McKinsey has an article assessing both the negative impacts of IT related to carbon emissions as well as the positive potential of IT to reduce emissions in four sectors. The result? IT does more good than harm (according to this analysis at least).
Yet there is good news too: information and communications technologies can help abate far more emissions in the general economy their own production and use generates. We estimated this abatement potential by studying all known opportunities to optimize energy productivity in four sectors—buildings, power, transport, and manufacturing. Then we calculated the specific energy savings and the associated abatement potential for one significant group of opportunities in each of the sectors. We also looked at a set of opportunities that cut across sectors: telecommuting and other technological substitutions for emission-producing activities. In just these five areas, we identified annual reductions of 7.8 metric gigatons of carbon emissions by 2020. Because we did not review all prominent opportunities to reduce them—for example, we excluded satellite surveillance to monitor deforestation and herding, two of the largest contributors to climate change—the full impact of information and communications technologies could be much greater.
It’s not exactly clear how the authors computed the potential reduction numbers (“all known opportunities”?). More work is needed here to confirm and refine these numbers, in particular, to spell out what managers can do today.