Monday, October 5, 2009

Mobile Communications, CSR and Climate Change

What benefits can mobile communication technologies offer in the quest for environmental responsibility? IT is near the front of the crowd in the firing line for the impact of its carbon emissions. It is also near the front of a separate crowd with impressive potential to reduce emissions. There have been many voices in favour of the ‘technology will save us’ camp but counter-balanced by an equal number of detractors, regularly citing the whole-life carbon cost of creating such technology. There can be little argument that the most effective way of reducing our carbon dependence is by wholesale change of socially responsible individual behaviour, regardless of the technology based tools already present or on the horizon. Technology, none the less, will play a crucial role in the overall campaign to minimise climate change. Particular areas deserving increased attention are the roles of communication technologies such as wireless broadband, RFID, smart grids and mobile telephony.

Vodafone and Accenture, in an entrepreneurial use of a Corporate Social Responsibility approach similar to GE’s Ecomagination programme, recently published a report into the potential carbon savings of such technologies. The report showed that have identified 13 specific opportunities, that by 2020 and supported by mobile services could save 2.4% of expected EU emissions – 113 million tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to saving 18% of UK emissions in 2008. This would save €43 billion in energy costs alone and would require a billion mobile connections, 87% of which are machine-to-machine (M2M), connecting one piece of equipment wirelessly with another.

The practical benefits being touted include reduction in the need to physically travel because of improvements to virtual communication spaces for meetings, remote office facilities, smart logistics through monitoring and tracking of vehicles, smart grids & meters providing operational efficiencies and smart cities to improve traffic and utilities management. If implemented on the massive scale suggested it is easy to see how just such tools could better assist society manage its environmental responsibility.

For these uses of information communications technology to be truly accepted and maximise the inherent potential, many obstacles need to be overcome such as capital investment required for infrastructure (especially in developing nations), interoperability, hardware reliability and of course political inertia. At the very least it is encouraging to see the private sector using Corporate Social Responsibility as inspiration for commercial innovation.

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