The implications of new information and communication technologies for sustainability

Abstract

This paper discusses the relationship of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and sustainable development. It deconstructs popular myths about a sustainable information society. One myth is that telework has reduced the need to travel and hence environmental pollution. The reality is that teleworkers make up only a small share of the total workforce, telework can generate new social relationships and hence the need for more travelling, work-related travel produces only a small amount of the total carbon dioxide emissions, and that the total distance travelled per employee is constantly rising. Another myth is that information economy is weightless and dematerialized which reduces environmental impacts. The energy and resource intensities of the ICT sector are indeed lower than the one of the total economy. The ICT sector also emits less CO2 than the total economy. But the ICT sector constitutes only a small portion of the total value added and fossil fuel combustion is still the dominant activity of modern industrial economies. Some stakeholders argue that virtual products allow resource, energy, and transport savings. But burning digital music on compact discs and DVDs, printing digital articles and books, etc. results in rebound effects that cause new material and energy impacts, computers have a low life span of 2–3 years, reusable and upgradeable computers and computer equipment are hardly used and might not be as profitable as non-reusable ones, computers are consuming much energy. Alternatives such as energy consumption labels on ICTs and green ICTs that consume less energy contradict dominant economic interests. A sustainable information society is a society that makes use of ICTs and knowledge for fostering a good life for all human beings of current and future generations by strengthening biological diversity, technological usability, economic wealth for all, political participation of all, and cultural wisdom. Achieving a sustainable information society costs, it demands a conscious reduction of profits by not investing in the future of capital, but the future of humans, society, and nature.

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Fuchs, C. The implications of new information and communication technologies for sustainability. Environ Dev Sustain 10, 291–309 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-006-9065-0

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Keywords

  • ICTs
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable information society
  • Technology
  • Nature
  • Ecology