Green IT: With sustainable digitalization into a green future

What is possibly the greatest challenge in human history? Climate change. In the literal battle against global warming, we humans are wrestling not only for the existence of our ecosystem, but also for our lives as part of that system.

Because if before it was only about the maximum creative power of the human being under exploitation of natural resources, now a paradigm shift with the focus in Mother Earth is imminent.

And how did we achieve this leap in awareness? Through technology. Measurements and data could be prepared, which clarified the seriousness of the situation and moved us to rethink.

Digitalization as a beacon of hope

Digitalization thus brought the first domino crashing down and with it an entire era of unaware action and thinking. But it can be much more: a beacon of hope for a sustainable economy and society. With regard to the climate problem, it can offer digital solutions and optimize processes through big data analysis using Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. The term virtuality also opens up low-resource associations for a large number of people. Because digital actually means something like immaterial? Not quite. The truth is: digital represents an extension of the analog world, with extensive use of resources.

The energy consumption for manufacturing devices or transferring data in global networks is exorbitant. If we also consider that the rapid pace of development of technologies, the growing networks, and the increased demand for equipment far outstrip the organic pace, this results in values that are difficult for our human comprehension to grasp.

Resource requirements of digitalization

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index study used a variety of analyses and data sets to determine that approximately two-thirds of the world’s population will have Internet access in 2023. On average, 3.6 devices per person will have an online connection. M2M networking will increase from 33% to 50%, equivalent to 14.7 billion by 2023. The number of mobile devices grows to 13.1 billion by this time. The Federal Statistical Office was able to add that from 2014 to 2019, the global data flow increased from 40 exabytes to 140 exabytes. The forecast for 2022 was 270 exabytes. A giant leap, which we owe in particular to cloud services, streaming services, online gaming and AI.

With these extraordinary numbers, the question of carbon footprint is paramount. To realize the disastrous effects that the constant growth of networks and devices has on the climate, we summarize some benchmarks here:

Researchers from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft “Umsicht” presented alarming figures in a 2018 study regarding the production cycle of hardware: The production of mobile phones requires 14 kg of raw materials and 114 kWh of energy, which corresponds to a CO2 emission of 58 kg. One tablet consumes 58 kg of primary resources and leaves behind 139 kg of harmful emissions. Due to the constant renewal of equipment, these cycles are becoming increasingly shorter.

Neural networks could particularly help us advance in the areas of image recognition, search engine queries, translations, and online commerce. However, Deep Learning, that is, feeding the AI with data to train the algorithms, requires a lot of energy. This requires hundreds of thousands of data to ensure the technologies are self-sustaining. It is clear that these systems represent an enormous economic benefit and will thus continue to be expanded. The University of Massachusetts presented interesting facts on this topic: When training neural networks, for example. results in a five times bigger carbon footprint than the entire life cycle of a motor vehicle. This value already includes the consumption of the vehicle. Expert Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel added in a Spiegel article : “Instead of a certain AI training, you can fly from San Francisco to New York and back over 300 times.”

Green IT: digital sustainability solution approach

The concept of digital sustainability thus comes into play in this problem. The resource-conserving use of digital information technology, its free use and collaborative development are central objectives of green digitalization. The question of ethics in connection with intangible goods is almost imposing – Green IT represents the solution concept here.

These numbers are just to give you an overview of the problem. In the next blog, we would like to explain the topic of Green IT, i.e. sustainable digitalization, in detail for you.

The article has already raise your interest, but it leaves you with unanswered questions? We invite you to an exchange with us!