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A Practical Guide to Sustainable ICT

(published 2012)

Paul Mobbs/MEI – Articles & Books:

A Practical Guide to Sustainable ICT

A Practical Guide to Sustainable ICT (published August 2012) represents a radical rethink of our relationship to everyday digital technologies.

You can download the book as a single PDF file – see the 'background materials' section below to download each individual chapters and additional worksheets.

For some time I've been looking at the ecological impacts of ICT – in particular the issue of rare minerals depletion and its potential impacts on our future use of technology.

Then the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) picked up on my work and asked me to write a "practical guide" to sustainable ICT for everyday users. Funding for writing the book came from the International Development Research Centre.

About the book

A Practical Guide to Sustainable IT offers a detailed, "hands-on" introduction to thinking about sustainable computing holistically; starting with the choices you make when buying technology, through to the software and peripherals you use, how you store and work with information, manage your security, save power, and maintain and dispose of your old hardware. Suggestions and advice for policy makers are also included in the annexures, along with some practical tips for internet service providers.

The purpose of the guide is to encourage everyday consumers of technology – from home-users, to people working in a small office environment, from journalists to activists to government clerks – to begin using technology in an environmentally sound way. We can all play our part, and the practice of sustainable computing will go a long way in helping to tackle the environmental crisis facing our planet. It's about developing better behaviours and habits when buying, using and discarding our everyday technology.

The guide has been developed by environmentalist and IT expert Paul Mobbs on behalf of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), with funding support from the International Development Research Centre. It is part of APC's GreeningIT programme, which aims to promote an environmental consciousness amongst civil society groups using information and communications technologies, and amongst the public more generally.

The book and related background materials

You can download the book as a single PDF file, or click on the links below to download each individual chapter:

off-site PDF iconIntroduction – What is "sustainable" IT?
An introduction to the themes of this series, and an explanation of the reasons why we should view our use of technology as a "system" rather than as separate processes. Too often we focus on the demands or specifications of "the machine" – instead we should look at our information needs.
off-site PDF iconThe ecology of information technology
IT is a tool – like all other human tools that we have created through the ages. This unit examines the general issue of how the "human system" uses technology – how digital technologies work for us, how these technologies influence the wider environment we inhabit, and the emerging restrictions on our future use of these tools.
off-site PDF iconHardware: Putting the system together
An exploration of computer hardware, in its various guises, and how the choices we make about hardware influence the ecological footprint of our use of IT. While many may look primarily at power consumption, the manufacture of digital electronics also has a major impact on the global environment. In this unit we try and measure these impacts, and find some ways to manage our demand for information systems.
off-site PDF iconOperating systems: Making the system work
What makes computer hardware more than an expensive collection of electronic circuits is the software we use to give the machine a purpose. This unit looks at operating systems and computer hardware, the issue of intellectual property rights, and the influence of our choice of software on the ecological performance of the hardware we use.
off-site PDF iconDesktops: Programs, peripherals and gadgets
The computer desktop is the heart of our daily interaction with the power and versatility of information systems. How we configure the desktop, but also how we use the various gadgets and peripheral devices that we connect to the system, has a big effect on the ecological footprint of our use of technology.
off-site PDF iconInformation storage
Information is a "resource", and obeys many of the physical laws that govern our use of matter and energy. How we choose to store and back-up information has a direct bearing on the ecological impacts of our use of IT in general, and also the reliability and resilience of the information that we store.
off-site PDF iconLocal and global networks
The networking of hardware has enabled the power of computers to become so versatile, but that in itself has spawned the exponential growth of both data transactions and the growth of power-hungry on-line storage systems to support them. Understanding how the network consumes power, and how our use of the network drives consumption, can allow us to keep these demands under control.
off-site PDF iconMaintenance, security and resilience
All tools need looking after if they are to have a long and productive life, and that requires that we understand a little more about how they work and how to care for them. This section considers the basics of system maintenance – both hardware and software – and the basic physical security precautions to take in order to prevent theft and damage.
off-site PDF iconEnd of life and disposal
When does the life of digital equipment end? Is it when it no longer functions (it's broken) or when it can't/isn't capable of performing a useful function any more? This unit examines how much life we can extract from our information systems, and what we should do with them when they have served their useful purpose.
off-site PDF iconReuse and reclamation
Can we recycle digital equipment? And how can we determine what's best to do with old equipment when it no longer serves its primary purpose? To answer these questions we need to consider the options available for reusing or upgrading old equipment, and identify what the limitations are on using old equipment.
off-site PDF iconRenewable power
Information systems consume electricity, and while in most cases the power might be sourced from the electricity grid, there are alternatives. Renewable electricity can offer an alternative, lower carbon source of electricity. For those who live away from the electricity grid, or where the grid is unreliable, it can also offer a means to use IT without the restrictions imposed by the local grid.
off-site PDF iconSubject index and glossary

Alongside the book there are also a series of check-list sheets to help you quickly audit your use of ICTs:

off-site PDF iconBuying hardware
Provides advice on what hardware to buy for your needs.
off-site PDF iconOperating systems
Tells you what you need to know in order to find the right operating system for your needs.
off-site PDF iconDesktop systems
Provides a breakdown of how to configure your desktop to save energy.
off-site PDF iconStoring information
How to store information in a more energy-efficient way.
off-site PDF iconWhen to print
Printing – it's not always a bad thing! This sheet helps you calculate when you should print or when you should keep it online.

Along with the guide, GreenNet has also compiled a series of at-a-glance tip sheets to help everyday users and IT professionals use computers in a more sustainable way. We hope you'll find them useful:

off-site PDF iconSaving energy
This tip sheet looks at a variety of ways in which you can save energy – from putting your monitor on sleep, when to turn your computer off, screen savers and internet use.
off-site PDF iconBuying and disposing of electronics
This tip sheet provides tips on what to look for when buying electronics, and where to take your used and end-of-life electronics.
off-site PDF iconGetting your organisation to greenIT
This tip sheet looks at who in your organisation can help start a process to green its IT and provides examples or roles and tasks for the various individuals.
off-site PDF iconEnergy efficiency for IT professionals and designers
Especially relevant to those in the IT and design industries, but also useful to anyone using websites, storing website information, servers and more; this tip sheet takes a more technical look at what you can do to in terms of server use and replacement, CPU use, software creation, web design and more.
off-site PDF iconUsing IT and electronics to benefit the environment
Provides a survey of how electronics are being used to monitor and improve environmental conditions across the world.

Key references and reading materials