Applying Information Technology in the race towards a sustainable future

I believe most (aspirant) BIM students are aware of the transformative power of Information Technology and the changes that are yet to come. If not, the six Information Strategy lectures have emphasised its importance and highlighted numerous innovative examples in which information, or information technology, played a key role. However, what annoyed me personally is that the majority of the examples handled in class were about companies employing information technology in order to realize profit maximisation. I am aware that we are enrolled in a Business Administration course, however I do think there are other innovative and more important examples in which information plays a key role. In this blog I would like to highlight some examples on how to harness information and information technology to fight one the biggest challenge today, climate change.

But first lets take a look at the how the IT sector itself is performing regarding energy usage and sustainability. In 2007, analyst Gartner released the statistic that the ICT sector was responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions and this figure has since been widely cited. In 2008, McKinsey has re-quantified the direct emissions from ICT products and services based on expected
 growth in the sector. ICT in their analysis includes PCs, telecoms networks and devices, printers and data centres. They projected as a low case scenario a compounded annual growth of 6% until 2020 in energy usage of the sector. This is not surprising given the advances of information technology, more and more electronic products entering households every year.

‘While the sector plans to significantly step up
t he energy efficiency of its products and
 services, ICT’s largest influence will be by 
enabling energy efficiencies in other sectors, an opportunity that could deliver carbon savings five times larger than the total emissions from the entire ICT sector in 2020’ McKinsey & Company

Apart from critically review the sustainability of the IT sector itself, it biggest role – not surprisingly – lies in improving (energy) efficiency in other sectors. According to McKinsey research, these are some of the biggest and most accessible opportunities;

– Smart motors
– Industrial process automation
– Dematerialization (reduce production of DVDs, paper)

– Smart logistics
– Private transport optimization
– Dematerialization (e-commerce, videoconferencing, teleworking)
– Efficient vehicles (plug-ins and smart cars)
– Traffic flow monitoring, planning
 and simulation

– Smart logistics
– Smart buildings (reduces warehousing space needed through reduction in inventory)
– Dematerialization (reduces energy used in the home through behavior change)

– Smart Grid
– Efficient generation of power
– Combined heat and power (CHP)

Together this can be summarized as the SMART transformation. This transformation will be enabled by information technology, mainly focusing on monitoring and optimization. There’s a big role to play here for students, for example that are enrolled in a(n) (Business) Information Management program. It might be less sexy, but not less important. And lets be honest, controlling product/price informedness in order to realize highest willingness-to-pay and directing trading down/out behavior is downright insignificant in the light of todays challenges. I hope this generates some new ideas, for example for a thesis subject. For more information on this matter I refer to the two main sources below.

McKinsey, Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age

BCG, The Role of ICT in Driving a Sustainable Future

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