mechanisms for change: can YOU be part of the solution?

Last week I blogged about some recent studies which indicate that ICT has an important role to play in combating climate change.

One question that came up was, aside from good policies, how are the carbon emission savings outlined in those studies going to be achieved? Otherwise put, tell us a story, Marisa! … and make it personal!

Ok ….

The Smart2020 Report shone its spotlight on the role of ICT in such applications as the “Smart Grid,” where ICT can help improve the energy efficiency of our inefficient and wasteful electricity generation and distribution system. Other examples included ICT-enabled variable speed motors to improve industrial efficiency; ICT hardware and software as key building blocks of the emerging electric vehicle industry; GPS and advanced routing software to improve the efficiency of logistics operations, the use of telecommuting and teleconferencing to reduce travel; and the elimination of physical products in applications such as digital music.

What is personal about any of that? Well, I don’t own my own Smart Grid, nor an industrial plant with motors, but I can point to at least a few things I have done this week that the reports mention. I have telecommuted this past week, using my PC and the Internet to save car fuel emissions, and have teleconferenced many times. I have also received and paid (too many) bills online, downloaded digital music instead of traveling to and buying CDs and used the Internet to research products I want to purchase rather than driving around town.

But I don’t have to stop there … my car (when I do use it) uses embedded computers to assist in fuel efficiency. Newer, nicer cars than mine can also benefit from technology during their actual design: high performance computer simulations help make some cars more aero-dynamic (and hence more fuel-efficient) for example. Those newer cars also can have nifty devices such as GPS systems that prevent people like me from driving around the city completely and utterly lost wasting gas and emitting GHG in the process. Now that I think about it, chances are that a lot of the products and services that I use each week, and the people that I meet while using them, are somehow using technology to reduce their carbon footprint just like I do. At least I hope so!

How do you know if what you are doing is a mechanism for change? There are three mechanisms identified in the Smart2020 report that allow for carbon reductions to occur: dematerialization, automation and substitution.

Dematerialization is about converting atoms to bits – opportunities to reduce the physical material associated with our daily activities. General examples of this would be videoconferencing, online entertainment, eCommerce, etc…

Automation is about smarter, more efficient operations. General examples of this would be industrial robots, logistics for transportation, LEED certified buildings, smart power delivery, etc…

Substitution is about more silicon, less carbon – replacing high carbon physical products and activities with virtual low carbon equivalents. General examples of this would be e-government, online banking, digital music and entertainment downloads, etc…

I noticed a great comment on my last blog also highlighted how technology is used by many as a platform for change – for public engagement: to assist in allowing communities and practitioners to get together and share ideas and thoughts and spur others to action. I loved that example! Thanks to Ed Maibach for sharing that.

I am always looking for stories and examples so please tell me about some of the ways that you see Intel, its customers, you personally or the company you work for being one of these mechanisms for change. Comments below!