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Enabling Sustainability in an Interconnected World

As part of a multidisciplinary panel, Dr. Charles Despins, Green ICT Initiative co-Chair, contributed to a 2014 report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), which had been commissioned by the Government in Canada on "Enabling Sustainability in an Interconnected World". The report was produced with a focus on Canada but most of its observations are still applicable to many countries. The report’s interplay between technologists of different fields as well as sociologists can illustrate how IEEE members and others stakeholders can actively participate in the Green ICT Initiative. This involves contributing to the Green ICT Web Portal, the Green ICT Newsletter, the Sustainability and ICT Magazine, several Green ICT Standards Working Groups to be launched soon and the Greening through ICT* Summit (GtICT) in Paris, May 2017.
Please find enclosed a link to the CCA’s report at:
Report Summary:
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are more than just gadgets meant to entertain. They are devices, systems, and platforms that are transforming how people live, work, and communicate with one another. Interconnected ICT opportunities have the potential to expand access to information, generate economic benefits, and improve Canada’s environmental performance. The opportunities for ICT to support sustainability are endless; the challenge lies in identifying and implementing those that have the greatest potential to benefit Canada.
This report comes at the request of Environment Canada, which asked the Council to assemble a multidisciplinary expert panel to assess the existing or potential opportunities for ICT to contribute to a “greener” Canada. The Panel, chaired by David Miller, President and CEO of WWF-Canada, focused on a three-pillared concept of sustainability, which encompasses economic, social, and environmental benefits.
This unique, forward-looking report highlights a range of technological opportunities, applications, and practices from Canada and around the world that could help move Canada toward sustainability. It also identifies some common challenges to realizing these opportunities and explores possible solutions. The Panel’s report provides an evidence-based approach for assessing and understanding the potential of these technologies, and offers new insights about building an interconnected and sustainable future for Canada.
Key Findings
Having considered the evidence, the Panel found that the potential of ICT to drive sustainability is currently not being fully realized in Canada. The Panel determined that there are substantial opportunities to promote and support sustainability through ICT by building on existing Canadian strengths and capacities, in areas like technology adoption and physical and research infrastructure. These opportunities range from small-scale changes, such as household water conservation through applications that inform consumers of their water use, to large-scale changes, such as more reliable and efficient electricity systems when aging utility networks are replaced with smart grid technologies.
The Panel explored ICT-enabled opportunities within six thematic areas, with details and examples in Chapter 4 of the report:
·      Environmental monitoring
·      Smart interconnected utilities
·      Smart interconnected buildings and neighborhoods
·      Smart interconnected mobility
·      Smart interconnected production
·      Healthy people and healthy communities
Beyond these six thematic areas, the Panel also observed that Canada is well positioned to be a global leader in green data centers due to its stable supply of emissions-free electricity, which can power energy-intensive data warehouses, and its cold climate, which can reduce energy needs for cooling equipment. Green data centers are one of many efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of ICT themselves as they enable centralization of processes such as server and network virtualization.
About The Council of Canadian Academies: The CCA is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada. The CCA’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

A New IEEE Initiative is Working to Make ICT Greener

The link to the published article in The Institute is here:

Members are working to design more energy-efficient information and communication technology

By KATHY PRETZ 1 March 2016

Photo-illustration: John Lamb/Corbis

Information and communication technology are power hogs. Computers, printers, servers, mobile devices, and telecommunication networks are not energy efficient. Although improvements have been made, it has not been enough of a priority. And that’s a problem, because projections show that by 2020 the global greenhouse gas emissions from ICT will double from today’s 2 percent to 4 percent.

The largest worldwide emitter is by far the production of electricity, with 30 percent of that power typically generated by fossil fuel sources. And demand for electricity is growing, especially for powering networks. More people than ever are using the Internet and other communication networks; annual growth in traffic doubles every two years. By 2020, 21 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, according to the technology research company Gartner. By 2035, the International Energy Agency projects that total demand for electricity will be almost 70 percent higher than today.

Some energy-efficiency gains for ICT have been achieved by using more renewable energy sources and by cooling data centers more efficiently. But that’s not enough to shrink the sector’s overall carbon footprint. What’s needed is a complete rethinking of how to design, build, and use ICT. That’s the mission of the IEEE Green Information and Communication Technology initiative, launched in January 2015 by the IEEE Future Directions Committee, IEEE’s R&D arm.

Green ICT refers to the design and application of information and communication technology to create environmental benefits. Such practices include improved manufacturing processes for its components and systems and disposal systems that also reduce carbon emissions. The Green ICT initiative calls for the application of green metrics and standards when a project’s research and design concepts are first being developed. The initiative works with IEEE societies and other IEEE initiatives dealing with, for example, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data, and smart cities.

Because its technical committees have been active in green ICT, the IEEE Communications Society manages the initiative. Collaborators include 16 other IEEE societies as well as representatives from organizations including Bell Labs/Alcatel-Lucent (now part of Nokia), British Telecom, Ericsson Research, the University of Arizona, the University of Leeds, and the University of Melbourne.

“With 40 percent annual traffic growth, if we are able to improve the energy efficiency of today’s networks by a factor of 1,000, then in 20 years they would consume the same amount of energy used today,” says Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani, who co-chairs the initiative along with Senior Member Charles Despins. “Whatever is designed—whether it’s a communication system, a cloud system, a computer system, or if there’s an electron device, photonic device, or an antenna propagation project—it needs to be done with the environment in mind.”



The initiative raises awareness of how to design green and clean technology by providing forums for the exchange of information. It has done so through existing publications, and it plans this year to launch two new ones dedicated to green ICT.

The group has held information sessions at the IEEE International Conference on CommunicationsIEEE Globecom, and other gatherings, and is in the process of organizing its own events, workshops, and symposia. It is working to expand the library of green ICT–related standards. And there are tutorials in the works to be given at IEEE conferences and made available on the Green ICT website.

“IEEE knows how to do conferences, how to publish journals, and it has a framework for standards,” Elmirghani says. “We are trying to make use of all these capabilities.”



Improving the environment might be noble, but practical concerns are also at work: Electricity is expensive; reducing its use cuts costs. The National Resources Defense Council, the environmental action group, found that U.S. data centers used 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2013 and are on track to consume up to 140 billion kWh per year by 2020—equivalent to electricity bills of nearly US $13 billion annually.

“Companies are very aware of these costs,” Elmirghani notes. “That’s why a lot of the green ICT projects are being led by industry.”

The GreenStar Network project, launched in 2010, seeks to encourage cloud-based ICT services using only renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, and hydroelectricity. The project, an alliance of Canada’s leading IT companies and universities, is led by École de Technologie Supérieure, in Montreal. A summary of that and other projects are on the Green ICT initiative’s website under the technology spotlight tab.

A side benefit of making data centers, wireless networks, and the core networks of telecommunication service providers more energy efficient, known as “greening ICT,” would be its adoption in other industries as well. That is known as “greening by ICT,” Elmirghani says. Sending e-mail rather than postal mail, and using video conferencing instead of flying to attend a meeting, for example, decreases the carbon emissions from postal trucks and airplanes.

Elmirghani cites the decrease in carbon emissions pinpointed in theSMARTer 2030 report issued in June by the Global e-Sustainability initiative. It found greening by ICT could enable a 20 percent reduction of global CO2emissions by 2030, effectively holding ICT emissions at 2015 levels, and that ICT can reduce global CO2 emissions by an amount equal to approximately 10 times its own carbon footprint. The Global e-Sustainability initiative is a collaboration of major ICT companies and a leading source of information, resources, and best practices for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through ICT.

The SMARTer report notes that the overall effect of ICT could generate more than $11 trillion in sustainable benefits annually, such as saving more than 300 trillion liters of water and reducing the need for oil by 25 billion barrels. Greening by ICT can benefit society in other ways as well. The report predicts that by 2030, ICT could potentially give 1.6 billion more people access to medical services via telemedicine and provide half a billion with e-learning tools.

“The Green ICT initiative is an ideal opportunity to lead the thinking on what industry and governments should be doing,” Elmirghani says. “It fulfills IEEE’s mission of fostering technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

This article appears in the March 2016 print issue as “Environmentally Friendly Information and Communication Technology.”


This Senior Member is Leading Efforts to Build a More Eco-friendly Telecom Industry

The original article appeared in the March 2016 issue of The Institute:

Jaafar Elmirghani is working to reduce energy consumption worldwide

By PRACHI PATEL 7 March 2016

Photo: University of Leeds

The aviation industry produces about 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions and faces great pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Another industry with comparable emissions, however, flies under the radar with little pushback: information and communication technology (ICT).

“People are unaware that the carbon footprint of ICT is so large,” says IEEE Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani. He is co-chair of the IEEE Green ICT initiative, director of the Institute of Integrated Information Systems, and chair of the communication networks and systems department at the University of Leeds, in England.

What’s more, ICT is growing much faster than the aviation industry. Internet traffic is increasing 30 percent to 40 percent each year, Elmirghani points out, adding, “If this rate continues and nothing is done, ICT in 10 years could consume about 60 percent of the world’s energy resources.”

Elmirghani is leading the initiative’s global efforts to make ICT greener. The initiative is:

  • Identifying ways to help the telecom industry become more energy efficient.
  • Promoting uses of ICT that can make other industrial sectors greener, including manufacturing and transportation.
  • Working with ICT companies to develop standards for green technologies and for assessing the full environmental impact of their technologies during their life cycles.


Elmirghani has led two projects to reduce the carbon footprint of telecom systems by implementing more energy-efficient hardware, architecture, and protocols as well as using renewable energy. One is the INTERNET (for INTelligent Energy awaRe NETworks) project, which received US $9 million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the United Kingdom agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.

The other is a five-year project that is part of the GreenTouch Consortium, composed of experts from 48 information and communication technology companies, academia, and nongovernmental organizations. It wants to develop ways to improve network energy efficiency.

In June, he received the GreenTouch 1000x Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the green communications industry.

His recommendations for improving energy efficiency include equipping all new telecom hardware with a sleep mode to power down equipment when network traffic is low. Better caching—which stores data closer so future requests can be retrieved faster—is another simple way to minimize power use.

Another recommendation is to improve the protocols for data transfer and optimize the placement of network nodes, or connection points, which would also impact energy use.

“If I want to send information from point A to point B, the best way to minimize power consumption may not always be to take the shortest route but the one that goes through the fewest nodes, which transmit messages toward the final destination,” he says. Sending larger data packets also would help because there would be fewer packets to switch and route.

During the next two years, Elmirghani is working with the IEEE Green ICT group to demonstrate hardware that relies on those techniques. Many of the upgrades would be software-based, making them relatively easy to set up. But it would be up to the telecom industry to put them into practice. Telecom companies replace on average a fifth of their equipment each year, Elmirghani says, giving them opportunities to buy more energy-efficient equipment.

The key drivers for the changes are not likely to be solely economic but will also depend on government mandates for companies to reduce their carbon footprints, he adds.

Besides changes in equipment and architecture, renewable energy sources also could drastically cut networks’ carbon footprints. Elmirghani has addressed the possibility of using solar and wind energy in optical telecom networks, for example. Today’s networks assume that their power sources are constant. Incorporating variable renewable sources raises a number of questions, such as how to deal with power that varies, where to place solar and wind farms, how many to employ, and how to route data to make the best use of renewable energy.

Elmirghani showed that running central network nodes on renewables best minimizes a network’s carbon footprint, and he has developed data-routing algorithms for networks that would use the largest amount of renewable energy. He also has demonstrated that it’s more efficient to build data centers closer to power sources than to customers so as not to waste energy over power lines. Fiber-optic communication networks would, of course, avoid that power loss. Google and other major players already have started to build data centers near hydroelectric dams.


Elmirghani grew up in the northeastern Sudanese city of Port Sudan. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sudan’s University of Khartoum in 1989. He later earned a Ph.D. in 1994 from the University of Huddersfield, in England, for work on optical receiver design, and he earned a doctor of science degree in 2014 in communication networks and systems from the University of Leeds.

In 2000, he joined Swansea University, in Wales, as a professor of electrical engineering. He went on to found and direct the university’s Institute of Advanced Telecommunications, developing cutting-edge concepts in optical wireless systems that led to significant data rate increases. With optical networks exploding in size and energy use, he recognized the importance of green ICT.

Now as co-chair of the Green ICT initiative, he has been helping to organize symposia, workshops, and conferences, including the IEEE OnlineGreenComm virtual conference on green communications held in November. He also is working to launch two publications—IEEE Transactions on Green ICT and IEEE Green ICT Magazine—this year and next.

Elmirghani says his main goal is to make all IEEE societies aware of the importance of green ICT so they’ll keep environmentally friendly metrics in mind when designing systems and products: “I hope to see ICT systems so well designed that we no longer have to worry about their carbon footprint.”

This article appears in the March 2016 print issue as “Building a More Eco-friendly Telecom Industry.”