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Exploring the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: From Life Cycle Assessment to Complex Systems Modeling
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Environmental Strategies Research (fms). KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Centres, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Centres, Centre for Sustainable Communications, CESC.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7761-2350
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The production and consumption of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services continue to grow worldwide. This trend is accompanied by a corresponding increase in electricity use by ICT, as well as direct environmental impacts of the technology. Yet a more complicated picture of ICT’s effects is emerging. Positive indirect effects on environmental sustainability can be seen in substitution and optimization (enabling effects), and negative indirect effects can be seen in additional demand due to efficiency improvements (rebound effects).

A variety of methods can be employed to model and assess these direct and indirect effects of ICT on environmental sustainability. This doctoral thesis explores methods of modeling and assessing environmental effects of ICT, including electronic media. In a series of five studies, three methods were at times applied in case studies and at others analyzed theoretically. These methods include life cycle assessment (LCA) and complex systems modeling approaches, including System Dynamics (SD) and agent-based (AB) modeling.

The first two studies employ the LCA approach in a case study of an ICT application, namely, the tablet edition of a Swedish design magazine. The use of tablets has skyrocketed in recent years, and this phenomenon has been little studied to date. Potential environmental impacts of the magazine’s tablet edition were assessed and compared with those of the print edition. The tablet edition’s emerging version (which is marked by a low number of readers and low reading time per copy) resulted in higher potential environmental impacts per reader than did the print edition. However, the mature tablet edition (with a higher number of readers and greater reading time per copy) yielded lower impacts per reader in half the ten impact categories assessed.

While previous studies of electronic media have reported that the main life-cycle contributor to environmental impacts is the use phase (which includes operational electricity use as well as the manufacture of the electronic device), the present study did not support those findings in all scenarios studied in this thesis. Rather, this study found that the number of readers played an important role in determining which life-cycle phase had the greatest impacts. For the emerging version, with few readers, content production was the leading driver of environmental impacts. For the mature version, with a higher number of readers, electronic storage and distribution were the major contributors to environmental impacts. Only when there were many readers but low overall use of the tablet device was the use phase the main contributor to environmental impacts of the tablet edition of the magazine.

The third study goes beyond direct effects at product- and service-level LCAs, revisiting an SD simulation study originally conducted in 2002 to model indirect environmental effects of ICT in 15 European countries for the period 2000-2020. In the current study, three scenarios of the 2002 study were validated in light of new empirical data from the period 2000–2012. A new scenario was developed to revisit the quantitative and qualitative results of the original study. The results showed, inter alia, that ICT has a stimulating influence on total passenger transport, for it makes it more cost- and time-efficient (rebound effects).

The modeling mechanism used to represent this rebound effect is further investigated in the fourth study, which discusses the feedback loops used to model two types of rebound effects in passenger transport (direct economic rebound and time rebound). Finally, the role of systems thinking and modeling in conceptualizing and communicating the dynamics of rebound effects is examined.

The aim of the fifth study was to explore the power of systems modeling and simulation to represent nonlinearities of the complex and dynamic systems examined elsewhere in this thesis. That study reviews previous studies that have compared the SD and AB approaches and models, summarizing their purpose, methodology, and results, based on certain criteria for choosing between SD and AB approaches. The transformation procedure used to develop an AB model for purposes of comparison with an SD model is also explored.

In conclusion, first-order or direct environmental effects of ICT production, use, and disposal can be assessed employing an LCA method. This method can also be used to assess second-order or enabling effects by comparing ICT applications with conventional alternatives. However, the assessment of enabling effects can benefit from systems modeling methods, which are able to formally describe the drivers of change, as well as the dynamics of complex social, technical, and environmental systems associated with ICT applications. Such systems methods can also be used to model third-order or rebound effects of efficiency improvements by ICT.

Abstract [sv]

Den ökande produktionen och konsumtionen av produkter och tjänster inom informations- och kommunikationsteknik (IKT) leder till en ökning av den globala elanvändningen samt direkta miljökonsekvenser kopplade till IKT. Men IKT har även indirekta miljömässiga effekter. Dessa kan vara positiva till exempel genom substitutions- och optimeringseffekter eller negativa genom att till exempel ge upphov till ytterligare efterfrågan på grund av effektivisering (så kallade reboundeffekter).

Olika metoder kan användas för att modellera och bedöma både direkta och indirekta effekter av IKT. Syftet med denna avhandling är att undersöka metoder för modellering samt att studera miljöeffekter av IKT och elektronisk media med hjälp av livscykelanalys (LCA) och även modellering av komplexa och dynamiska system, samt simuleringsteknik, så som System Dynamics (SD) och agentbaserad (AB) modellering. Avhandlingen omfattar fem artiklar (artikel I-V).

Artikel I & II beskriver resultaten från en fallstudie där miljöeffekter kopplade till en svensk tidskrift studeras med LCA. Tidskriftens version för surfplatta samt motsvarande tryckta version studeras och jämförs.

Artikel III går ett steg vidare från produktnivåns LCA. Artikeln återkopplar till en SD simuleringsstudie som ursprungligen genomfördes under 2002. Simuleringsstudien gällde framtida miljöeffekter av IKT i 15 europeiska länder med tidspespektivet 2000-2020. I artikeln valideras tre scenarier från simuleringsstudien med hjälp av nya empiriska data från 2000-2012 och ett nytt scenario modelleras. Kvantitativa och kvalitativa resultat från den ursprungliga studien diskuteras. Till exempel visar artikel III att IKT har en stimulerande effekt på den totala persontrafiken genom att göra den mer kostnads- och tidseffektiv (reboundeffekt).

Modelleringsmekanismen som används för att representera denna reboundeffekt diskuteras vidare i artikel IV. Artikeln belyser och diskuterar den återkopplingsslinga (feedback-loop) som används för att modellera två typer av reboundeffekter kopplade till persontrafik (direkt ekonomisk rebound och tidsrelaterad rebound) samt jämför med en tidigare studie. Artikel IV behandlar också den roll systemtänkande och modellering kan spela i konceptualisering och kommunikation av reboundeffekters dynamik.

För att ytterligare undersöka systemmodelleringens och simuleringens möjligheter att representera icke-linjära komplexa och dynamiska system (exempel på sådana diskuteras i artikel III och IV), sammanställer artikel V tidigare studier som jämför SD och AB-metoder och -modeller.  Studiernas mål och metod summeras och resultaten med avseende på vilka kriterier som presenteras för att välja mellan SD och AB sammanställs. Även processen för att omvandla en befintlig SD-modell till en AB-modell beskrivs.

Avhandlingens slutsats är att LCA och systemmodelleringsmetoder kan vara användbara för att studera IKTs direkta effekter så väl som indirekta effekter på miljön.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2015. , 66 p.
Series
TRITA-INFRA-FMS, ISSN 1652-5442 ; 2015:03
Keyword [en]
Information and communication technology (ICT), sustainability assessment, electronic media, tablet, print media, magazine, Internet, energy, environmental impact, life cycle assessment (LCA), System Dynamics, agent-based modeling, differential equations, simulation modeling, complex and dynamic systems modeling
Keyword [sv]
Informations- och kommunikationsteknik (IKT), hållbarhetsbedömning, elektroniska media, surfplatta, tryckta media, tidskrift, Internet, energi, miljöpåverkan, simulering, differentialekvationer, modellering av komplexa och dynamiska system, System Dynamics, livscykelanalys (LCA), agentbaserad modellering
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis; Information and Communication Technology; Industrial Ecology; Applied and Computational Mathematics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-171443ISBN: 978-91-7595-653-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-171443DiVA: diva2:844100
Public defence
2015-09-04, Sal F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20150813

Available from: 2015-08-13 Created: 2015-08-03 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Life Cycle Assessment of a Magazine: Part I: Tablet Edition in Emerging and Mature States
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life Cycle Assessment of a Magazine: Part I: Tablet Edition in Emerging and Mature States
2015 (English)In: Journal of Industrial Ecology, ISSN 1088-1980, E-ISSN 1530-9290, Vol. 19, no 4Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Information and communication technology (ICT) is providing new ways to access media content. ICT has environmental benefits and burdens. The overall goal of the present study was to assess the environmental impacts of production and consumption of magazines read on tablets from a life cycle perspective. Important goals were to identify the activities giving rise to the main impacts and the key factors influencing the overall environmental impacts. Data gaps and uncertainties were also addressed. The results are compared against those for the print edition of the magazine in a separate article (part 2). The methodology used in the study was life cycle assessment. The environmental impacts assessed included climate change, cumulative energy/exergy demand, metal depletion, photochemical oxidant formation, particulate matter formation, terrestrial acidification, freshwater/marine eutrophication, fossil depletion, human toxicity, and ecotoxicity. The results indicate that content production can be the major contributor to environmental impacts if readers are few (as for the emerging version of the magazine studied). Assuming more readers (more mature version) or a larger file size for the tablet magazine, electronic storage and distribution may be the major contributor. Thus, in contrast to previous studies on electronic media, which reported a dominant impact of the use phase, this study found a higher impact for content production (emerging version) and electronic storage and distribution (mature version). However, with inefficient, low overall use of the tablet with a mature version of the tablet magazine, the greatest impact was shown to come from the reading activity (i.e., the use phase). In conclusion, the relative impacts of the tablet magazine would decrease considerably with high numbers of readers, their efficient use of the tablet (i.e., for many purposes over a long life of the device), and a smaller magazine file.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2015
Keyword
electronic media, tablet computer, magazine, information and communication technology (ICT), Internet, energy use, environmental impacts, life cycle assessment (LCA)
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-118833 (URN)10.1111/jiec.12227 (DOI)000362594200006 ()2-s2.0-84942295020 (Scopus ID)
Projects
CESC - Media and Sustainability
Funder
VINNOVA
Note

QC 20151103

Available from: 2013-02-28 Created: 2013-02-28 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
2. Life cycle assessment of a magazine: part 2: A comparison of print and tablet editions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life cycle assessment of a magazine: part 2: A comparison of print and tablet editions
2015 (English)In: Journal of Industrial Ecology, ISSN 1088-1980, E-ISSN 1530-9290, Vol. 19, no 4Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The rapid development of information and communications technology (ICT) is providing new ways to access media content. Electronic media are sometimes more advantageous from an environmental perspective than paper-based media solutions, but ICT-based media can also bring environmental burdens. This study compared the potential environmental impacts in a life cycle perspective of a print edition of a magazine and that of its electronic edition read on a tablet device. Important objectives were to identify activities giving rise to the main environmental impacts for both the print and tablet editions, determine the key factors influencing these impacts, and address data gaps and uncertainties. A detailed assessment of the tablet edition is provided in a previous article (part 1), whereas this article compares it with the print edition. The methodology used was life cycle assessment and the environmental impacts assessed included climate change, cumulative energy/exergy demand, metal depletion, photochemical oxidant formation, particulate matter formation, terrestrial acidification, freshwater eutrophication, marine eutrophication, and fossil depletion. Use of different functional units to compare the print and tablet editions of the magazine resulted in different relative environmental impacts. In addition, emerging (low number of readers and low reading time per copy) and mature (higher number of readers and higher reading time per copy) tablet editions yielded varying results. The emerging tablet edition resulted in higher potential environmental impacts per reader than the print edition, but the mature tablet edition yielded lower impacts per reader in half the impact categories assessed. This illustrates the importance of spreading the environmental impacts over a large number of readers. The electricity mix used in product system processes did not greatly affect the results of tablet/print comparisons, but overall number of readers for the tablet edition, number of readers per copy for the print edition, file size, and degree of use of the tablet device proved crucial for the comparison results.

Keyword
electronic media, tablet computer, print media, magazine, information and communication technology (ICT), Internet, energy use, environmental impacts, life cycle assessment (LCA).
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-118834 (URN)10.1111/jiec.12229 (DOI)000362594200007 ()2-s2.0-84942294108 (Scopus ID)
Projects
CESC - Media and Sustainability
Note

QC 20151103

Available from: 2013-02-28 Created: 2013-02-28 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. Modeling the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: Revisiting a System Dynamics Model Developed for the European Commission
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Modeling the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: Revisiting a System Dynamics Model Developed for the European Commission
2015 (English)In: ICT Innovations for Sustainability / [ed] Hilty, L.M.; Aebischer, B., Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2015, 449-474 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This chapter revisits a System Dynamics model developed in 2002 with the aim of exploring the future impacts of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on environmental sustainability in the EU, which then consisted of 15 countries. The time horizon of the study was 20 years (2000–2020). We analyze the results in light of empirical data that is now available for 2000–2012. None of the three scenarios that were developed by experts to specify the external factors needed to run the model were realistic from today’s point of view. If the model is re-run with more realistic input data for the first half of the simulation period, however, the main results regarding the impact of ICT remain qualitatively the same; they seem to be relatively robust implications of the causal system structure, as it is represented in the model. Overall, the impacts of ICT for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental burdens for 2020 tend to be slightly stronger if the simulation is based on the empirical data now available.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2015
Series
Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, ISSN 2194-5357 ; 310
Keyword
Information and Communication Technology, Environmental Impact, Sustainable Development, Information Society, Socioeconomic Modeling and Simulation, System Dynamics, Prospective Technology Assessment
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering Information Systems, Social aspects
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-148965 (URN)10.1007/978-3-319-09228-7_27 (DOI)2-s2.0-84927656940 (Scopus ID)978-3-319-09227-0 (Print) 978-3-319-09228-7 (Online) (ISBN)
Note

QC 20140825

Available from: 2014-08-15 Created: 2014-08-15 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved
4. Using Systems Thinking and System Dynamics Modeling to Understand Rebound Effects
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Using Systems Thinking and System Dynamics Modeling to Understand Rebound Effects
2016 (English)In: Advances And New Trends In Environmental And Energy Informatics / [ed] Jorge Marx Gómez, Michael Sonnenschein, Andreas Winter, Ute Vogel, Barbara Rapp Nils Giesen, Cham, Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2016, 237-255 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Processes leading to an increase of demand for a resource as a consequence of increasing the efficiency of using this resource in production or consumption are known as (direct) rebound effects. Rebound effects at micro and macro levels tend to offset the reduction in resource consumption enabled by progress in efficiency. Systems thinking and modeling instruments such as causal loop diagrams and System Dynamics can be used to conceptualize the structure of this complex phenomenon and also to communicate model-based insights. In passenger transport, the rebound effect can be invoked by increased cost efficiency (direct economic rebound) and/or increase in speed (time rebound). In this paper we review and compare two existing models on passenger transport—including a model on the role of information and communication technology—with regard to the feedback loops used to conceptualize rebound effects.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cham, Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2016
Series
Progress in IS, ISSN 2196-8705
Keyword
Rebound effect, energy efficiency, systems thinking, systems modeling, system dynamics, causal loop diagrams, passenger transport, ICT, time rebound, direct rebound
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Industrial Ecology; Planning and Decision Analysis; Economics; Information and Communication Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-165055 (URN)10.1007/978-3-319-23455-7_13 (DOI)000381426600013 ()978-3-319-23455-7 (ISBN)978-3-319-23454-0 (ISBN)
External cooperation:
Projects
Methods for sustainability assessments of ICT
Funder
VINNOVA
Note

QC 20150518

Available from: 2015-04-22 Created: 2015-04-22 Last updated: 2016-09-12Bibliographically approved
5. System Dynamics vs. agent-based modeling—comparing models and approaches: A literature review and a transformation procedure
Open this publication in new window or tab >>System Dynamics vs. agent-based modeling—comparing models and approaches: A literature review and a transformation procedure
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Systems modeling and simulation methods such as System Dynamics (SD) and agent-based (AB) modeling have been used to foster a better understanding of the dynamics and complexity of natural, technical, and social systems. System Dynamics provides an aggregate-level perspective, highlighting thinking in feedback loops and employing differential equations to model the causal relations in a system, exploring the system's dynamics by numerically solving the equations. Agent-based modeling, in a bottom-up method, focuses on constituent units (agents) and their interactions to explore the emerging behavior at a system level by means of simulation. Comparing these modeling methods can help us understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to choose the right approach for a given modeling problem. It may also support the analysis of a given system to build multiple models using the different approaches and comparing them, in particular to treat fundamental uncertainties in systems modeling and simulation. In this paper, we review the existing studies comparing the SD and AB approaches and models, investigating the aims, methodology, and results of such comparative studies. We also highlight lessons learned for future model comparisons by examining how the corresponding SD and AB models are built for the purpose of comparison. A procedure for transforming System Dynamics models into agent-based models is presented and discussed using examples from the literature.

Keyword
System Dynamics, agent-based modeling, modeling and simulation, complex systems modeling, individual-based modeling, ordinary differential equations, model comparison, literature review
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-171441 (URN)
Note

QS 2015

Available from: 2015-08-03 Created: 2015-08-03 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved

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