Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution


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More on Blockchain in Cleantech

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Emergent: Community microgrid using existing energy infrastructure and the blockchain

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Brooklyn Microgrid is using the blockchain for smart contracts and currencies in support of “resilient, sustainable and more efficient energy production of the future.” In simple terms, as FastCompany explains:

On one side of President Street, five homes with solar panels generate electricity. On the other side, five homes buy power when the opposite homes don’t need it. In the middle is a blockchain network, managing and recording transactions with little human interaction.”


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Lessons from Peter “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” Sinclair’s Talk at the Ross School of Business

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Peter Sinclair visited the Ross School this evening and shared his views on climate problems and climate solutions. He’s known for his clear communication and didn’t disappoint.

While Peter was talking, I thought of a  new “crock” topic for his vlog. It goes something like this: “The computer age is a negative for the environment (in its latest incarnation, cloud computing) because all these computers use so much energy, which is a bad thing.”

I would label this a crock because there are so few scientific studies that provide head to head comparisons of  “old ways of doing things” versus “new computer-enabled ways of doing things.”

For example, one study of the music industry cites “too many ambiguities in underlying assumptions” to reach any definitive conclusion about dematerialization (Hogg, N., and Jackson, T., “Digital Media and Dematerialization: An Exploration of the Potential for Reduced Material Intensity in Music Delivery”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(1), 2008, pp. 127-146.)

Another study suggests that in the aggregate the digital economy will lead to “small decreases in energy intensity and reduce subsequent environmental impacts relative to many baseline projections.” (Laitner, J.A., “Information Technology and U.S. Energy Consumption: Energy Hog, Productivity Tool, or Both?”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 6(2), 2003, pp. 13-24.)

Finally, an examination of information systems across various business functions finds some positive and some negative impacts (Haigh, N., and Griffiths, A., “The Environmental Sustainability of Information Systems: Considering the Impact of Operational Strategies and Practices”, International Journal of Technology Management, 43(1-3), 2008, pp. 48-63.)

So as I see it, there are two issues underlying the “crock” above.

First, do IT-enabled processes have positive or negative impacts relative to old ways of doing things?

(video conferencing seems like a major energy reducer, and I’m sure there are many others).

Second, what is the impact of renewables on major IT resources such as large data centers?

(what metrics to use to determine “greenness” of a data center?).


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Ebay Energy/Carbon Dashboard for “Digital Service Efficiency”

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Splits usage into infrastructure and business (former is bigger), provides summary metrics in number of transactions (related to buy or sell) per kWh (more is better), and includes carbon emissions per user, server, and MW. Not realtime numbers, though quarterly updates planned.

View the dashboard here and the explanation here.