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Environmental effects of information and communications technologies

Abstract

The digital revolution affects the environment on several levels. Most directly, information and communications technology (ICT) has environmental impacts through the manufacturing, operation and disposal of devices and network equipment, but it also provides ways to mitigate energy use, for example through smart buildings and teleworking. At a broader system level, ICTs influence economic growth and bring about technological and societal change. Managing the direct impacts of ICTs is more complex than just producing efficient devices, owing to the energetically expensive manufacturing process, and the increasing proliferation of devices needs to be taken into account.

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Figure 1: Levels of system interactions between ICT and the environment.
Figure 2: Proportions of energy used in production and operation of various products.

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Acknowledgements

This work was in supported in part by the US National Science Foundation via grant CBET-0731067 in the Environmental Sustainability program.

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Correspondence to Eric Williams.

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Williams, E. Environmental effects of information and communications technologies. Nature 479, 354–358 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10682

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