A move away from products to services in information and communication technology (ICT) could have a positive effect on sustainable development, according to a survey by Forum for the Future.
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The sustainable development charity, which works in partnership with leading organisations in business and the public sector, says ICT can help to reduce firms' environmental footprint.
It says that the ICT industry, and by extension users, are at a crossroads: developing and applying ICT badly could add to the world’s problems by devouring energy and accelerating climate change, worsening and increasing pollution and resource use by encouraging ever more frenetic consumerism.
In contrast, with the correct application of ICT, the rewards could be enormous. These are identified as helping to enhance creativity and innovation to solve problems, build communities, give more people access to goods and services and use precious resources more efficiently.
Even though Forum for the Future accepts that the sustainability challenges facing ICT businesses are complex, this complexity should not prevent the ICT industry from dealing with the issues and so reaping maximum benefit. It adds that sustainability leadership is necessary if the benefits are to extend across the ICT industry.
Above all, Forum for the Future sees the application of new technologies as an opportunity to address sustainability challenges creatively and advocates that making ICT more efficient will enable people to do more with less.
Furthermore, the charity advises firms to rent PCs rather than buy them, and if bought, replacing the PCs after four years instead of two, thereby reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing.
In essence, Forum for the Future says companies need to move away from a business model that is based on material products towards one based on services.