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Environmental Impacts of ICT: Present and Future
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: 0000-0002-3023-716X
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

ICT is developing rapidly and is playing an increasingly important role in society. High expectations are placed on ICT in relation to sustainable development. In order to provide basis for decision-making and ensure that ICT is used in the best possible way for enabling sustainable development, the sustainability impacts of ICT need to be studied.

This thesis aims to provide new knowledge on the environmental impacts related to ICT, to explore the potential of ICT to contribute to sustainability, and discuss ways of assessing environmental impacts of ICT. In order to fulfill the aim a literature review of existing LCA studies of ICT was done, an LCA case study of printed and online media was performed, a methodological framework for sustainability assessment of scenarios was developed and then applied for environmental assessment of future ICT societies.

The results show that manufacturing and use phase are the life cycle stages contributing the most to the ICT environmental impacts. For online newspapers online distribution and content production may give significant contribution to the overall impact. User behavior was observed to be crucial for the results of comparisons of ICT solutions with their traditional counterparts.

The following key issues were concluded to influence the environmental risks and opportunities in future ICT societies: energy mix, economic conditions, life styles, technology, and environmental ambitions, incentives and regulation. The potential of ICT for sustainability is affected by these key issues.

A new methodological framework (SAFS) was developed for the assessment of future scenarios (societal level). Life cycle assessment (LCA) was used for assessment on a product level. Application of both methods, their benefits, drawbacks, and challenges of assessment were discussed. Both types of assessments were concluded to be important to support decision-making.

Abstract [sv]

Utveckligen inom informations- och kommunikationsteknologi (IKT) sker snabbt och IKT spelar en allt viktigare roll i samhället. Samtidigt finns stora samhällsutmaningar inom hållbarhetsområdet, och ganska höga förväntningar ställs på IKT att kunna bidra till en hållbar utveckling. Vissa studier hävdar att IKT kan spela en avgörande roll för att stödja olika hållbarhetsstrategier och att IKT kan möjliggöra övergången till en mindre resursintensiv ekonomi. För att ge underlag för beslutsfattande och stödja att IKT används på bästa sätt för att möjliggöra hållbar utveckling, behöver hållbarhetseffekter av IKT studeras. När det gäller miljöpåverkan måste både negativa och positiva, direkta och indirekta effekter beaktas. Det är viktigt att förstå miljöpåverkan genom hela livscykeln för specifika enskilda IKT-lösningar men också att studera IKTs sammanvägda effekter i en mer övergripande kontext, för att identifiera potentiella risker och möjligheter ur miljösynpunkt.  Dessutom behöver IKTs roll när det gäller att stödja möjligheter till miljöförbättringar och motverka risker identifieras.

Denna avhandling syftar till att ge ny kunskap om IKTs miljöpåverkan, att undersöka IKTs potential för att bidra till en hållbar utveckling, och diskutera metoder för bedömning av miljökonsekvenser av IKT samt utmaningar relaterade till den typen av bedömningar. Avhandlingen omfattar en litteraturstudie av tidigare livscykelanalyser (LCA) av IKT, en LCA-studie av traditionella och online tidningar, utveckling av ett ramverk för hållbarhetsbedömning av scenarier samt användningen av det ramverket för en miljöbedömning av framtida IKT-samhällen.

Resultaten visar att andra typer av miljöpåverkan än klimatpåverkan och energi inte är tillräckligt belysta i miljöbedömningar av IKT, vilket skapar en risk för suboptimering och att miljöproblem flyttas från en typ av påverkan till en annan. Tillverknings- och användningsfasen ger upphov till störst miljöpåverkan i IKT-produkters livscykel. För nättidningar visade det sig att distribution och innehållsproduktion kan ge betydande bidrag till den totala miljöpåverkan, beroende på tidningarnas egenskaper och läsarnas beteende. Generellt har användarnas beteenden visat sig vara avgörande för resultaten vid jämförelser mellan IKT-lösningar och deras mer traditionella motsvarigheter.

Ett antal nyckelområden som påverkar uppkomsten av risker och möjligheter när det gäller miljöeffekter i framtida IKT-samhällen har identifierats. De är energimix, ekonomiska förhållanden, livsstilar, teknik, samt miljöambitioner, -incitament och -lagstiftning. Potentialen för IKT att bidra till hållbar utveckling påverkas av dessa nyckelområden, och potentialen skulle troligen inte realiseras helt utan incitament eller miljölagstiftning.

Båda typerna av miljöbedömningar - på produkt och samhällsnivå - är viktiga för att stödja beslutsfattande. En ny metod utvecklades för bedömning av framtidsscenarier (på samhällsnivå) – Sustainability assessment framework for scenarios (SAFS). För miljöbedömning av produkter användes livscykelanalys (LCA). Tillämpningen av båda metoderna, deras fördelar och nackdelar, och utmaningar vid användning av metoderna diskuteras.

Resultat från avhandlingen kan ge underlag rörande möjliga miljöeffekter av IKT idag och i framtiden för diskussion inom IKT-sektorn och bland politiker och beslutsfattare. På så sätt kan diskussioner om hur IKT kan bidra till hållbarhet underlättas. Metodutveckling och diskussion i denna avhandling kan vara av intresse för forskare och praktiker.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. , x, 48 p.
Series
TRITA-INFRA-FMS, ISSN 1652-5442 ; TRITA-INFRA-FMS-PHD 2016:03
Keyword [en]
Information and communication technology (ICT), Life cycle assessment (LCA), environmental impacts, online media, future scenarios, assessment methodology
Keyword [sv]
Informations- och kommunikationsteknologi (IKT), livscykelanalys (LCA), miljökonsekvenser, online media, framtidsscenarier, bedömningsmetod
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-188133ISBN: 978-91-7729-049-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-188133DiVA: diva2:933594
Public defence
2016-09-16, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH-Capus, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20160613

Available from: 2016-06-13 Created: 2016-06-06 Last updated: 2016-06-14Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Lessons learned: Review of LCAs for ICT products and services
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Lessons learned: Review of LCAs for ICT products and services
2014 (English)In: Computers in industry (Print), ISSN 0166-3615, E-ISSN 1872-6194, Vol. 65, no 2, 211-234 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Application of information and communication technology (ICT) is often expected to result in decreased environmental impacts. Several studies have, however, also addressed the possibilities of negative impacts. It is therefore important to assess environmental impacts of ICT products and services. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool for assessing the potential impacts of a product or service over the whole life-cycle, i.e. from raw material acquisition to waste management via production and use phases. The aim of this paper is to review LCA studies of ICT products and services, including a few Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) studies. Many of the studies have considered consumer products, such as computers and TVs. Other consumer products, such as game consoles and TV peripherals, as well as business products, e.g. related to networks, are however more rarely assessed. Manufacturing and use phase have the highest impact in the life cycle. Use phase seems to be the predominant in energy consumption and global warming for some ICT products but for others, especially energy efficient, low weight products, manufacturing may dominate. Rapid technological development is stressed by several authors as a source of variability of results, impacting the production processes and suppliers as well as the content and energy performance of the actual devices. In the future, conducting LCA on ICT, the research community needs to consider the limitations found in the studies conducted so far. It encompasses, among others, the need to address a broad spectrum of environmental impacts, including human and ecotoxicological impacts; modeling actual e-waste management, covering informal management when relevant; and considering user behavior in a realistic way, accounting for rebound and other indirect effects.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2014
Keyword
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Information and communication technology (ICT), Environmental impact, Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA), Social impact, Electronic devices
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-137192 (URN)10.1016/j.compind.2013.10.003 (DOI)000331682900001 ()2-s2.0-84888213904 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Note

QC 20140221

Available from: 2013-12-11 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
2. Media content provided on different platforms –Environmental performance of online and printed versions of Alma Medianewspapers.
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Media content provided on different platforms –Environmental performance of online and printed versions of Alma Medianewspapers.
2014 (English)In: Journal of Print and Media Technology Research, ISSN 2223-8905, Vol. 3, no 1, 7-31 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Keyword
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), printed media, electronic media, content production, environmental impact
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-137196 (URN)
Note

QC 20150203

Available from: 2013-12-11 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. Environmental Assessment of E-media Solutions Challenges Experienced in Case Studies of Alma Media Newspapers
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Environmental Assessment of E-media Solutions Challenges Experienced in Case Studies of Alma Media Newspapers
Show others...
2014 (English)In: PROCEEDINGS OF THE 2014 CONFERENCE ICT FOR SUSTAINABILITY, Atlantis Press , 2014, 11-19 p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The rapid and continuous development of information and communication technology (ICT) in society today is providing new means for various societal activities. To facilitate that new ICT solutions reduce environmental impacts and bring social improvements the potential impacts of those new solutions should be assessed. One way of making environmental assessments is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This paper presents and discusses challenges in assessing, comparing, communicating and acting on the results of an LCA of traditional media products and of new ICT solutions for media products, based on case studies of three newspapers in their printed and online versions. The case studies revealed the complexity in assessment and comparison of online and printed newspapers due to differences in functions and characteristics, choice and availability of data (specific and generic data, data gaps and quality), methodological choices (functional unit, allocation, scope) and assumptions on reader profile. Often no single answer can be given regarding the best option from an environmental perspective, leading to challenges in communicating the results to different stakeholders. A particular challenge is how to combine easily communicated messages with robust, transparent background information.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Atlantis Press, 2014
Keyword
Life cycle assessment (LCA), electronic media, new media solutions, data, methodological choices, user behaviour, communication
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-159057 (URN)000346245500002 ()2-s2.0-84928011739 (Scopus ID)978-946252022-6 (ISBN)
Conference
2nd International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICTS), AUG 24-27, 2014, Stockholm, Sweden
Note

QC 20150122

Available from: 2015-01-22 Created: 2015-01-20 Last updated: 2017-01-16Bibliographically approved
4. Sustainability Assessment Framework for Scenarios - SAFS
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sustainability Assessment Framework for Scenarios - SAFS
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Keyword
sustainability assessment, future scenarios, environmental, social, framework, assessment methodology
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-188129 (URN)
Note

QCR 20160607

Available from: 2016-06-06 Created: 2016-06-06 Last updated: 2016-06-13Bibliographically approved
5. Future ICT Societies – Environmental Opportunities and Challenges
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Future ICT Societies – Environmental Opportunities and Challenges
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Keyword
environmental assessment; future scenarios; environmental challenges; ICT; scenario assessment
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-188130 (URN)
Note

QCR 20160607

Available from: 2016-06-06 Created: 2016-06-06 Last updated: 2016-06-13Bibliographically approved

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Arushanyan, Yevgeniya

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