The European Commission is drawing up plans for standardized tools to measure the carbon emissions of the information and communications technology sector, which will allow consumers to compare the environmental impact of the products they buy.
Nearly 30 technology firms, including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson and Huawei, have been working with the EU over the past year, testing out 10 international methodologies and standards for measuring the carbon footprints of their products.
A report on the tests concluded that standards could feasibly be implemented and the commission on Monday confirmed it will consult in the coming months on the best way to ensure tech companies use the new emissions reporting standards.
Other tech companies that took part in the tests include AMD, AUO, BT, Dassault Systèmes, EECA-ESIA, GSMA, Hitachi, HP, Intel, Lenovo, NEC, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Orange, Sagemcom, SAP, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and TeliaSonera. Three other participants in the project chose to remain anonymous.
Although ICT can help cut companies' carbon emissions, for example through the replacement of long-haul flights with videoconferencing, the energy used to build IT products and store data means the sector currently accounts for up to 4 percent of the EU's carbon emissions and accounts for 8 to 10 percent of the bloc's energy demand.
The news of the new standard was welcomed by Friends of the Earth, which is campaigning for tech giants such as Samsung and Apple to be more transparent about the environmental impact of the supply chains of their products. In particular, the group is currently calling for new rules requiring tech firms to report on the impact of their supply chains and raw materials, arguing that such an approach would help tackle the current environmental damage caused by mining for tin for mobile phone components on Indonesia's Bangka islands.
"Technology companies' plans to measure their carbon footprints are good news as it's an important step towards reporting on their full supply chain, all the way back to farms and mines," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Julian Kirby.
"Companies should measure their full social and environmental impacts, including how much of the world's water, land and raw materials they use.
"Reporting on these data would enable businesses to make more informed decisions about better use of our world's limited resources, governments to identify policies to encourage them to do this, and help stop problems in production, such as accidents or pollution, from going undetected."
Announcing the consultation, Neelie Kroes, commission vice president for the digital agenda, said the standards and carbon footprint reporting would help consumers to make more informed purchases.
"Transparency in measuring the ICTs' environmental effect will empower all of us, citizens, public and private organizations, to make greener choices when we buy or use digital technologies," she said.
The news came as a group of leading technology companies today released a report on the potential for ICT to help slash Spain's carbon emissions and boost the country's moribund economy.
Called The Spain 20.20 Report, the study argues that the use of efficient ICT systems would help reduce emissions by more than 36 million tonnes through to 2020.
"Accessibility to ICT elements such as broadband, mobility, Internet and machine to machine will create a completely new ecosystem based on innovation and smart solutions that will transform society, governments and industries as it enables cross-industry and public-private collaboration," said Ingemar Naeve, chairman of the ICT and sustainability commission of the Club de Excelencia en Sostenibilidad, which produced the report, and chairman of Ericsson España.
"This will bring new investments, job creation and a more sustainable growth for our planet."
This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen and is reprinted with permission.
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