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Project aims to cut the carbon footprint of digital services

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18 August 2021

by Sarah Wray

Digital solutions can help cities and businesses significantly reduce their carbon emissions but there is a growing push to make sure those IT services are also as green as possible.

A collaborative project in Finland is focused on reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from digital services in both the public and private sectors.

The two-year Green ICT initiative has been launched by the Finnish Information Society Development Centre (TIEKE), the Finnish Information Processing Association (TIVIA) and LUT University, and focuses on green IT development and procurement.

It is funded by the REACT-EU (Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe) programme via the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council, which represents 26 municipalities with a total population of 1.7 million people.

‘Tech alone won’t save us’

Estimates about the global electricity consumption of ICT solutions range from 3.6 percent to up to ten percent, while greenhouse gas emissions are calculated to be from 1.4 percent to up to five percent.

Experts suggest that the carbon footprint of each ICT service can be reduced by up to 90 percent with the right actions.

“It is about time to start reducing the carbon footprint of digital services in collaboration between the public and private sectors in Finland,” said TIEKE executive director Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts.

“The project will improve the global competitiveness of the ICT sector in the Helsinki-Uusimaa region through green technology and solutions. This is especially important due to the digital transitions that have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic,” she added.

The initiative will focus on increasing public and private sector knowledge and skills related to green IT procurement, as well as the development of information-sharing networks.

Niemi-Hugaerts said actions could include setting clear energy and sustainability requirements for ICT infrastructure, including data centres, and paying closer attention to the energy efficiency and data consumption of written code and procured ICT services and solutions.

“Technology alone certainly does not save us from the effects on the climate. It must also be used correctly,” said Jari Porras, professor of software engineering at LUT University. “It is essential that businesses receive guidance and tools for producing carbon-neutral services.”

Government greening

An example of the dovetailing of digital and sustainability was recently seen in Milan, Italy. The city developed a tool that calculates the outcomes of digitalisation in terms of time, money and emissions saved – both for residents and the municipality. It can also highlight where further savings could be made.

A report published last month by StateUp, an international intelligence and advisory firm for public-purpose technology, called for governments, including cities, to look beyond setting policy for the economy alone and also focus on decarbonising their own organisations, buildings and operations.

The report suggested that this work could be overseen by someone in the newly created role of Chief Decarbonisation Officer. Procurement is highlighted as a key area as governments globally spend around US$11 trillion a year on procuring goods and services.

Image: Orazio Puccio | Dreamstime.com

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