Research Paper — IT and the Environment Essay Example

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Research Paper: IT and Environment 3


Research Paper: IT and Environment


The digital or information technology revolution is considered to be the prime driver of today’s developments and enhanced ways of life. It is found that the information technology has been playing a great role in revolutionizing the economic development not merely in the USA, however, in a number of other countries, as recognized by a research conducted by ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)[ CITATION Rob071 l 1033 ]. It is much probable that this IT revolution would be hastening to more developments in the near future[ CITATION BCC10 l 1033 ]. The digital revolution is described as the quick developments in computer usage, mobile phones, e-businesses, remote sensing, internet, environmental information systems, videoconferencing etc. Thus, due to the use of information technology in every aspect of life, it has become quite inevitable to live without such developments, as there are a number of benefits the IT provides.

Apart from the benefits and positive changes the digital revolution has brought to the human life, there are some important concerns regarding the impact of this revolution on the environment that must be taken into account. The issue of environmental impact of information technology or digital developments has not gained much consideration, even it is a larger issue for humankind in this century. Though it is argued that the digital technologies and their different uses can affect the environment both optimistically and harmfully (Vickery, 2012), however, the purpose of this research paper is to discuss the increasing cost of digital revolution or IT in terms of the environment or the IT issues related to the environment, and how these issues and effects can be circumvented.

Effects of Digital Technologies on Environment

This section presents the effects of digital technologies and their applications in the environment.

According to Williams (2011), the information technology revolution impacts the environment on numerous intensities. In terms of direct effects of information technology on the environment, these come in the course of the fabricating, processing and removal of these IT maneuvers and network equipment. Williams (2011) argued that mitigating these direct impacts are the most crucial ones. With regard to fabricating, using, and disposing the digital technologies, computers can be found to be a threat to the environmental sustainability, as it is argued that there are two integral threats of using computers; they consume a very high amount of energy, and their constituents are made up of highly toxic materials [ CITATION Lee04 l 1033 ]. Usually, the IT impact on the environment is disregarded, but a research conducted by Hawkins (2009) noted this impact and it is stated 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… use a lot of energy to run… use up roughly the same amount of energy as the world’s air transport system…” [CITATION Haw09 p 1 l 1033 ].

Regarding the computer’s usage, it is reported by Javed (2013) that currently, there are more than a billion computers being used in the whole world, and a double upsurge in the usage of PCs is expected, suggesting an increase in energy demands and toxic materials. Due to a huge level of usage of computers over the globe and shorter life period requiring quick disposal have ignited the environment issues of more energy usage and harmful effects of toxic materials when disposed of[ CITATION Bre02 l 1033 ]. These two identified impacts, higher energy usage and toxic materials used in manufacturing, are costing the environment in such a way that the fossil fuel or other energy reserves are depleting and the toxic materials like lead and chromium that have very harmful effects on the human nervous system[CITATION Gun99 l 1033 ], consequently, these would be increasing with the increase in digital technologies.

This huge level of energy consumption also resulted in the digital deforestation, as it is argued that digital technologies consume a large portion of energy through coal fired power houses, which resulted in the increasing global warming, another major environmental concern. While the forecasts made by Greenpeace suggest that the information systems and data centers would be requiring more energy in 2020 than is required by Brazil, Germany, France and Canada collectively[ CITATION Don10 l 1033 ]. However, due to the subtraction of coal from the mountains result in a number of environmental issues like water pollution, harmful gases emissions, acid rain, bio-diversity loss and deforestation. Regarding this, Carli (2010) reported that in the USA, the usage of mobile networks, information centers, and computers contribute to the obliteration of forests in excess of 600 square miles, where the most important reason behind the deforestation in the USA is the subtraction of the coal from mountain-top.

Additionally, the carbon emissions and harmful gases emission by using many IT applications and devices are also reported to be an environmental impact. As Javed (2013) pointed out that the computers and other IT applications are involved in carbon emissions, where only the computers contribute up to 39% that is similar to carbon emission by 49.3M cars. It is further argued that the global carbon discharge comes from IT is about 2% that is quite noteworthy, and this discharge is caused by servers, cooling of PC equipment, networks, and electricity supplies for their working, printers etc. [ CITATION Uni11 l 1033 ]. While the worldwide expenditure on the information technology products has been increasing by a percentage of 6% every year, which means that the carbon dioxide discharge will be much greater in the next years. This suggests that there would be an increase in the IT involvement in harmful gases and carbon emission to a great level.

Apart from these, the semiconductors’ fabrication also resulted in air pollution by emitting noble gases, acid vapors, and unpredictable organic compounds, and water pollution by emitting acids, metals, cleaning solutions, and solvents[ CITATION Fra01 l 1033 ]. The manufacturing of IT devices produces a large amount of wastes, where only 2% of total raw material becomes the part of the product, while remaining 98% becomes the waste, increasing cost to the environment[ CITATION Fra01 l 1033 ]. As discussed above that it results in depletion of energy resources, however, it is also argued that IT products consume some non-renewable or uncommon resources such as gold and coal, and renewable ones are being manipulated, resulting in crucial resources depletion or affecting the resource sustainability[ CITATION Car15 l 1033 ].

Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Program (2015) conducted by the UN’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics have highlighted some important costs to the environment that are caused by manufacturing, using and disposing of the digital or IT products. Among the costs to the natural environment include the habitation deficiency in natural animals or they have to change their habitat for survival due to land usage, such as the requirement for raw material for producing the product and land demands for developing industry are increasing due to the digital revolution, thus affecting the natural environment. In addition, it not only causes physical disturbance of habitation due to the creation of channels which obstruct the relocation of animals, but also the organic pollution of the ecosystem as a result of high discharge of wastes in which the toxic materials impact on the fauna and flora unswervingly, or it may change the working of the whole environment due to some harmful actions like, eutrophication that involves in releasing the important nutrients with greater oxygen, and acidification resulting in acid rain.

While over the globe, the digital revolution is causing an increase in global warming by emitting the greenhouse gases and other harmful gases, which further deteriorate the ozone layer, causing harmful effects on human life and health. However, the digital progress has also affected the carbon sinks working by deforestation and soil mortification that results in discharge of carbon in the air[ CITATION Uni15 l 1033 ].

Apart from these direct effects, the IT has also been affected on the environment indirectly, so as it resulted in the de — materialization through e-businesses that is argued to lower the environmental costs, but in reality it becomes more prone to create environmental pollution due to increase in aerial shipments[ CITATION Fau01 l 1033 ]. Though, there are many benefits of IT and digital applications for the environment as argued by Tomlinson (2010) in his book ‘Greening through IT’ in which Tomlinson (2010) suggested that the information technology and its applications can be an agent of environmental sustainability, rather than just being harmful. But there is a lack of practical evidence for this, as there are many studies conducted on the role of IT in affecting the environment and found that e-businesses and conventional ways of doing business are equitably the same with regard to their environmental effects[CITATION Nor03 l 1033 m Mat02 m Wil02].

This section can be summarized as the highlighted costs to environment as a result of digital revolution include; high consumption of energy, toxic materials, energy resources depletion, water pollution through waste discharge, air pollution through carbon and harmful gases emission, deforestation due to coal subtraction, soil degradation, habitat deficiency for animals, organic pollution, contamination of resources, acid rain, bio-diversity loss, global warming, and ozone layer depletion.

The Remedies

This section presents the ways in which the impact of the digital revolution on the environment can be offset, and also it has highlighted the adoption of Green IT by many organizations.

Many techniques have been suggested that can lower this impact, however, it cannot be totally eradicated. In this regard, University of Waterloo (2011) has recommended some techniques for mitigating the environmental issues, where it is argued that the energy consumption by computer technology has been majorly due to the cooling process which has increased the use of energy from 60 percent to 200 percent. Cooling process must be in focus and ways should be implemented to control it. Also, the heat produced from the computer technology can also be recycled and reused for other purposes. The legal frameworks must also be developed with the prevention measures detailed for all IT organizations in order to prevent the environmental costs. The IT organizations must play a role through embracing environment friendly IT products and also they should ensure that their suppliers are also acquiring such environmentally friendly materials[ CITATION Uni11 l 1033 m Gru98].

It is also argued that the environmental impact of IT products can be minimized or increased based on the way the data centers are configured, thus the data centers must be configured in a way that their advancements leading to apply Green IT objectives can be checked[ CITATION Mey10 l 1033 ]. There must be devised some substitute sources of energy for manufacturing the computer equipment, so that the scarce resources might not be depleted. Also, the manufacturing techniques need to be reengineered to make them sustainable and as less harmful as possible to the environment[ CITATION Uni15 l 1033 ]. The direct impacts on the environment can be mitigated by producing energy efficient IT products as currently it is happening, however, Williams (2011) has stated that “… managing the direct impacts of ICTs is more complex than just producing efficient devices, owing to the energetically expensive manufacturing process, and the increasing proliferation of devices needs to be taken into account…” (p. 354). The direct effects of IT on the environment are complicated to handle, as there will be an increase in the production in the future and this will cause an inability to produce all devices as energy efficient, thus engineering of the whole manufacturing process can be a solution.

Additionally, a report on Green IT developed by the Symantec pointed out that many international organizations are trying to make their IT activities less harmful for the environment. A recent survey conducted by Symantec found that about 97% of organizations are devising and adopting a Green IT strategy for their IT operations, and 41% organizations are happy to invest more than 20% for adopting a Green IT strategy. Green IT solution has been extensively discussed among many IT companies[ CITATION Uni11 l 1033 ]. However, it can be said that it is almost impossible to offset the environmental issues fully, but there can be implemented a balancing approach that can reduce this impact, which can be said as Green IT strategy adoption.

Many organizations are struggling to catch up new approaches for lowering the energy consumption especially, and also using the IT solutions for that purpose, as suggested by Tomlinson (2010), who argued for the process of going green wit the help of IT applications. These organizations are involving in the Green IT Movement, and starting from a little projects, they are entering into tougher projects, and for instance, Northrop Grumman has recently performed its huge data center migration for energy conservation. In addition to Northrop Grumman, another example is of Citigroup who has attempted to reposition the network shifts in order to lower copper usage in manufacturing as well as energy conservation up to more than 50%[ CITATION Ell11 l 1033 ]. Also, it must be a collective struggle, as George Washington University is trying to convince other universities to adopt green IT strategies and has also implemented many initiatives [ CITATION Com10 l 1033 ].

According to Fanning (2011), within these Green IT strategies, the main initiatives relate to energy conservation, however, many IT teams have implemented these initiatives by getting the most out of current technologies and new ways of adjusting the carbon emission as well, such as tele-presence, virtualizations, as well as solar arrays. Fanning (2011) argued with the statement made by the CIO of the NBC Universal that the Green IT is something that must be acknowledged and implemented on a daily basis. Thus, almost daily these IT companies are gaining new techniques for implementing their goal of Green IT, as Kaiser Permanente has devised its own way to calculate and control the cooling process effectiveness. Among these companies, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is at the top in using Green IT strategy for lowering the environmental impact[ CITATION Com10 l 1033 ].


It can be concluded that the digital revolution has brought numerous benefits to the human life and the overall environment, however, this revolution costs a lot to the environment, where it has impacted the environment in a number of ways. This research paper summarizes some of these environmental issues caused by the IT, such as high consumption of energy, toxic materials, energy resources depletion, water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and organic pollution, contamination of resources, acid rain, bio-diversity loss, global warming, and ozone layer depletion. These impacts cannot all be deleted, however, they can be controlled to some extent, as argued in the paper. Many organizations are implementing different ways and also collaborating with each other through Green IT initiatives and strategies in order to circumvent the environmental issues.


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