in the hippocampus which is the region for memory. Furthermore, cycling helps boost the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain which eventually results in regeneration of receptors. Thus, your mind becomes more active and can have an improved memory.
5. It is good for the heart
And we meant here physical and emotional as well. When you do regular biking, you can avoid and fight cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure, and heart attack. It improves your heart and helps the circulation of blood all over the body. Furthermore, it strengthens the heart muscles, decreases the fat levels, and lower the resting pulse. Biking also helps the lungs breathe easier function properly.
We focus now on how ICT can help organizations, industries, communities and even countries reduce their environmental impact. We call this positive contribution an ‘enablement effect.’ Below, we also look at which industries can benefit most, the importance of measuring ICT’s enablement effects and real-life examples from around the world.
How intelligent ICT can address the world’s environmental challenges
Technology can be applied in many – often very innovative – ways to solve environmental problems in a wide range of situations and industry sectors. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) was the first organization to provide credible estimates of the huge potential of ICT’s enablement effects. GeSI’s 2008 report SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age looked at how ICT could significantly reduce emissions in various sectors, and quantified these reductions concerning carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions savings and cost savings by 2020.
In 2012, GeSI published a follow-up report called SMARTer 2020: The Role of ICT in Driving a Sustainable Future, which found that ICT could be used to reduce global CO2e emissions by 16.5%, or 9.1 gigatons of CO2e, by 2020. This is seven times the emissions that ICT currently produces, and would be equivalent to a US$1.9 trillion saving in gross energy and fuel costs.
SMARTer 2020 also analyzed ICT’s emissions-reduction potential in seven countries – Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, the UK and the US – and provided recommendations to policy-makers on strategies for realizing that potential.
How does ICT improve global environmental sustainability?
In SMARTer 2020, GeSI identified a range of ICT solutions that could significantly reduce carbon emissions in six sectors: Agriculture, building, manufacturing, power, service and consumer, and transportation.
GeSI also identified four ‘change levers’ that categorize the different ways ICT can benefit the environment, particularly in relation to reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These change levers are:
- Digitalization and dematerialization: Substituting or eliminating the need for an emissions-intensive product or process
- Data collection and communication: Real-time data analysis and communication, feedback and learning to enable better decision-making
- System integration: Managing the use of resources
- Process, activity and functional optimization: Improving efficiency through simulation, automation, redesign or control
Each of these change levers is driven by a range of factors, such as technological innovation, market trends and changing business demands. The figure below shows the principal drivers for each change lever, as well as estimates of the potential global CO2e reduction (or ‘abatement’) by 2020. This potential varies greatly between change levers, with more than half the total forecast reduction relating to ‘process, activity and functional optimization’.
SMARTer 2020 also identified a set of solutions (or ‘sub-levers’), which are specific technologies or groups of technologies that can significantly reduce CO2e emissions. The table below shows how these sub-levers relate to each change lever and apply to each of the six sectors identified above. It also shows the CO2e emissions–reduction potential (as an absolute figure and as a percentage of emissions for each sector).
Transport sector could drive the greatest emissions reductions
The transport sector comes out on top, with the potential to reduce its CO2e emissions by up to 25% by 2020, if it implements the 11 solutions GeSI identified. The solutions considered to have the greatest abatement potential are telecommuting, eco-driving (using technology to enable more fuel-efficient driving), integrating electric vehicles (EVs) and biofuels, and logistics optimization. Within the other sectors, the solutions with the most abatement potential are listed below.
- Power: Renewables integration, grid storage integration and power grid optimization (that is, developing smart grids)
- Manufacturing: Process optimization and optimization of variable-speed motors
- Service and consumer: Building design and inventory reduction
- Agriculture and land use: Livestock management and integration of renewable energies
- Buildings: Building design, integration of renewable energies and building management systems
The enabling solutions outlined above involve digitalization and dematerialization to varying degrees. Digitalization and dematerialization solutions, which include technologies such as online media applications, video conferencing, telecommuting, and e-commerce, were the first enabling solutions and had become the most familiar. This is because digitalization and dematerialization are the key functions of ICT; they convert the physical into digital or virtual, usually making processes or activities cheaper, faster and/or simpler. This also often has a positive environmental impact.
For example, downloading music from the Internet rather than purchasing CDs from retail store results in fewer CDs manufactured and fewer trips to the shop. This means lower energy consumption and fewer GHG emissions. This is a very simple example but as you will see below, calculating the actual environmental impact of enabling solutions is very challenging.
Enabling solutions associated with the other three change levers are more complex and less established than digitalization and dematerialization solutions. These include solutions that use ICT in a creative or innovative way, such as in ‘smart grids’ and ‘smart cities.’ These smart solutions usually increase the efficiency of various systems – for example, smart grids automatically collect information, including about power supply and consumption, to improve the efficiency and reliability of energy distribution. Most smart solutions (and most enabling solutions) are designed to achieve business benefits such as cost savings or increased productivity, with sustainability benefits often a by-product.
Great potential, but is it realistic?
From the evidence in SMARTer 2020, it’s clear there are numerous ways ICT can help reduce the environmental impact of business operations, particularly by lowering GHG emissions. But how likely are organizations and governments around the world to adopt these measures?
This will depend on how attractive it is for individuals, businesses, public sector organizations and governments to invest in enabling technologies, as well as the availability of those technologies. These two issues are influenced by factors specific to each country, sector, and enabling solution, including:
- Technology. Adopting enabling technologies is easier when the supporting infrastructure is already in place – for example, existing networking, sensor or metering infrastructure could enable a city to implement a smart grid system relatively quickly.
- Economics. The higher the price of energy or carbon (current and projected), the stronger the financial case for organizations to invest in enabling solutions. Government financial incentives to encourage adoption of a particular technology may also bolster the business case. The costs of enabling solutions vary widely depending on factors such as market maturity, which means adoption may be hampered by initial high costs before economies of scale are possible.
- Legislation. The need to comply with environmental legislation may strengthen the business case.
- Reputation. Because sectors place different levels of importance on sustainability-related reputation, certain sectors may adopt enabling technologies faster.
This is a very simple overview of a highly complex and interrelated set of factors – many of which are outside direct government or business control. However, there are factors the global community can influence – such as building supporting technology infrastructure and providing financial incentives – and these can help remove the significant barriers to adopting enabling technologies.
The challenges of measuring ICT’s global positive impact
Given the challenges we’ve discussed above, is the world on track to realizing the potential environmental benefits of ICT? Unfortunately, accurately measuring ICT’s enablement effects is exceptionally difficult and barely done in practice. For example, how would you calculate the contribution of ICT components to the total CO2 savings of a smart grid? Even if this was possible, how could you add up all the ICT-related CO2 savings from all the smart grids around the world to arrive at a total global figure? Credible data such as this simply isn’t available, nor is it likely to be in the future.
While it’s not yet possible to accurately calculate the global enablement effects of ICT, Fujitsu believes – based on the evidence presented by GeSI and similar organizations – that mass implementation of the enabling solutions discussed above would have a net positive effect on the environment.
Why organizations should measure the sustainability benefits of ICT
Despite the challenges of measuring global enablement effects, it is becoming important for organizations to calculate the expected environmental benefit of implementing an ICT solution. Businesses increasingly need this information for investment cases when introducing new systems and technologies. Most businesses express return on investment in direct financial terms, with environmental benefit further down the priority list. However, with rising energy costs and the introduction of carbon taxes in some countries, environmental improvements can also lead to significant cost savings. Environmental benefits are also important to the growing number of organizations that have set ambitious emissions-reduction targets.
Measuring the likely GHG savings from implementing an ICT solution can be complex for all but the simplest solutions. Enabling solutions – and their impact on an organization’s operations and processes – vary greatly. They could include an ICT system that replaces a manual system or a new ICT system that replaces an existing one. An enabling solution may affect people (such as staff or customers), transport (for example, deliveries or how staff commute), resource use (including paper or digital media) and buildings (for example, office or warehouse heating and lighting). Enabling solutions can also affect other organizations, such as suppliers and customers, and wider society. Because of these complexities, it is important to be clear about the reporting scope when measuring CO2 emissions.
Methods for measuring enablement effects
While environmental organizations have focused on developing methodologies to measure the environmental impact of ICT itself, some of these efforts have included methodologies that measure ICT’s enablement effects. For example, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) initiatives.
The most advanced and comprehensive independent methodology is probably that developed by GeSI and published in 2010 (Evaluating the carbon-reducing impacts of ICT: An assessment methodology). This is a full lifecycle assessment (LCA) methodology covering GHG emissions only and builds on similar work by other industry groups. A key purpose of the methodology is to provide a credible, industry-wide way to quantify emissions reductions, thereby overcoming a key obstacle to realizing ICT’s enablement potential (as identified in the GeSI SMART 2020 report).
As with other ICT footprinting initiatives, widespread adoption of methodologies to measure ICT enablement effects has been slow. One of the main reasons is the cost and effort involved in implementing them, particularly in obtaining sufficient and reliable data. Another possible reason is the lack of expertise in this fairly specialized area.
Because of these challenges, many ICT vendors have developed simpler methodologies for their use. For example, Fujitsu has developed a methodology for calculating the CO2 emissions reductions associated with its technology solutions, as well as a process for measuring the actual reductions from solutions expected to yield significant CO2 savings (more than 15%). This is not a full LCA methodology, but it can be very useful in comparing current CO2 emissions with those of a new ICT system. To allow organizations to use this methodology, Fujitsu also provides a web-based calculation tool called EcoCalc, which is supported by an extensive reference database that includes data such as international electricity emissions factors.
To date, Fujitsu customers have registered and recorded CO2 emissions savings for around 300 Fujitsu Environmentally Conscious Solutions (ECS). For example, as part of its paperless office program, Japanese company Sanrio implemented a Fujitsu ECS based on Fujitsu’s Interstage List Works software. By reducing the number of paper forms and the space needed to store them, and improving information management processing efficiency, Sanrio cut its annual CO2 emissions by more than half – from 52.3 tons (metric tons) to 23.1 tons (metric tons). The diagram below illustrates these savings.
Enabling solutions: Real-world examples
Saudi Arabia: Smart Community Environmental Monitoring System
Rapid industrialization in Saudi Arabia is creating serious environmental problems, such as air and water pollution. Fujitsu is working with the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON) to build a monitoring system that uses sensors to measure air and water quality, to constantly monitor environmental pollution. The new system will be installed in the Dammam 2nd Industrial City in the Eastern Province, the Riyadh 2nd Industrial City in the Saudi Capital and the Jeddah 1st Industrial City on the west coast. The diagram below illustrates how the system monitors a variety of pollutants and analyzes data to inform environmental initiatives.
Japan: Aizu Wakamatsu Region Smart Community Project
Aizu Wakamatsu City Hall and Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc. have launched the Aizu Wakamatsu Area Smart Community Promotion Project with assistance from Fujitsu. This project aims to create a ‘smart community’ in the Aizu Wakamatsu region of Fukushima Prefecture.
The three organizations have explored ways to build a smart community that is environmentally friendly and low carbon. The project aims to revitalize the local community, generate new businesses, and pioneer the creation of an urban environment that is highly resistant to disaster and convenient for residents.
The organizations aim to create a smart community by establishing a foundation for generating and using renewable energy in a self-sufficient manner. Going forward, the organizations will make efforts to deploy the technology throughout Fukushima Prefecture, thereby contributing to the rebuilding of the region.
Supercomputers: Throwing processing power at the problem
Many sustainability-related applications – such as climate change modeling, environmental process simulation, and forecasting and planning for natural disasters – depend on massive amounts of raw computing power. These applications typically involve quickly running huge numbers of simulations of real-world events, and/or conducting highly complex, multivariate calculations. Below are some examples of such applications, and how they are helping communities become more sustainable.
Singapore: Sustainable urban development
The Government of Singapore has started a project to better understand Singapore’s urban environment, potentially using high-performance computing (HPC), and to develop innovative solutions to a range of the city’s problems. In 2013, Fujitsu and Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) initiated joint discussions on establishing the country’s first Center of Excellence (CoE) for Computational Social Science and Engineering. The CoE will aim to develop next-generation solutions for sustainable urban development, based on real-world data with HPC-enabled technologies.
The CoE will use data from various government agencies to understand the complex dynamics within the city and use modeling and simulation to guide critical decisions, including how new technologies are implemented. This will increase the efficiency of resource use and allocation, and generate vital growth opportunities in new areas, including:
- Transportation management. An efficient and sustainable transport system must be able to monitor and understand the behavior of and relationship between commuters, road users, and network systems. This insight will help the Singapore Government optimize transport services, project future demand, identify capacity tipping points and assess system performance.
- Energy management. This involves analyzing energy supply and demand by using technology to track power consumption, to reduce waste and optimize energy management.
- Computational social systems. The Singapore Government will develop computational systems and methods for processing social information such as consumer behavior and lifestyles in real time (or near real time), so it can improve public, business, healthcare and educational services.
Wales, UK: Cutting-edge research to solve environmental problems
The High-Performance Computing (HPC) Wales program in the UK, where Fujitsu supercomputing technology is used to address a wide range of real-world problems, includes some sustainability-related applications sponsored by Fujitsu through Ph.D. studentships. Two example current projects are:
- Development of a water-collection device inspired by Biomimetics is about applying the structure and function of biological systems to the design and engineering of materials and machines. This project is seeking to help solve global water shortage problems by taking inspiration from creatures that survive in harsh dry climates. The outcome will be a full-scale working prototype device capable of extracting water from fogs, mists, dews and humid air. Application of such a device will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of life of people living in arid developing countries.
- Computer simulation of supported nano-particle catalysts for the production of chemical feedstocks from plant waste. The project aim is to replace polymers (large molecules consisting of many small repeated molecules) derived from oil, and used in applications such as food packaging, with new materials that are produced from sustainable sources – while maintaining the properties of the packaging. High-performance computers are used to provide insight into the reactions which underpin the new catalysis through computational chemistry. This insight will be used to improve the performance of the catalytic materials for the target reaction and so lead to new uses for green feedstock materials derived from agricultural waste.
Japan: Defending against tsunamis
To prevent or minimize damage caused by tsunamis, scientists need accurate simulations to develop effective early warning systems, hazard maps, and coastal area safety assessments. Tohoku University and Fujitsu are collaborating on 3D tsunami simulations that can precisely calculate inundation on land and in rivers, with Fujitsu developing an advanced simulation running on the Fujitsu K computer, which it validated against in-situ measurements taken during the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami.
Australia: Smart energy management
Global property developer Lend Lease builds homes that have a low environmental impact and is a leader in sustainable design and construction. The company recently needed to construct a number of Green Star rated buildings within tightly constrained budgets and time frames. Fujitsu collaborated with Switch Automation – a company that develops home-automation technologies – to design a system for Lend Lease that would improve the Green Star rating of these new buildings. The system continuously monitors energy and water usage and provides real-time and historical usage and trend data through a simple in-home display. This gives residents and building managers greater visibility of energy and resource consumption.
Quebec, Canada: Optimizing forest management
The Quebec Department of Natural Resources uses an innovative application, designed by Fujitsu, which allows it to harvest the right tree at the right time in public woodlands. The application uses complex mathematical models covering the various stages of forest evolution, including initial inventory, growth, protection and tree mortality. It also includes a harvesting operations schedule, based on constraints such as protected areas, requirements for conserving biodiversity and economic factors.
For further thought and discussion
- ICT has huge potential to deliver sustainability benefits at a local and global level. How can ICT be used innovatively in your organization, community or personal life to improve sustainability?
- Most of ICT’s potential to deliver sustainability benefits remains untapped due to many factors, including insufficient supporting infrastructure; a lack of methodologies and data to measure the benefits; and a lack of awareness in the private and public sectors of the potential benefits. How can organizations and governments tackle these inhibitors?
- Quantifying the benefits of ICT-enabled sustainability solutions is key to developing convincing business cases for investing in them. Which, if any, methodologies does your organization use? Do you share experiences and best practice with standards groups and related non-government organizations to help the ICT industry develop relevant standards and guidance?
Almost every element of the ICT lifecycle – from material acquisition to product disposal – affects the environment. In this article we look at the four major areas of impact: Energy consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, electronic waste (e-waste) generation and water consumption. We also discuss ways your organization can measure and reduce each of these.
The Rise and Rise of Energy Consumption
Energy is used throughout the ICT product and service lifecycle, mostly as electricity but also in other forms such as gas and vehicle fuel. Many countries rely heavily on non-renewable energy sources, which is putting increasing pressure on a finite global resource. ICT’s substantial energy consumption also produces GHG emissions, which are regarded as the primary cause of climate change.
Industry estimates suggest ICT is responsible for 2–3% of annual global GHG emissions1– similar to the aviation industry’s contribution. The figure below shows the likely increase of ICT-related GHG emissions from 2002 to 2020, and the relative split of emissions across the three major elements of ICT: data centers, voice and data networks, and end-user devices.
This graph shows that end-user devices such as PCs and laptops contribute just over half of all ICT-related emissions, with data centers and networks responsible for around one-quarter each. This ratio is forecast to remain similar in the foreseeable future. However, there are some predictions that ICT-related emissions could rise further to 4–6% of global emissions by 20202, reflecting increasing demand for ICT, especially in growing economies such as China and India.
As a result of this inevitable surge in ICT-related GHG emissions, the industry is focusing most of its sustainability efforts on reducing emissions by improving energy efficiency. However, this is not always a simple equation, as we’ll explain below.
What is the difference between carbon, CO2 and GHG emissions?
The terms ‘carbon’, ‘CO2’, ‘carbon dioxide’ and ‘GHG emissions’ are often used interchangeably, but not always accurately. Carbon is the element that combines with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2). There are a number of greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is the most abundant but not the most damaging in terms of its global warming potential (GWP).
Other greenhouse gases are more damaging per volume – for example, the GWP of methane is around 25 times that of carbon dioxide – but less abundant. When referring to the actual amount of greenhouse gases generated by a process, the conventional term ‘CO2e’ (carbon dioxide equivalent) is used, which weights all greenhouse gases involved relative to the GWP of carbon dioxide (=1). For example, an organization’s servers might generate 45 tons of CO2e each year.
A Question of Scope
When calculating and reporting the GHG (or CO2e) emissions attributable to a process, product, service or organization (referred to as ‘carbon footprinting’) it is essential to consider their scope, or more precisely, which of the three scopes – as outlined below – to include. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines direct and indirect emissions as follows:
Direct GHG emissions are generated from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity. Indirect GHG emissions are produced as a result of the reporting entity’s activities, but occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity.
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol categorizes these direct and indirect emissions into three scopes:
- Scope 1: All direct GHG emissions.
- Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions from the consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.
- Scope 3: Other indirect emissions, including the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels; transport-related activities in vehicles not owned or controlled by the reporting entity; electricity-related activities (for example, transmission and distribution losses) not covered in Scope 2; outsourced activities; and waste disposal.3
For ICT and more generally, most carbon footprinting to date has focused on Scopes 1 and 2. This is because these emissions sources are the easiest to control, have the most data available, and are most affected by legislation and standards. However, organizations are increasingly reporting against Scope 3 as well, as they become more aware of their indirect (or ‘embedded’) emissions, and as governments set new standards.
This growing focus on Scope 3 emissions is changing business expectations. For example, organizations are paying more attention to the sustainability performance of their supply chains, and are demanding greater transparency in their suppliers’ carbon footprint claims and reporting.
Organizations are also increasingly conducting full ICT lifecycle emissions accounting. This allows them to make more informed decisions when they refresh their technology. For example, replacing existing desktop computers with more energy-efficient equipment may seem to be environmentally beneficial (over, say, three years), but if the company takes into account embedded emissions, the total GHG emissions might be greater than if the assets were ‘sweated’ for another year.
Energy use and GHG emissions
Reducing energy consumption almost always means reducing GHG emissions. The energy might be used as electricity for desktops, servers and other equipment (producing Scope 2 emissions), or as other forms of energy such as the fuel for vehicles transporting equipment or support engineers (producing Scope 1 emissions). Electricity is the dominant form of energy used throughout the ICT lifecycle.
Depending on the power-generation method, the carbon intensity of electricity – known as the ‘emissions factor’ and normally expressed as kilograms of CO2e per kilowatt hour of electricity (kg CO2e/kWh) – varies considerably. For example, the emissions factor can be almost zero for geothermal, wind and hydro energy sources, or more than 1 for older coal-fired power stations.
Most countries generate electricity from a variety of sources and use a ‘grid average’ to estimate GHG emissions from grid electricity. The grid average varies greatly by country depending largely on the ratio of fossil to non-fossil power sources used. For example, due to its heavy reliance on coal, Australia has a grid average of around 1 kg CO2e/kWh. Germany and the UK, which use a mix of power-generation methods, have grid averages of around 0.5, while Iceland’s is almost zero because it only uses renewable sources such as hydro and geothermal energy.
The figure below illustrates how the disparity in energy sources in four European countries causes a large variation in the amount of use-phase GHG emissions generated by a desktop PC.
Because of the variations in carbon intensity between countries, the impact on GHG emissions by reducing ICT energy use also varies considerably. This disparity can have major positive or negative impacts when an organization moves components of an ICT system from one country to another.
The most obvious example of this is the Cloud model, in which a data center hosting an organization’s ICT services may be in a different country. Migrating to the Cloud, therefore, could mean a reduction or increase in GHG emissions for that organization, depending on the difference in emission factors between the countries.
Embedded emissions: The hidden impact
Embedded (or embodied) emissions are those incurred before a product is used. For ICT products, this typically means when the raw materials are extracted and manufactured (which also normally involves importing components from other countries to assembly plants), and all the activities necessary to deliver the equipment to where it will be used.
Embedded emissions have traditionally been ignored when carbon footprinting ICT products and services. This is mainly because it’s been difficult to obtain reliable data, but also because many organizations believe embedded emissions are insignificant compared to use-phase emissions.
But we now know that for much ICT equipment, embedded emissions make up a substantial share of the total lifecycle emissions. For example, a 2010 Fujitsu study found that 40–50% of the total lifecycle GHG emissions of a desktop PC can be produced before it is first used.4 (This figure is lower for servers because they are normally powered almost continuously over a longer time period than PCs.)
Can you cut emissions without reducing energy use?
Increasing the energy efficiency of ICT infrastructure is usually a major objective in organizations’ environmental strategies because it also reduces costs. However, organizations can reduce their carbon footprint by using less fossil fuel–based electricity – either onsite (such as solar panels on a data center) or offsite (for example, a renewable tariff purchased from an electricity utility).
The renewable cost–benefit calculation depends on a number of factors including government incentive schemes, the payback period of onsite installations, the availability of renewable tariffs from power utilities, and how renewables are treated in any carbon-tax reporting scheme. As a result, the financial benefits of increasing renewable energy use can be much less clear-cut compared with the benefits of reducing energy usage – if they exist at all. Where there is a net cost of using renewables, organizations that see brand value in environmental responsibility may consider it worth paying.
E-waste: More computers, bigger disposal problem
Around 40–50 million tons of e-waste is generated annually, including 30 million computers thrown away in the US and 100 million mobile phones discarded in Europe.5 The US and China are the two biggest producers of e-waste, disposing of around 3 million tons and 2.5 million tons respectively each year.
E-waste will rise rapidly over the coming decades as the use of ICT increases, and consumers and businesses constantly invest in newer and better (and often cheaper) technology. The current slowdown in some parts of the global economy is unlikely to make more than a small dent in this trend.
The consequences of e-waste
- Air pollution from processing hazardous and toxic materials can be dangerous to human health. This is a significant problem in countries not subject to international legislation such as the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive.
- Dumping materials that can’t be recycled requires more land – an increasingly scarce resource in many areas of the world – which can’t be recovered economically. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 15–20% of e-waste is recycled, with the remainder going to landfill or being incinerated.6
- Recycling uses large amounts of energy, generating GHG emissions.
- Some companies in countries with stringent e-waste regulations illegally ship e-waste to countries with few or no regulations. For example, the Environmental Investigation Agency found that much of the UK’s e-waste is illegally shipped to Africa.7
Reduce, reuse, recycle
The simple ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra has long served as best practice for organizations or individual consumers wanting to reduce their waste. It’s an excellent principle, but of course there can be complexity in making it a reality. For example, a product might need to be repaired, refurbished or reconditioned before it can be reused.
When considering investing in new ICT equipment, your first step should be to critically assess your needs in order to reduce demand. Can your business function just as well by extending the life of the equipment you currently have or by buying a smaller, lower-spec alternative?
Once a product reaches the end of its life, you might consider various ways to reuse it, for example using it for the same purpose but in a different part of your organization; repurposing it within your organization; or remarketing it (refurbished if necessary) to another organization.
WEEE Man, part of the Eden Project in Cornwall in the UK, is a striking and symbolic example of how e-waste can be reused for entirely different purposes. It represents the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) the average British household discards in a lifetime.
Recycling generally involves breaking the product down into its constituent parts, and recycling the parts that have a further useful life – either as components for other ICT products or as raw material.
Remanufacturing has received growing attention in recent years due to its environmental benefits. It involves retaining as much as possible of the assembled structure of the product (as opposed to breaking it down for traditional recycling) and using it ‘as is’ when manufacturing a new product. This wastes less material and uses less overall energy.
ICT equipment manufacturers have a major part to play in reducing e-waste. For example, manufacturers can minimize their use of non-recyclable materials (biodegradable materials are generally beneficial to the environmental but recyclable is better) and redesign their products in a way that facilitates remanufacturing.
Reducing e-waste responsibly
As you can see, reducing e-waste at the organizational level can be complex, as there are many factors to consider and possible trade-offs to evaluate. Tackling e-waste at a national or regional level is even more difficult because it involves numerous stakeholders – including consumers, organizations, ICT hardware vendors and governments – that may have conflicting agendas.
Tackling the problem at the global level adds a new dimension of complexity, mainly due to the various e-waste legislation regimes and the huge disparity in living standards and cultural attitudes to waste. In very simple terms, developed nations have created the kind of throw-away habits that developing countries can’t yet afford. We could argue, then, that the disparity in e-waste legislation between developed and developing countries is just a result of the difference in attitudes; the richer countries need tougher legislation because their e-waste problem is much bigger – at least for now.
Water consumption: A rising global problem
Water scarcity is now a major global challenge, and is likely to become progressively worse due to climate change and the world’s rapidly expanding population. A lack of water will have different impacts around the world, due to uneven rainfall patterns and varying demand for water based on different living standards.
While the future scale and geographic distribution of water scarcity is still uncertain, it seems clear that reducing demand for water will be essential in most regions. It also appears that increasingly efficient water usage will be driven by a combination of financial, legal, political and technological measures.
Many environmental commentators believe water scarcity will be ‘the new carbon’ in terms of its global recognition as a major sustainability challenge and the urgent need to address it. However, whereas the impact of carbon is long-term, indirect, cumulative and global, water scarcity has local, direct and immediate impacts.
The water–carbon trade-off
Water scarcity and CO2e emissions are linked in several ways. For example, the energy sector is a massive water consumer (for instance, in power station cooling) and the water sector uses significant amounts of energy (such as electricity for pumping). This means reducing demand for one may reduce demand for the other. That said, this logic should not be stretched too far; there are situations where energy consumption can be reduced by using more water and vice versa.
For example, the amount of energy needed to cool data centers (mostly through air cooling) has traditionally been similar to the amount required to power the ICT inside them. While data center cooling efficiency has improved markedly in recent years, water cooling is seen as a more energy- and carbon-efficient method than air cooling because water conducts heat far better than air, and allows surplus heat to be more easily reused for domestic or commercial heating.
For these reasons, some industry experts predict a significant increase in data center water cooling over the next decade.8 This could mean increased water usage by the ICT industry but less energy consumption and related GHG emissions.
Measuring the overall sustainability impact of water cooling, or even determining whether there is a net positive or negative effect, will depend on the relative importance placed on energy, carbon and water. This importance will vary by circumstances such as region, season and financial cost. Further, because water is used in many forms, each will have its own relationship with energy and carbon. For example, chilled water uses more energy than unchilled. Also, recycling water within the data center requires energy – though probably less than the energy used by a water utility to provide the same volume of drinking water.
The challenges in measuring ICT’s water demand
There are currently no reliable figures on ICT’s total global water usage. This is not surprising, as the theory and practice of ‘water footprinting’ of ICT (measuring water consumption from manufacturing through to product disposal) is about where ICT carbon footprinting was three or four years ago. Metrics and standards are being developed but there is very little real-world experience or data – for example data from ICT suppliers on the water used to manufacture their products.
It is fairly clear that the two main sources of direct water use are manufacturing (especially computer chip production) and data center operations, though there are no accurate figures available for these. Taking into account indirect water usage – especially the water used in generating electricity – may change the total water usage profile and show that a large proportion of water is consumed in the use phase. But the lack of data makes it difficult, if not impossible, for an organization to accurately calculate the water footprint of its ICT.
A new sustainability metric
One promising method for measuring the ICT industry’s water usage is The Green Grid’s water usage effectiveness (WUE) metric for data centers. WUE is a companion metric to power usage effectiveness (PUE) and carbon usage effectiveness (CUE). It provides a quantifiable basis that allows data center operators to consider various cooling options, and, in conjunction with the related PUE and CUE metrics, better analyze trade-offs in overall sustainability strategies; for example, energy consumption versus water consumption.
There are two variants of WUE. Similar to the direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scope 2) definitions for carbon emissions, The Green Grid defines WUE metrics as follows:
- WUE is a site-based metric that is an assessment of the water used onsite in data center operations. This includes water used for humidification, and water evaporated onsite for energy production or cooling of the data center and its support systems (similar to carbon Scope 1).
(Annual site water usage)/(IT equipment energy)
- WUEsource is a source-based metric that includes water used onsite and water used offsite to produce the energy used onsite. Typically this adds the water used at the power-generation source to the water used onsite (similar to carbon Scope 2).
(Annual source energy water usage + annual site water usage)/(IT equipment energy)
Both WUE and WUEsource are expressed as liters of water per kilowatt hour of electricity (L/kWh).
It should be noted that WUE is concerned only with operational water efficiency – akin to carbon Scope 1 and 2 – and not with upstream or downstream (Scope 3) water usage. This is considered too difficult a calculation to make, in part due to the lack of available data. The Green Grid is continuing to develop the WUE metric and provides guidance on its calculations. We hope that in the coming years, data center operators will adopt this metric, and any similar water-related metrics, to increase their understanding of ICT-related water usage and provide a sound basis for reducing it.
Too much water is also a problem
As a result of climate change, we are seeing more frequent extreme weather events around the world, and climate experts predict that this will increase. Such extreme weather events include torrential rainstorms and subsequent flooding. While ICT can’t cause these problems, it can be affected by them. An extreme example of this was the massive and prolonged disruption to the worldwide hard-disk supply chain following the 2011 Thailand floods caused by tropical storm Nock-ten.
For further thought and discussion
- When calculating the carbon footprint of your ICT operations, do you take into account all sources of emissions, including not just use-based sources but also those embedded in other stages of the ICT lifecycle?
- Has your organization considered ways of extending the operating life of its ICT equipment; for example, by delaying technology refreshes or repurposing hardware?
- Is your organization considering calculating its ‘water footprint’?
- Generally accepted estimate. Referred to in various sources, including Fujitsu white papers Is the Cloud Green? and ICT Sustainability: The Global Benchmark 2011.
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol calculation tools.
- Life Cycle Assessment and Product Carbon Footprint: Fujitsu ESPRIMO E9900 Desktop PC, Fujitsu, 2010.
- Sthiannopkao S, Wong MH Handling e-waste in developed and developing countries: Initiatives, practices, and consequences, Science of the Total Environment, July 31, 2012.
- Statistics on the Management of Used and End-of-Life Electronics, US Environmental Protection Agency, March 2012.
- System failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste, Environmental Investigation Agency, May 2011.
- Water cooling vs. air cooling: The rise of water use in data centres, ComputerWeekly.com, accessed June 3, 2013.