Standards for ICT: A Green Strategy in a Grey Sector

Standards for ICT: A Green Strategy in a Grey Sector

Tineke Egyedi (DIRoS, The Netherlands) and Sachiko Muto (Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6332-9.ch008
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Abstract

This chapter analyzes standardization of mobile phone chargers to explore the role that compatibility standards might play in mitigating the negative impact of ICT on the environment. Building on insights gained from the economics of standards literature, the authors explore how the inherent effects of compatibility standards—such as reducing variety, avoiding lock-in, and building critical mass—can have positive implications for the environment. They argue that current standardization literature and policy have overlooked this important (side) effect of compatibility standards. Excessive diversity and incompatibilities in ICT generate e-waste, discourage re-use, and make recycling economically unviable; the authors, therefore, develop an economic-environmental framework for analyzing sustainability effects of compatibility standards and apply it to the case of mobile phone chargers. They conclude that well-targeted compatibility standardization can be equated to ecodesign at sector level and should be considered as an eco-effective strategy towards greening the IT industry.
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Ict As A Solution Or Part Of The Problem?

Implicit in many recent policy reports about the contribution of ICT as an enabler for sustainability in other sectors (Climate group, 2008; Capgemini 2009) is the assumption that ICT itself is a clean a sector. The negative externalities1 generated by the sector are often disregarded. For example, the influential Climate Group study (2008) notes that fifteen percent of the CO2 emissions in 2020 can be saved by applying smart ICT in other sectors. However, the direct environmental and rebound effects, that is, the unintended side effects that negate the intended environmental benefits, are ignored or covered up (e.g. Climate Group, 2008, p.50). The parallels between current promises of ICT towards making an environmental contribution and the hopes held in the 1990s entail a warning. The rebound effects of the paperless office (direct, primary environmental effect) and teleworking (indirect, secondary environmental effect) have become classic examples (Egyedi & Peet, 2003; Van Lieshout & Huygen, 2010). While teleworking was hailed as a means to reduce mileage to work, studies show that it increased other transport (e.g. Travel during leisure time); and while ICT was expected to reduce paper use (i.e., ‘de-materialization’), in reality – and primarily because of computers – between 1988 and 1998 it increased by a quarter (O'Meara 2000, p.129).

Indeed, in stark contrast with the immaterial notion conveyed by concepts such as ‘virtual’, ‘web’ and ‘the cloud’, the impact of ICTs on the environment is highly concrete. It relates to the energy and materials used in manufacturing products; the packaging and logistics of distribution; the energy and material consumption during use; and disposal at end-of-life. At each of these stages, standards can play a sustainability-enhancing role. Here, we focus on the two key problems of energy use and e-waste.

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