Circuit board with emission cloud

Getting beyond Net Zero dashboards in the information technology sector

Author  Kathy Nickels
Date 25 January 2024

Energy-intensive processes in the Information Technology (IT) sector account for somewhere between 1 and 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are projected to rise to at least 14% by 2040.

AI and software services to track carbon emissions are increasingly positioned as solutions to the industry’s energy consumption. But are they doing enough for sustainability beyond Net Zero goals? 

In a recent article published in Energy Reserach & Social Science, Dr Melissa Gregg,  Senior Industry Fellow for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making & Society (ADM+S) and Prof Yolande Strengers, Associate Investigator at the Monash node of the ADM+S, provide a unique insight for energy social scientists on the logics and inner workings of large technology corporations, and the ways in which engineering-led tools are being mobilized to pursue profits in the name of carbon reduction. 

Inspired by recent developments in corporate social responsibility reporting in large technology companies, they draw on first-hand observation of this practice, focusing on the carbon emissions dashboard as a pertinent example of several concerning developments with current green software approaches to achieving Net Zero targets. 

“While dashboards are of course incredibly successful as a management tool, our problem is with how they too easily limit the ambition of sustainability goals to a narrow set of things that can be counted and measured, allowing many other unsustainable practices to continue,” writes Dr Gregg and Prof Strengers.

“Getting “beyond zero” must involve a frank assessment of the lifestyle, societal and capitalist assumptions that large technology companies inherit from a century of fossil fuel enterprise management. A sustainable energy transition lies not in the dashboard or other proprietary tools currently being mobilized, but in a careful consideration of how organizational cultures, lifestyles and livelihoods – enabled and sustained by Big Tech products and services – generate such high energy demand in the first place.

“In sharing these observations, we encourage more participation from energy social scientists in defining corporate sustainability objectives which can only be improved with the application of relevant research findings in the field.”

Read the full article: Getting beyond Net Zero dashboards in the information technology sector.