Economic Sustainability Must Underlie ICT Sustainability

The Triple Bottom Line (3BL) concept links three aspects of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social. It is sometimes easy to lose track of economic sustainability in our enthusiasm for the other two. The failure of a Euro/African project bringing solar-based ICT to Gambia is a real-world reminder.

NICE Centres were "...a franchised network of solar powered IT centres - NICE Centres - that provide technology solutions for education, work and business." The ICT configuration is typical of what we see at the intersection of Green ICT and ICT4D.

"The foundation of the NICE Centres is a solar energy system...batteries provide a back-up in case of low energy production, and the system includes a stabilizer that guarantees a stable output to the equipment in the NICE Centres...NICE Centres contain an IT-infrastructure consisting of a number of thin clients, connected to a central server. This infrastructure is energy-efficient, low cost, can be centrally maintained and is easily scalable. The infrastructure also includes a multifunctional printer for document services. NICE Centres run the Linux-Ubuntu operating system that is low cost, requires little hardware resources and is less vulnerable to viruses compared to Windows. For educational purposes Windows applications have also been installed. NICE Centres are connected to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider. Currently this is done through a wireless broadband link, but other access methods can be applied depending on the conditions."

ICTworks posted a January 2014 analysis that details a number of technical, organizational, social, and financial problems that caused the collapse the the NICE Centres initiative. It's worth reading the whole article; I'll just cite the technical ones: "Problems with the hardware, bugs in the software and the solar panel did not provide enough energy for the installed equipment."

It is certainly important to get the technology right, but the best technology and the best intentions for environmental sustainability can't compensate for not getting the economic and social parts right.

This video offers a tour of a NICE Center. The ICT and solar components are featrued beginning at about 00:02:40 into the video.