How Technology Can Help the EnvironmentBy Jeff Wacker | Posted 2008-05-29 Email Print
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Opportunities to use IT in addressing problems that directly impact the environment are often overlooked.
As environmental sustainability moves to the global forefront, social and political pressure on businesses to become more environmentally responsible is increasing. Enterprises are looking for solutions that create environmental benefits now, while continuing to address critical business imperatives: lowering costs, retaining and growing their customer base, increasing market share, and boosting shareholder value.
However, what if we look beyond the obvious cost savings of going green and focus on finding creative ways to use IT to address the environmental issues? Here are four examples:
Creating “collaboratories.” It’s been said that “all of us are smarter than any of us,” but the logistics of getting all of us in one place at one time to focus on the problems of ecology is costly in terms of economics and the environment.
The better solution is to use IT to create collaborative laboratories (what we refer to as “collaboratories”), where we can bring together expertise, experience and resources to create smarter solutions for sustainable living. Because these electronic communities exist over time and not at a point in time, solutions are not reached abruptly, but deliberately. Opening participation to everyone drives diversity of thought that allows for out-of-the-box thinking that expert gatherings often miss.
Contextualizing content. Good decisions are often based more on information than emotions. Increasingly, we understand that information comes in two forms—data that tells us what happened and context that builds insights as to why it happened. To collect context on the environment, we are turning to nontraditional sensors such as motes (small electronic devices that combine sensing, processing and communications) as well as satellites, digital cameras and so forth.
These devices are helping us build a more fact-based understanding about the environment from which we can make better decisions and measure the impact of those decisions to determine if we are on the right course to truly address environmental problems.
IT inside. While contextualizing content is one element of embedding IT to gain information, a step further is putting control into the devices to obtain optimal performance with minimal impact.
Automobiles through the late 1960s spewed pollutants up to 1,000 times more than those today. The improvements are due in large part to the computerized controls that optimize engine performance 30 times a second.
Computers built into fluorescent lighting fixtures (that are dimmable and networked) reduce electricity consumption. Carbon dioxide sensors embedded in conference rooms control air handlers that run when needed, not continuously. Computers embedded in our infrastructure tune it to optimize our business ecosystem as well as our environmental ecosystem.
Virtual presence. Telework reduces commuting time significantly and allows for greater diversity in an organization, resulting in more ideas in a shorter period of time to create a more innovative and productive environment. It also enables easier movement of work between locations in different time zones and reduces travel expenses.
IT is often branded negatively due to the massive use of electricity and the potential for electronic waste filling landfills. What is most often overlooked are the opportunities to use IT in addressing problems that directly impact the environment.
Jeff Wacker is the corporate futurist for Electronic Data Systems. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.