Green ICT and Sustainability Certification

A colleague in the financial services sector asked me about the integration of Green ICT into a taxonomy for sustainability certification.

My experience with taxonomies, particularly as founder of a business information company, has given me a crucial insight. Thoughtful construction up-front is the most beneficial, and the most neglected, aspect of taxonomy applications With that in mind, here are two key considerations for a successful Green ICT taxonomy implementation.

Don't Confuse ICT4Green with Green ICT

ICT4Green refers to the application of ICT to further sustainability in any practice or technology. Projects that apply ICT in this way are best classified with the area being made more sustainable, not with the technology being applied.

Green ICT is the application of any practice or technology to make ICT products, infrastructures, and operations more sustainable.

Green ICT and ICT4Green become lumped together when it is the sustainability part, not the role of ICT, that is the primary focus. This is common in CSR reporting and similar presentations.

Consider an Australian report subtitleed , Telecommunications-based Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. It mixes Green ICT topics like "The Emissions Signature of Broadband" and ICT4Green topics like "High Definition Video Conferencing". The latter topic should fall under a category such as 'Travel Impact' in an outcome-based taxonomy. The carbon footprint of business travel (the outcome) can be addressed by many means, ranging from ICT (video conferencing) to non-ICT (travel reduction policies, carbon offsets, etc.)

It's fine to include both Green ICT and ICT4Green in a document that wants to encompass all the relationships between an industry (e.g., telecommunications) and sustainability. It's just not the useful basis for a Green ICT taxonomy for sustainability certification.

Use a Total ICT / Total Industry Scope

The Indian story of the Men in the Dark and an Elephant is a cautionary tale about trying to characterize a very large subject on the basis of the part you've grabbed ahold of. This happens all too frequently with Green ICT.

Data center people tend to forget about other ICT Core facilities in other industries, as well as the other ICT layers. Telecom people think about the Communications layer, but often ignore the edge Devices connected to it. The list could go on. By way of example, the report cited, above, largely focuses on Green ICT for the Communications layer.

This confusion is compounded by the myriad of organizations and initatives that claim to further Green ICT, but which tend to direct those who engage with these groups toward the groups' particular agendas. These are not bad agendas -- its just that few represent the totality of Green ICT and thus are not the basis for scoping a comprehensive taxonomy.