Gauging the Environmental Impact of Services

Wireless information technologies are providing new ways to communicate and are one of several information and communication technologies touted as an opportunity to reduce society’s overall environmental impacts. CITRIS researchers have been measuring the environmental effects of applications of wireless technologies and comparing them to those of conventional technologies for which they can be substituted.

Since more than 25 million Americans currently telecommute, researchers are gaining a broad understanding of the impact that this can have on the environment. Recent findings by Arpad Horvath, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, and his student, Erasmia Kitou, indicate that working from home has the potential to lower both energy and external costs, creating a favorable bottom line for society, employees, and companies, by decreasing tailpipe emissions, lowering transportation costs, and decreasing energy costs at the company office. For example, wireless teleconferencing can result in 1-3 orders of magnitude lower CO2, NOx, and SO2 emissions than business travel.

Horvath’s research also found that using personal electronics to take the place of traditional services can create lower environmental impacts.  For instance, reading newspaper content on a personal digital assistant (PDA) compared to the traditional printing of that same news releases at least 30 times less CO2, several orders of magnitude less NOx and SOx, and uses at least 30 times less water.

Future plans in this direction are to work on entertainment delivery comparisons (e.g., are Netflix services or downloading a movie from the web better for the environment than driving to Blockbuster?), and continue to refine the research on telework, especially the IT aspects of telework.

(Caption for image to be added: Employees of Sun Microsystems are combating high fuel costs by telecommuting. More than 15,000 Sun employees, or roughly half of its labor force, participate.)