Data centres and smartphones will be the most damaging information and communications technologies (ICT) to the environment by 2040, according to new research from W Booth School’s Lotfi Belkhir.
Belkhir, along with Ahmed Elmeligi, a recent W Booth grad and co-founder of the startup, Healthcare Innovation in Neuro Technology (HiNT), studied the carbon footprint of consumer devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktops, as well as data centres and communication networks as early as 2005. Not only did they discover that software is driving the consumption of ICT, they also found that ICT has a greater impact on emissions than we thought, and most emissions come from production and operation.
Belkhir explains, “For every text message, for every phone call, ever video we upload or download, there’s a data centre making this happen. Telecommunications networks and data centres consume a lot of energy to serve you and most data centres continue to be powered by electricity generated by fossil fuel. It’s the energy consumption we don’t see.”
These new discoveries beg the question if the technological advancements continuously being made every day for the sake of our convenience and consumeristic desires are worth the expense of the environmental impacts.
A smartphone’s chip and motherboard require the most amount of energy to produce, as they are made up of precious metals that are mined at a high cost. Smartphones also intentionally have a short life, which drives production of new models and produces an extraordinary amount of waste, harming the environment.
Can we stand to sign up for the new Apple Plan, which guarantees a new phone upgrade each year, knowing of these new implications? It’s simply not sustainable. Communication and data centres need to convert to renewable energy now.
Though larger companies such as Google and Facebook are setting the example of running their data centres on renewable energy, there needs to be a state or country-wide policy prompting all data centres to follow suit for there to be any actual difference. The lifestyle we all lead now is on a fast-paced track towards self destruction, if change doesn’t happen soon. The only course of action is to educate ourselves on the meaning of sustainability, and what exactly the connotation of the word means to our daily lives. From there we can make changes for the sake of this one planet and life as we know it.