Life Cycle Assessment of Network Traffic: A Review of Challenges and Possible Solutions

Reference Type:

Journal Article

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Published In:

Sustainability

Year:

2021

Author(s):

Tova Billstein
Anna Björklund
Tomas Rydberg

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The environmental impact of Industry 4.0 and related technologies remains relatively unknown, with little research devoted to investigating the impact on sustainability aspects, resulting in a greater need for climate reporting. However, impacts of data transmission have historically been the least studied part of the information and communication technology sector, and there is currently no consensus on how to correctly assess it. In an attempt to guide process development within the area in the hopes that future life cycle assessments will be created, this study sought to identify, examine, and address potential challenges that might occur when assessing the environmental impact of network traffic during its life cycle. Through a combination of a literature review and semi-systematic research interviews with identified experts within the field of research, several areas in the form of knowledge gaps, unsolved methodological issues, and areas in need of further development were identified and assessed. The results show that eight key challenges exist in the areas of system boundaries, data collection methods, energy intensity metrics, transparency and data availability, age of data, allocation procedures, assumptions, and limited coverage of impact categories. Several approaches to address said challenges are presented, as well as areas in need of further investigation. It is furthermore suggested that the sector should strive to agree upon several parameters of significance to enable future harmonized life cycle studies of network traffic.