IGF 2020 WS #273 Enhancing sustainable computing, production & consumption

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WS#273

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Author:
Marco Lotti

Research suggests that current production models are seriously impacting the economy, environment, and the society at large. The digitalisation of the economy is no exception. Ms Ece Vural (International Relations Department Manager, Habitat Association) asked the session panellists five main policy questions which address how newer ways of computing and digital advances can improve the sustainability of current productions models and benefit society.

How do we advance sustainable and efficient computing, production, and consumption in the milieu of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

First of all, it is important that we define the concept of sustainable computing and make society understand that there are ways to optimise and reduce the energy consumption of the existing computer infrastructure. Ms Jaewon Son (Committee Member, Korea Internet Governance Alliance) explained that Korea is increasing its investment in the economy, especially towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses that provide online services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, she considers that the collaboration among countries regarding digitalisation is crucial because not all countries are able to promote the digitalisation of society with equal means and conditions.

Public policies, and investments in infrastructure and business sophistication are crucial in affording and promoting sustainable computing. Mr Daniel Jr Dasig (Associate Professor, De La Salle University Dasmarinas) explained that the geography of innovation continues to shift, and the sustainability of computing is an issue that affects both developed and developing countries. Most of the developed countries also happen to be the countries that pollute the most. At the same time, underdeveloped countries rely greatly on the primary sector for their economic activities, thus impacting the environment to a greater extent.

Policies do play a key role as governments are in the front lines when it comes to fostering sustainable and efficient computing efforts. Mr Mohammad Atif Aleem (Regional Engagement Director for Asia Pacific Group, Youth Special Interest Group, Internet Society) clarified that sustainable consumption is about doing more and better with less. He added that information and communications technology (ICT) penetration is still a challenge in many developing countries. This is especially relevant when addressing the climate change challenge. For example, in the sub-Saharan region, there is still a lack of meteorological stations.

Education has a major role in understanding which policies need to but put in place. Ms Chineyenwa Okoro Onu (Founder and Managing Director, Waste or Create Hub) stressed the importance of putting people first and equipping them with information and knowledge.

How can we guarantee the good use of the Internet without harming the environment?

People need to be aware of the carbon footprint that their digital actions entail. The IT industry greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to reach 14% of all global emissions by 2040. However, there are many tools (such as the Green Web Foundation) that allow to test any website and discover whether it is powered by 100% renewable energy or just using fossil fuels.

Individuals have a major role in making sure that sustainable computing policies are implemented. Change always starts from small actions, such as preferring smartphones to laptops, or using cloud-based storage services rather than local storage options. 

Single households also have a key role in curbing the environmental impact of existing technologies. Today’s digital pollution comes from the bad use of existing equipment. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for digital products and services, thus increasing the carbon footprint. Therefore, the establishment of local, regional, and global policies for responsible consumption is needed.

Governments can be at the forefront of promoting sustainable policies. For example, Korea is promoting a green new deal in response to COVID-19. The plan is to transform public urban areas into green zero-energy areas, and rely on the deployment of the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

How can SDGs 9, 12, 11 and 13 be fostered digitally and lower the impact on the environment?

With the potentials digital technology offers, organisations play a crucial role in combining sustainable parameters and the scope of businesses. Promoting a sustainable environment for organisations means the ability to balance the dichotomy between sustainability and profits.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced many sectors to innovate. However, this has caused an increase in computing carbon footprint as the robotisation of the manufacturing sector shows.

When analysing the sustainable development goals (SDGs), we always need to look at the ultimate target of the goal. Onu explained that providing the necessary skills, capacity, education, information, and mostly financial needs, would help lower the digital impact of the main businesses, especially in developing countries.

Promoting smart public systems while expanding clean and renewable energies (like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power) is crucial in achieving the SDGs. Applying industry innovation to urban spaces and building smart distribution systems would be crucial in enhancing sustainable computing production and consumption, and would have a good impact on the environment.

What is the role of quality education in enhancing sustainable initiatives?

All speakers agreed on the key importance of quality education. Good education brings innovation, thus encouraging students and teachers to explore and investigate problems and promote novel ideas. It is important for academic institutions, private companies, and technology-enabled companies to develop collaborative partnerships so as to include computing sustainability in the student curricula. It is also crucial to address the topic of sustainability from an interdisciplinary standpoint. Education also contributes to having more informed consumers, and thus to make more responsible decisions.

How can gender equality be promoted through digital ways, and in the associated SDGs for equitable distribution and representation?

The speakers stressed the importance of mainstreaming gender equality, especially regarding the inclusion of women in digital communication. (Social) media can be a powerful tool if used correctly, as statistics show that 73% of women have been exposed to or experienced violence online. Moreover, it is important that women can participate in digital businesses on an equal footing. In this regard, many corporations are launching gender-based opportunities. ‘Gender equality besides being a fundamental human right is also a goal for societies,’ stated Dasig.