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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • industrial ecology;
  • information and communication technology (ICT);
  • life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • technology and environment;
  • telecommunications

Summary

The positive and negative environmental impacts of information and communication technology (ICT) are widely debated. This study assesses the electricity use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to the ICT and entertainment & media (E&M) sectors at sector level, including end users, and thus complements information on the product level. GHGs are studied in a life cycle perspective, but for electricity use, only the operational use is considered. The study also considers which product groups or processes are major contributors. Using available data and extrapolating existing figures to the global scale for 2007 reveals that the ICT sector produced 1.3% of global GHG emissions in 2007 and the E&M sector 1.7%. The corresponding figures for global electricity use were 3.9% and 3.2%, respectively. The results indicate that for the ICT sector, operation leads to more GHG emissions than manufacture, although impacts from the manufacture of some products are significant. For the E&M sector, operation of TVs and production of printed media are the main reasons for overall GHG emissions. TVs as well as printed media, with the estimations made here, led to more GHG emissions on a global level in 2007 than PCs (manufacture and operation). A sector study of this type provides information on a macro scale, a perspective easily lost when considering, for example, the product-related results of life cycle assessments. The macro scale is essential to capture changes in total consumption and use. However, the potential of the ICT sector to help decrease environmental impacts from other sectors was not included in the assessment.