From a Feb. 24 University of Calgary media release:
Richard Hawkins, Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, says there is no evidence that information technologies necessarily reduce our 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… However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated.”
Firstly, Hawkins notes that digital technologies require a lot of energy to manufacture and eventually they create a huge pile of ‘electronic junk’, much of it highly toxic. They also use a lot of energy to
run. Some estimates are that they use up roughly the same amount of energy as the world’s air transport system.
Far from denying these environmental implications, Hawkins points out that many IT producers are gearing up to produce ‘greener IT’, using the environmental footprint as a marketing tool. “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.”
Rebounds occur when the use of IT contributes to or reinforces an increase in other activities that already have environmental effects.
“For example, technologies such as cell phones actually help us to become hyper-mobile,” he says. “We didn’t adopt the mobile phone so we could drive and talk on the phone, we adopted it because we were already driving so much. Creating a greener cell phone won’t reduce the impact of increased mobility. The real question is what amount of mobility is sustainable?”