Efforts to green the IT industry might prove to be an exercise in futility, if a researcher at the University of Calgary (U of C) is right.
“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 Richard Hawkins, a professor at U of C’s Faculty of Communication and Culture and Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. “However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated.”
Hawkins says that many of the efforts to green IT come with “completely unintended, second- and third-order effects.” In addition to requiring energy just to run, IT technology also takes a lot of energy to manufacture. And when old technology is scrapped in favor of newer, “greener” technology, the result is often large quantities of electronic waste loaded with various toxic materials.
“These ‘rebound’ effects may not be mitigated by inventing ‘greener’ IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes,” Hawkins says.