ICT Sustainability

Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

An Online Graduate Course & Book by Tom Worthington MEd, FACS CP

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The Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2015 (DEWHA 2010) defines ICT sustainability as:

"... the responsible acquisition, installation, use and disposal of information and communications technologies and services so as to utilise resources more effectively, improve efficiency and increase productivity, and reduce the environmental impact of operations. It also includes the effective use of information and communications technology to promote more sustainable practices in industry and the community. is the study and practice of using computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit and minimise the negative impact."

ICT sustainability (also known as Green IT or Green Computing) seeks to use computers and telecommunications in ways which maximise positive environmental benefit and minimise negative impacts. Energy efficiency of equipment is a major concern, but also the energy embodied in the equipment and the use of materials and how they are recycled. Green ICT seeks to guide technological implementation using accepted management practises, in support of business interaction.

ICT sustainability is an emerging discipline philosophically centred on a concern for sustainable development and seeks ways to implement that through ICT systems. Beyond the direct environmental impact of the equipment, the way it can be used to reduce the adverse impact of other systems is of concern. Typically ways to use ICT to reduce materials and energy, such as by replacing travel with electronic communications, is a consideration.

What are the effects, both negative and positive of ICT? How much are these currently considered when choosing computer equipment? How will this change with carbon trading and mandatory reporting of carbon dioxide emissions?

Keep in mind that ICT is only a business enabler in most organisations. How much do ICT professionals need to know about the business aims of the organisation to help with green ICT? Does anyone in the organisation know what the many components of the ICT system of the organisation (servers, application, network maintenance, email) are and how these contribute to the organisation's carbon footprint and waste material contribution? The organisation might currently measure its ICT operation in terms of dollars spent, person hours of effort, lines of code generated, Gflops or GBytes of storage. What metrics would be useful for measuring the organisations environmental impact?

Understanding climate science

... the majority opinion of the Australian and international scientific communities that human activities resulted in substantial global warming from the mid-20th century, and that continued growth in greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human-induced emissions would generate high risks of dangerous climate change.

A natural carbon cycle converts the sun's energy and atmospheric carbon into organic matter through plants and algae, and stores it in the earth's crust and oceans. Stabilisation of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere requires the rate of greenhouse gas emissions to fall to the rate of natural sequestration.

There are many uncertainties around the mean expectations from the science, with the possibility of outcomes that are either more benign - or catastrophic.

From: Garnaut (2008)

Professor Ross Garnaut was commissioned by Australian Federal and state governments to examine the impacts of climate change and recommend a policy framework to deal with it. His report provides an overview of the issues now being considered by the community.

ICT Sustainability includes social, economic and environmental concerns. A good example of this are the issues around Climate Change, and Global Warming, specifically with an expected long-term significant increase in the average temperature around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that during the 20th Century, the temperature has been increasing due to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. This is most likely due to human activity ("anthropogenic").

The major anthropogenic greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), with concentrations increasing due to burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Most relevant to ICT is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas in electricity power stations to generate electricity, which is then used to power computers and telecommunications.


An increase in average global temperatures is expected to cause the retreat of glaciers, reduction in Arctic ice, and a rise in sea level, resulting in flooding. It is also expected to result in a change in regional weather patterns, with rain increased in some areas and reduced in others and an increase in storms. This is likely to result in changes in agriculture, water supply and extinctions of plant and animal species.


The two major responses to global warming are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adjust human activities to accommodate it. The primary international agreement on combating global warming is the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations. The primary method envisaged for implementation of the treaty is emissions trading, with companies purchasing credits to emit in a market, within limits set by government.

Now Read

  1. The Policy Statement on Green ICT from the Australian Computer Society (ACS 2007).

  2. Chapter 2 "Understanding climate science", of the Climate Change Review Final Report (Garnaut 2008). A nine minute video, "Professor Ross Garnaut discusses the challenges of climate change" (ANU, 2009) is also available.


  1. Suggest 3 outcomes for this subject: List at least 3 outcomes you want and expect from this subject.

  2. Effects and responses to climate change: Describe in up to three paragraphs, what effects Climate Change, and responses to it, may have on the organisation in which you work (or one you are familiar with). Use the following questions as a guide:

    1. What industry is the organisation involved in?
    2. What are its principal lines of goods or services? Do these contribute to greenhouse gas production?
    3. Are there processes in place to reduce greenhouse gas production, or can you suggest some?
  3. Search for articles and papers: Search for documents, articles, papers and videos about ICT Sustainability. List three and briefly say what they cover and why they are worth reading.

Next: The Global ICT Footprint.

About the book: ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

Edition Notice

ICT Sustainability is about how to assess, and reduce, the carbon footprint and materials used with computers and telecommunications. These are the notes for an award winning graduate course on strategies for reducing the environmental impact of computers and how to use the Internet to make business more energy efficient.

Copyright © Tom Worthington, 2018

Third edition.

Cover shows Power on-off symbol: line within a circle (IEC 60417-5010).

Latest version of materials available free on-line, under at Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license at http://www.tomw.net.au/ict_sustainability/

Previous edition, 2017:

ISBN: 9781326967949 (Hardback)
ISBN: 9781326958503 (Paperback)
ISBN: 9781326967918 (PDF)
ISBN: 9781326958497 (ePub eBook via Lulu and Apple)
ASIN: B005SOEQZI (Kindle eBook)

Editions of these notes have been used for the courses:

  1. ICT Sustainability (COMP7310), in the Graduate Studies Select program, Australian National University (first run July 2009), and
  2. Green ICT Strategies (COMP 635), Athabasca University (Canada). Adapted for North America by Brian Stewart.
  3. Green Technology Strategies: offered in the Computer Professional Education Program, Australian Computer Society (first run as "Green ICT Strategies" in February 2009),