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Modeling the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: Revisiting a System Dynamics Model Developed for the European Commission
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Environmental Strategies Research (fms). KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Centres, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Centres, Centre for Sustainable Communications, CESC.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7761-2350
KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Centres, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Centres, Centre for Sustainable Communications, CESC. (Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
2015 (English)In: ICT Innovations for Sustainability / [ed] Hilty, L.M.; Aebischer, B., Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2015, 449-474 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This chapter revisits a System Dynamics model developed in 2002 with the aim of exploring the future impacts of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on environmental sustainability in the EU, which then consisted of 15 countries. The time horizon of the study was 20 years (2000–2020). We analyze the results in light of empirical data that is now available for 2000–2012. None of the three scenarios that were developed by experts to specify the external factors needed to run the model were realistic from today’s point of view. If the model is re-run with more realistic input data for the first half of the simulation period, however, the main results regarding the impact of ICT remain qualitatively the same; they seem to be relatively robust implications of the causal system structure, as it is represented in the model. Overall, the impacts of ICT for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental burdens for 2020 tend to be slightly stronger if the simulation is based on the empirical data now available.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Switzerland: Springer Publishing Company, 2015. 449-474 p.
, Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, ISSN 2194-5357 ; 310
Keyword [en]
Information and Communication Technology, Environmental Impact, Sustainable Development, Information Society, Socioeconomic Modeling and Simulation, System Dynamics, Prospective Technology Assessment
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering Information Systems, Social aspects
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-148965DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-09228-7_27ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84927656940ISBN: 978-3-319-09227-0 (Print) 978-3-319-09228-7 (Online)OAI: diva2:738147

QC 20140825

Available from: 2014-08-15 Created: 2014-08-15 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Exploring the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: From Life Cycle Assessment to Complex Systems Modeling
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Exploring the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: From Life Cycle Assessment to Complex Systems Modeling
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The production and consumption of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services continue to grow worldwide. This trend is accompanied by a corresponding increase in electricity use by ICT, as well as direct environmental impacts of the technology. Yet a more complicated picture of ICT’s effects is emerging. Positive indirect effects on environmental sustainability can be seen in substitution and optimization (enabling effects), and negative indirect effects can be seen in additional demand due to efficiency improvements (rebound effects).

A variety of methods can be employed to model and assess these direct and indirect effects of ICT on environmental sustainability. This doctoral thesis explores methods of modeling and assessing environmental effects of ICT, including electronic media. In a series of five studies, three methods were at times applied in case studies and at others analyzed theoretically. These methods include life cycle assessment (LCA) and complex systems modeling approaches, including System Dynamics (SD) and agent-based (AB) modeling.

The first two studies employ the LCA approach in a case study of an ICT application, namely, the tablet edition of a Swedish design magazine. The use of tablets has skyrocketed in recent years, and this phenomenon has been little studied to date. Potential environmental impacts of the magazine’s tablet edition were assessed and compared with those of the print edition. The tablet edition’s emerging version (which is marked by a low number of readers and low reading time per copy) resulted in higher potential environmental impacts per reader than did the print edition. However, the mature tablet edition (with a higher number of readers and greater reading time per copy) yielded lower impacts per reader in half the ten impact categories assessed.

While previous studies of electronic media have reported that the main life-cycle contributor to environmental impacts is the use phase (which includes operational electricity use as well as the manufacture of the electronic device), the present study did not support those findings in all scenarios studied in this thesis. Rather, this study found that the number of readers played an important role in determining which life-cycle phase had the greatest impacts. For the emerging version, with few readers, content production was the leading driver of environmental impacts. For the mature version, with a higher number of readers, electronic storage and distribution were the major contributors to environmental impacts. Only when there were many readers but low overall use of the tablet device was the use phase the main contributor to environmental impacts of the tablet edition of the magazine.

The third study goes beyond direct effects at product- and service-level LCAs, revisiting an SD simulation study originally conducted in 2002 to model indirect environmental effects of ICT in 15 European countries for the period 2000-2020. In the current study, three scenarios of the 2002 study were validated in light of new empirical data from the period 2000–2012. A new scenario was developed to revisit the quantitative and qualitative results of the original study. The results showed, inter alia, that ICT has a stimulating influence on total passenger transport, for it makes it more cost- and time-efficient (rebound effects).

The modeling mechanism used to represent this rebound effect is further investigated in the fourth study, which discusses the feedback loops used to model two types of rebound effects in passenger transport (direct economic rebound and time rebound). Finally, the role of systems thinking and modeling in conceptualizing and communicating the dynamics of rebound effects is examined.

The aim of the fifth study was to explore the power of systems modeling and simulation to represent nonlinearities of the complex and dynamic systems examined elsewhere in this thesis. That study reviews previous studies that have compared the SD and AB approaches and models, summarizing their purpose, methodology, and results, based on certain criteria for choosing between SD and AB approaches. The transformation procedure used to develop an AB model for purposes of comparison with an SD model is also explored.

In conclusion, first-order or direct environmental effects of ICT production, use, and disposal can be assessed employing an LCA method. This method can also be used to assess second-order or enabling effects by comparing ICT applications with conventional alternatives. However, the assessment of enabling effects can benefit from systems modeling methods, which are able to formally describe the drivers of change, as well as the dynamics of complex social, technical, and environmental systems associated with ICT applications. Such systems methods can also be used to model third-order or rebound effects of efficiency improvements by ICT.

Abstract [sv]

Den ökande produktionen och konsumtionen av produkter och tjänster inom informations- och kommunikationsteknik (IKT) leder till en ökning av den globala elanvändningen samt direkta miljökonsekvenser kopplade till IKT. Men IKT har även indirekta miljömässiga effekter. Dessa kan vara positiva till exempel genom substitutions- och optimeringseffekter eller negativa genom att till exempel ge upphov till ytterligare efterfrågan på grund av effektivisering (så kallade reboundeffekter).

Olika metoder kan användas för att modellera och bedöma både direkta och indirekta effekter av IKT. Syftet med denna avhandling är att undersöka metoder för modellering samt att studera miljöeffekter av IKT och elektronisk media med hjälp av livscykelanalys (LCA) och även modellering av komplexa och dynamiska system, samt simuleringsteknik, så som System Dynamics (SD) och agentbaserad (AB) modellering. Avhandlingen omfattar fem artiklar (artikel I-V).

Artikel I & II beskriver resultaten från en fallstudie där miljöeffekter kopplade till en svensk tidskrift studeras med LCA. Tidskriftens version för surfplatta samt motsvarande tryckta version studeras och jämförs.

Artikel III går ett steg vidare från produktnivåns LCA. Artikeln återkopplar till en SD simuleringsstudie som ursprungligen genomfördes under 2002. Simuleringsstudien gällde framtida miljöeffekter av IKT i 15 europeiska länder med tidspespektivet 2000-2020. I artikeln valideras tre scenarier från simuleringsstudien med hjälp av nya empiriska data från 2000-2012 och ett nytt scenario modelleras. Kvantitativa och kvalitativa resultat från den ursprungliga studien diskuteras. Till exempel visar artikel III att IKT har en stimulerande effekt på den totala persontrafiken genom att göra den mer kostnads- och tidseffektiv (reboundeffekt).

Modelleringsmekanismen som används för att representera denna reboundeffekt diskuteras vidare i artikel IV. Artikeln belyser och diskuterar den återkopplingsslinga (feedback-loop) som används för att modellera två typer av reboundeffekter kopplade till persontrafik (direkt ekonomisk rebound och tidsrelaterad rebound) samt jämför med en tidigare studie. Artikel IV behandlar också den roll systemtänkande och modellering kan spela i konceptualisering och kommunikation av reboundeffekters dynamik.

För att ytterligare undersöka systemmodelleringens och simuleringens möjligheter att representera icke-linjära komplexa och dynamiska system (exempel på sådana diskuteras i artikel III och IV), sammanställer artikel V tidigare studier som jämför SD och AB-metoder och -modeller.  Studiernas mål och metod summeras och resultaten med avseende på vilka kriterier som presenteras för att välja mellan SD och AB sammanställs. Även processen för att omvandla en befintlig SD-modell till en AB-modell beskrivs.

Avhandlingens slutsats är att LCA och systemmodelleringsmetoder kan vara användbara för att studera IKTs direkta effekter så väl som indirekta effekter på miljön.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2015. 66 p.
TRITA-INFRA-FMS, ISSN 1652-5442 ; 2015:03
Information and communication technology (ICT), sustainability assessment, electronic media, tablet, print media, magazine, Internet, energy, environmental impact, life cycle assessment (LCA), System Dynamics, agent-based modeling, differential equations, simulation modeling, complex and dynamic systems modeling, Informations- och kommunikationsteknik (IKT), hållbarhetsbedömning, elektroniska media, surfplatta, tryckta media, tidskrift, Internet, energi, miljöpåverkan, simulering, differentialekvationer, modellering av komplexa och dynamiska system, System Dynamics, livscykelanalys (LCA), agentbaserad modellering
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis; Information and Communication Technology; Industrial Ecology; Applied and Computational Mathematics
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-171443 (URN)978-91-7595-653-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-09-04, Sal F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)

QC 20150813

Available from: 2015-08-13 Created: 2015-08-03 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved

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