Electronic Devices Produce Nearly as much GHG Emissions as Airlines

by | Nov 15, 2010

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The information technology (IT), telecommunications, media and entertainment sectors produce roughly three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to four to five percent for the airline industry when all supporting infrastructure is included, according to a study by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, reports Triple Pundit.

However, a study released in May by the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology Review indicates that CO2 emissions from the airline industry accounts for approximately two to three percent of global GHG emissions.

The KTH study, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Operational Electricity Use in the ICT and Entertainment & Media Sector,” finds that the IT and telecom sector in 2007 accounted for 1.3 percent of the world’s total greenhouse emissions, equivalent to 620 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), while the media and entertainment sector accounted for 1.7 percent of world greenhouse emissions, or 820 megatons of CO2e.

These figures also include the actual IT infrastructure — networks and data centers — that are necessary to enable the global services, says KTH.

The study indicates that there were three billion mobile phones in use in 2007, one billion PCs and 1.7 billion TV sets. Today there are already 4.5 billion mobile phones in use, reports KTH.

According to the latest issue of EL Insights, the average data center uses as much electricity as 40,000 homes annually. In the U.S., data centers represent 3 percent of all energy use and the market is expected to increase from $3.82 billion in 2010 to $13.81 billion 2015.

According to McAfee, the energy required to process email spam is enough to power two million homes, reports Triple Pundit.

“From a macro perspective, it is important to follow the trend for the product groups that have the greatest impact on the climate. Even if more energy efficient products are being developed, an increased variety of products will bring about adverse environmental effects all together,” stated Åsa Moberg, a researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Communications at KTH.

However, the study also notes that this technology can be used to significantly cut global carbon dioxide emissions in other sectors, reports Triple Pundit. But these opportunities were not part of this analysis.

A 2008 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that technology leads to a dramatic increase in energy efficiency and is actually a net saver of energy by a 10:1 ratio across the economy.

Another study released in July by Natural Logic found that the IT sector reduced annual CO2 emissions associated with IT equipment by more than 32 million metric tons worldwide since 2007, which translates into more than $2 billion in annual energy savings and taking nine coal-fired power plants offline.

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