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Indirect Effects of the Digital Transformation on Environmental Sustainability: Methodological Challenges in Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Potential of ICT


Bieser, Jan; Hilty, Lorenz (2018). Indirect Effects of the Digital Transformation on Environmental Sustainability: Methodological Challenges in Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Potential of ICT. In: ICT4S 2018. 5th International Conference on Information and Communication Technology for Sustainability, Toronto, 15 May 2018 - 17 May 2018, 68-81.

Abstract

The digital transformation has direct and indirect effects on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Direct effects are caused by the production, use and disposal of information and communication technology (ICT) hardware. Indirect effects include the changes to patterns of production and consumption in other domains. Studies quantifying both effects often conclude that net effects (indirect minus direct effects) can lead to a significant GHG emission reduction. We revisited a study by Accenture on ICT’s GHG abatement potential in Switzerland by reassessing the main assumptions. Our results confirm that ICT ha¬s the potential to reduce GHG emissions in Switzerland, especially in the building, transport and energy domains. However, our results also suggest that the potential is smaller than anticipated and that exploiting this potential requires targeted action. Reasons for differences among these results (and the results of similar other studies) are: degrees of freedom in the assessment methodology, selection of ICT use cases, allocation of impacts to ICT, definition of the baseline, estimation of the environmental impact, prediction of the future adoption of use cases, estimation of rebound effects, interaction among use cases, and extrapolation from use case to society-wide impacts. We suggest addressing these methodological challenges to improve comparability of results.

Abstract

The digital transformation has direct and indirect effects on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Direct effects are caused by the production, use and disposal of information and communication technology (ICT) hardware. Indirect effects include the changes to patterns of production and consumption in other domains. Studies quantifying both effects often conclude that net effects (indirect minus direct effects) can lead to a significant GHG emission reduction. We revisited a study by Accenture on ICT’s GHG abatement potential in Switzerland by reassessing the main assumptions. Our results confirm that ICT ha¬s the potential to reduce GHG emissions in Switzerland, especially in the building, transport and energy domains. However, our results also suggest that the potential is smaller than anticipated and that exploiting this potential requires targeted action. Reasons for differences among these results (and the results of similar other studies) are: degrees of freedom in the assessment methodology, selection of ICT use cases, allocation of impacts to ICT, definition of the baseline, estimation of the environmental impact, prediction of the future adoption of use cases, estimation of rebound effects, interaction among use cases, and extrapolation from use case to society-wide impacts. We suggest addressing these methodological challenges to improve comparability of results.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper), refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Informatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:000 Computer science, knowledge & systems
Language:English
Event End Date:17 May 2018
Deposited On:24 May 2018 06:18
Last Modified:30 Jan 2020 12:26
Publisher:EasyChair
Series Name:EPiC Series in Computing
Number:52
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.29007/lx7q
Other Identification Number:merlin-id:16378

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