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Review

Assessing Indirect Environmental Effects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT): A Systematic Literature Review

1
Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland
2
Technology and Society Lab, Empa Materials Science and Technology, CH-9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2662; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082662
Received: 31 May 2018 / Revised: 12 July 2018 / Accepted: 23 July 2018 / Published: 29 July 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) for Sustainability)
Indirect environmental effects of information and communication technology (ICT) are those effects of ICT that change patterns of production or consumption in domains other than ICT, or more precisely, the environmental consequences of these changes. Digitalization as the societal process of ICT-driven change has created increasing interest in the indirect environmental effects of this technology. Assessments of indirect effects face various methodological challenges, such as the definition of the system boundary, the definition of a baseline as a reference or the occurrence of rebound effects. Existing studies use various approaches or methods to assess a spectrum of ICT use cases in several application domains. In view of the large number of assessments that have been conducted, the choices made when applying assessment methods, and the variety of ICT use cases in different application domains investigated, we present a systematic literature review of existing assessments of indirect environmental effects of ICT. The review provides a state-of-the-art overview of the methods used in the research field and is intended to support researchers in designing sound assessments which yield significant results. We identified 54 studies in seven main application domains using 15 different assessment approaches. The most common application domains are virtual mobility (e.g., telecommuting), virtual goods (e.g., digital media), and smart transport (e.g., route optimization). Life-cycle assessment, partial footprint, and the “ICT enablement method” are the most common approaches. The major part of the assessments focuses on patterns of production (e.g., production of paper-based books vs. e-books), a smaller part on patterns of consumption (e.g., changes in media consumption). Based on these results, we identify as a research gap the investigation of ICT impacts on consumer behavior, which could, for example, focus on social practices, and account for the dynamic implications of change. Elaborating such an approach could provide valuable insights into ICT’s impact on society and the resulting environmental consequences. View Full-Text
Keywords: information and communication technology; digitalization; indirect environmental effects; environmental impact assessment; greening through ICT information and communication technology; digitalization; indirect environmental effects; environmental impact assessment; greening through ICT
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MDPI and ACS Style

Bieser, J.C.T.; Hilty, L.M. Assessing Indirect Environmental Effects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT): A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082662

AMA Style

Bieser JCT, Hilty LM. Assessing Indirect Environmental Effects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT): A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability. 2018; 10(8):2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082662

Chicago/Turabian Style

Bieser, Jan C.T., and Lorenz M. Hilty. 2018. "Assessing Indirect Environmental Effects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT): A Systematic Literature Review" Sustainability 10, no. 8: 2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082662

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