« Sending fewer emails will not save the planet! An approach to make environmental impacts of ICT tangible for Canadian end users »

LucianoRodriguesVianaabMohamedCherietbcKim-KhoaNguyenbdDariaMarchenkoeJean-FrançoisBoucherabaDépartement de Sciences Fondamentales, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, 555 boulevard de l’Université, Chicoutimi, QC G7H 2B1, CanadabCentre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Opérationnalisation du Développement Durable (CIRODD), École de Technologie Supérieure, 1100 Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3C 1K3, CanadacDépartement de Génie des Systèmes, École de Technologie Supérieure, 1100 Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3C 1K3, CanadadDépartement de Génie Électrique, École de Technologie Supérieure, 1100 Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3C 1K3, CanadaeEcoist Club, Montréal, QC, Canada

Sustainable Production and Consumption

Volume 34, November 2022, Pages 453-466

Received 22 April 2022, Revised 27 September 2022, Accepted 30 September 2022, Available online 5 October 2022, Version of Record 14 October 2022.

Abstract

Information and communication technologies(ICT) need significant quantities of resources and energy to produce and power all infrastructure that is related to the use of digital data and the users’ electronic devices. To help inform Internet users of the impacts of ICT on the environment and the benefits of changing their behaviour, we propose a simple, multi-criteria and flexible approach to quantify three environmental impacts caused by the use of digital services in Canada. Our approach consists of quantifying the electricity consumption that is related to the use of digital services and electronic devices. We also consider the carbon footprint of the main electronic devices that are needed to use digital services. The proposed approach was tested through a hypothetical case study including three digital service user profiles, three levels of data transmission and storage performance, and three electricity mixes. Overall, the main sources of impacts are, in order of importance, the manufacture of electronic devices, the use of electronic devices, and viewing of video streaming. Some iconic digital activities, such as sending emails, contribute very little to a user’s annual impact. The results also highlighted the importance of the methodological choices and data sources that are used to quantify the impacts of digital services, such as sources of electricity production, energy performance of digital data transmission and storage, and users’ behaviour. The relevance and limitations of the proposed approach are discussed extensively in the article. Finally, it is essential to establish a shared action plan between citizens, states and companies to build a digital industry that is compatible with planetary boundaries.