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Digitalisation for sustainability? Challenges in environmental assessment of digital services

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Conference Paper

Pohl, Johanna, and Matthias Finkbeiner. 2017. “Digitalisation for sustainability? Challenges in environmental assessment of digital services.” In GI-Jahrestagung, 1995–2000. Bonn, Germany.

The expectations for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to tackle climate change are massive, but successful implementation is by no means assured. Contrasting resource saving potential of ICT, energy and resource demand of end-user devices and digital services are growing. The overall question is, how great must the net enabling effects of specific digital services be in order to balance or exceed direct effects of ICT devices and the infrastructure used. To contribute to a more coherent assessment of digitalisation´s implications for sustainability, the authors suggest the following points: to cover all potential impacts, an environmental assessment of ICT has to follow a life cycle approach. Both ICT infrastructure as well as changing use patterns (direct rebound effects) have to be included into the system boundaries; only addressing energy issues is not sufficient. In addition, the material basis and resulting environmental and social impacts from mining, production and disposal have to be addressed.

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