Recent studies have shown that information and communication technologies (ICT) can help shift the global market to a more energy-productive and low-carbon economy. Against that backdrop, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, or GeSI, wanted to identify the key areas where the ICT sector can make the biggest contribution to sustainability within normal household activities. GeSI and several of its member companies—including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, and Verizon—contracted with Yankee Group and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to explore the potential net energy reduction that might follow from additional broadband usage within U.S. and European households.
The study looked specifically at eight household-level activities or behaviors that are enabled or enhanced by the use of broadband Internet access, and that might also replace a more energy-intensive set of conventional activities. These activities were telecommuting, using the Internet as a primary news source, online banking, e-commerce, downloading and/or streaming media (music and video), e-education, digital photography, and e-mail.
Telecommuting provided the largest energy benefit across the EU-5 and United States, generating about 83 to 86 percent of net energy savings, respectively. Telecommuting practices may also have a significantly greater level of market benefit compared to other activities because additional benefits such as reduced driving time and more time with family and friends may accelerate market penetration to a greater degree than other ICT-related activities. The areas of least savings were online news and e-education. In these cases, consumers are likely to continue old practices, such as reading a newspaper, while adopting new broadband-enabled activities.
This study affirms the net positive energy savings potential associated with the use of ICT and broadband technologies. But it also highlights the need for enabling a policy environment that encourages the investment and the use of broadband services throughout the entire economy. Many of the services that may seem individually small—for example, reading the daily paper or doing online banking—could generate a more compelling level of energy savings if the activities were actively scaled up to whole communities or entire cities as part of a rebuilding of an economy’s infrastructure.