Information and Communication Technologies for a more Sustainable World

Information and Communication Technologies for a more Sustainable World

Lorenz M. Hilty (University of Zurich, Switzerland & Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-057-0.ch033
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Abstract

As has been discussed for decades, a reduction of the input of natural resources into industrial production and consumption by a factor of 4-10 is a necessary condition for Sustainable Development. This paper discusses the potential contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to such a dematerialization of the industrial societies and introduces a conceptual framework which accounts for positive and negative impacts of ICT on physical flows. This framework addresses three levels: the ICT life cycle itself, life cycles of other products influenced by ICT applications, and patterns of production and consumption. The conclusion is that ICT will only contribute to Sustainable Development if this technology is recognized and used as an enabler of a deep structural change; a transition towards an economic system in which value-creation is mainly based on information processing while keeping the physical properties of material within some limits that ensure that it can be recycled. This structural change will include the transition from a material-property-transfer mode to a service-transfer mode of consumption in areas where this is technically feasible and beneficial in terms of resource productivity. In such a post-industrial society, which may also be called a sustainable information society, open technological standards will play a crucial role, since they allow for complexity reduction while keeping competition alive, thus minimizing the risk of unmastered complexity in new critical infrastructures.
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Perspectives Of Ict And Sustainability

Starting from the issue of economic dematerialization as a necessary condition for Sustainable Development, a conceptual framework will be presented and exemplified which accounts for positive and negative impacts of ICT on material and energy flows at different levels: the ICT life cycle itself (first-order effects), life cycles of other products influenced by ICT (second-order effects), and patterns of production and consumption (third-order effects).

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