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Grey Energy and Environmental Impacts of ICT Hardware

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Hischier, Roland, Vlad C. Coroama, Daniel Schien, and Mohammad Ahmadi Achachlouei. 2015. “Grey Energy and Environmental Impacts of ICT Hardware.” In ICT Innovations for Sustainability, edited by Lorenz M. Hilty and Bernard Aebischer, 310:171–89. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Direct energy consumption of ICT hardware is only “half the story.” In order to get the “whole story,” energy consumption during the entire life cycle has to be taken into account. This chapter is a first step toward a more comprehensive picture, showing the “grey energy” (i.e., the overall energy requirements) as well as the releases (into air, water, and soil) during the entire life cycle of exemplary ICT hardware devices by applying the life cycle assessment method. The examples calculated show that a focus on direct energy consumption alone fails to take account of relevant parts of the total energy consumption of ICT hardware as well as the relevance of the production phase. As a general tendency, the production phase is more and more important the smaller (and the more energy-efficient) the devices are. When in use, a tablet computer is much more energy-efficient than a desktop computer system with its various components, so its production phase has a much greater relative importance. Accordingly, the impacts due to data transfer when using Internet services are also increasingly relevant the smaller the end-user device is, reaching up to more than 90% of the overall impact when using a tablet computer.

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