IT & a healthier earth

The other day I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion by several experts on climate change and energy policy. With the 2008 presidential election only 2 weeks away, Heinz Endowments and CMU invited the panel experts to present their policy advice for our next president. I blogged about this event elsewhere. I also discussed it with my students on my teaching blog – see their reactions here.The environmental crisis is real. The global climate destruction is so severe that drastic measures must be put in place, fast. The experts talked about renewable energy sources, more green innovations in engineering, and cap-and-trade tax policies. Although these arguments were compelling, no one mentioned how information technology could be used innovatively to help the environment (except maybe if cap-and-trade is adopted, there’ll be a huge demand for IS professionals to help with designing information systems that track carbon consumptions, credits, and taxes). How about these ideas:

1. Telecommuting – Driving and burning fossil fuel just to get to work is so last century. It’s also killing the earth. If everyone telecommutes as little as one day out of the week, we can cut down fossil fuel consumption by 20%. That’s huge.

2. Paperless Processes – OK the paperless office idea really didn’t work out as well as expected. We are a lot more attached to our paper and books than we thought. However, small changes to certain business processes can dramatically cut down demand for paper. Providing customers with incentives to do without paper statements is an excellent example. Take a good at the value chain. It maybe a gold mine for paperless improvements.

3. Telepresence – If you think driving is a sin, then flying is a federal crime – flying is much worse than driving in terms of energy demands. Telepresence technology has been so advanced that there really isn’t any more clear reason for business air travel (assuming the facility is available at both ends, which may take a while to become a reality). Watch a 30-sec demo of Cisco’s system here.

These are just the starting points. How else do you think IT can help the wounded earth heal, and enable us to create a better, healthier world?

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3 Responses

  1. Good points–as a PhD student I have focused on computer mediated communication and collaboration research for just these reasons, to name a few. Telecommuting and teleconferencing can offer benefits, but also new challenges to people collaborating over distances. New technologies like the Cisco system or Sun’s Wonderland changes the nature of virtual communication with features not previously available or available to the same extent. I think this is an exciting and important area to understand to make the best and most efficient use of new technologies. Apart from the special circumstances surrounding virtual collaboration for the people, we also need to take a careful look at the energy & resources necessary to run some programs and supply hardware/software. I recently read in Geo magazine that the average resident of the virtual world Second Life uses more energy through running the program than an average person in Brazil living his/her daily life! These are complex issues, but well worth untangling in my opinion.

  2. Hi Rachel
    Nice discussion to start.And also quite in sync with the AOM 2009 theme!
    Regards
    Nilay
    Dr.Nilay Yajnik
    Professor of Information Systems
    NMIMS University , Mumbai , India
    http://www.nmims.edu/ourteam/nilay.htm

  3. Dear Jestice and Nilay,
    Thank you for your interest in this important topic. Incidentally, McKinsey just released a report confirming IT’s role in reducing carbon emissions:
    http://hbsp.ed10.net/r/NUEJ/67AQN/5VMFH9/SL7YN/TG27P/QR/h

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