ICT Design Unsustainability & the Path toward Environmentally Sustainable Technologies

University essay from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/COM

Abstract: This study endeavors to investigate the negative environmental impacts of the prevailing ICT design approaches and to explore some potential remedies for ICT design unsustainability from environmental and corporate sustainability perspectives. More specifically, it aims to spotlight key environmental issues related to ICT design, including resource depletion; GHG emissions resulting from energy-intensive consumption; toxic waste disposal; and hazardous chemicals use; and also to shed light on how alternative design solutions can be devised based on environmental sustainability principles to achieve the goals of sustainable technologies. The study highlights the relationship between ICT design and sustainability and how they can symbiotically affect one another. To achieve the aim of this study, an examination was performed through an extensive literature review covering empirical, theoretical, and critical scholarship. The study draws on a variety of sources to survey the negative environmental impacts of the current mainstream ICT design approach and review the potential remedies for unsustainability of ICT design. For theory, central themes were selected for review given the synergy and integration between them as to the topic under investigation. They include: design issues; design science; design research framework for ICT; sustainability; corporate sustainability; and design and sustainability. Findings highlight the unsustainability of the current mainstream ICT design approach. Key environmental issues for consideration include: resource depletion through extracting huge amounts of material and scarce elements; energy-intensive consumption and GHG emissions, especially from ICT use phase; toxic waste disposal; and hazardous substances use. Potential remedies for ICT design unsustainability include dematerialization as an effective strategy to minimize resources depletion, de-carbonization to cut energy consumption through using efficient energy required over life cycle and renewable energy; recyclability through design with life cycle thinking (LCT) and extending ICT equipment’s operational life through reuse; mitigating hazardous chemicals through green design - low or non-noxious/less hazardous products. As to solving data center dilemma, design solutions vary from hardware and software to technological improvements and adjustments. Furthermore, corporate sustainability can be a strategic model for ICT sector to respond to environmental issues, including those associated with unsustainable ICT design. In the same vein, through adopting corporate sustainability, ICT-enabled organizations can rationalize energy usage to reduce GHG emissions, and thereby alleviating global warming. This study provides a novel approach to sustainable ICT design, highlighting unsustainability of its current mainstream practices. Review of the literature makes an advance on extant reviews of the literature by highlighting the symbiotic relationship between ICT design and environmental sustainability from both research and practice perspectives. This study adds to the body of knowledge and previous endeavours in research of ICT and sustainability. Overall, it endeavours to present contributions and avenues for further theoretical and empirical research and development.

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