Dematerialization vs. Energy efficiency

It is widespread belief that information systems (IS) will provide immense opportunities to ‘greening’ our world through dematerialization. Replacing high carbon physical products and activities with virtual, low carbon equivalents is something that IS can make possible, may it be through e-commerce, e-government, videoconferencing, or telework, to name a few. For example, paying bills and invoices electronically is far more popular than mailing checks. Reading electronic books (rather than their physical equivalent) is becoming commonplace since the availability of high quality but low-cost e-readers.

However, one should not assume that dematerialization is where IS will have the greatest beneficial environmental impact. It could lead, as the GeSI report (Smart 2020) claimed a few years back, to emissions reduction opportunity of about 500 MtCO2e by 2020. Notwithstanding, this amount is small if one considers the total overall reduction emissions that could be credited to information systems – the equivalent of 7.8 GtCO2e by 2020. So, if dematerialization is only going to contribute to 6.4 percent of that number, where will the remaining 93.6 percent of emissions reductions made possible by IS come from? In one word: EFFICIENCY. More specifically, efficiency gained through better leverage of information to improve (sometimes transform) logistics, green buildings, and of course the smart grid, which opportunities in turn lead to better use of energy. You will find, in our book, concrete examples describing how efficiencies have been gained in different contexts and how they can be mapped to the energy informatics framework described in the first chapter.


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