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Mobile tech saves more carbon than it emits, says Carbon Trust

Use of mobile technology in Europe and North America is saving more than 180 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year, according to the Carbon Trust

A telco-funded study by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) for the Carbon Trust has found that carbon emissions reduction from the use of mobile communications technology in Europe amounts to more than 180 million tonnes a year – higher than the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.

The report – the first time the impact of mobile technology on the environment has been studied in detail – said the current reduction impact was about five times greater than the cumulative carbon footprint of operating the mobile networks, and that this will grow by three times by the end of the decade.

“We are just at the beginning of an accelerating adoption curve, where businesses, governments and society recognise the wealth of possibilities offered by the technology to do things differently,” said GeSI chairman Luis Neves.

“This report shows that mobile is already making a real difference across the global economy, helping us to shape a more sustainable world.”

The report assessed 60 carbon-saving mechanisms in 10 categories, evaluating a variety of uses of mobile tech, from smartphones to machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet of things (IoT) connections.

The analysis showed that the biggest savings were found in more efficient operation of buildings and transport, cutting energy and fuel usage, as well as in enabling changes to lifestyles and working patterns.

Future potential savings were identified in areas such as agriculture, where some farmers are already deploying IoT networks to better manage their working practices to, for example, save water or use less fertiliser.

As part of the study, 4,000 smartphone users in Mexico, Spain, South Korea, the UK and the US were polled, revealing that many people were already using their smartphone in a way that helped them reduce their personal carbon footprint.

Many respondents also proved remarkably willing to adopt new behaviours that could reduce carbon emissions further.

“Given the urgency of the challenge the world faces, there is a clear case to accelerate the adoption of the various mechanisms through which mobile can help to cut carbon,” said Andie Stephens, senior consultant at the Carbon Trust.

“It should also help promote green growth in the developing world, helping emerging economies to leapfrog over the need for certain types of high-carbon infrastructure.”

The report was funded by BT, EE, O2 and Vodafone, with further guidance from a number of other telcos, including Bell Canada, Swisscom and Telenor.

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