Compulsory reading: Connected ICT and Sustainable Development

Posted on April 22, 2008


The Forum for the Future’s Connected: ICT and sustainable development should be compulsory reading for anyone making, using or applying computing (hey, that’s all of us!).

Here’s why:

a) It is about computing and sustainability.

If we apply ICT well, the rewards could be enormous. It could help to enhance creativity and innovation to solve our problems, build communities, give more people access to goods and services and use precious resources much more efficiently.

b) the authors make the point, better than anything else I’ve read, that computing needs to look beyond its own footprint and consider the impacts of using and applying IT. They argue that 80% of the impacts of computing are in use and application. While they do cover energy issues in use, they go well beyond this and consider much wider impacts and opportunities.

c) The authors use a holistic interpretation of sustainable development: all three aspects (environmental, economic and social) are given pretty much equal airtime. Materials considerations are widely covered: toxic supply, e-waste, modular design etc are joined by systems considerations: energy management, efficiency etc. So too are community aspects (user generated content, ubiquity, digital divide). Economic aspects are covered as both the impact and opportunity.

d) They include the harder questions. Potential changes to computing business models are raised:

People don’t want a computer for itself – they want what it can do and what it can enable them to do

yet they don’t profess to have all the answers. Instead they recognises that some areas are poorly understood and behaviour change is difficult to influence.

e) A role for computing in wider sustainability is envisaged:

Wide-reaching policies with sustainable development at their core are needed to enable all players in the ICT sector to make the most of sustainability opportunities.

Above all, we see the application of these new technologies as an opportunity to address sustainability challenges creatively. Combining new technologies with social and institutional innovation could mean a radical rethink in the way that companies, governments and individuals deal with their wider responsibilities.

f) The document is readable, short and well designed. It is also freely available (pdf).

Connected: ICT and sustainable development is written by Peter Madden and Ilka Weissbrod. Well done team.