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Uncovering the many challenges of using technology sustainably

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Image credit: Paul Goodwin

We’re constantly hearing about the incredible benefits that technology is bringing to our world. On the flip side, we’re also seeing the growing sustainability challenges it poses to our environment, people and communities.

In February 2019, I shared what our Joint Sustainable Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) group is doing to help businesses address these challenges. Our members consist of Defra leads, John Seglias and our main ICT suppliers. Working together as a group of experts on sustainability in ICT, we’re creating an industry best practice guide to launch in October.

Challenges and opportunities

This month we were back around the table. As an internationally-based group, many joined virtually via telephone and video link of course!

The following members presented to the group about some of the challenges and opportunities relating to the achievement of Agenda 2030:

Video conference meetingUrban mining

And there’s no denying that the challenges are many. For example, our phones and IT kit include many metals. One of the environmental impacts linked to production is therefore where these metals come from.

As many as 15 million people work in the Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector globally. This includes over 600,000 children and 4.5 million women.

While ASGM represents developmental opportunities for rural populations, studies indicate there are health risks associated with this work. For example mercury exposure, a largely neglected global health problem, puts miners and their communities at risk of health impacts such as:

  • permanent brain damage
  • seizures
  • vision and hearing loss
  • delayed childhood development

Recovering copper, gold and other metals from electronic waste (urban mining), is not only more environmentally friendly than extracting virgin materials, but can also be more cost effective. Research shows that it costs 13 times more to get these metals from ore than from urban mining.

ICT sustainability best practice guide

From this we can see that technology offers innovative solutions to some of the environmental challenges. As a group, our ambition is to raise awareness of the problems and how to address these.

We are making great progress on our industry best practice guide and I am meeting with the United Nations Environment Programme next month to discuss the actions that need to be picked up as a priority and in partnership.

Global action

By filling the global knowledge gaps about e-waste, chemicals and responsible business, we can all take the necessary action to address our current environmental challenges together.

Global collective responsibility is key.

Targeted and focused engagement from all stakeholders is a must.

It is only through active participation by the industry that we can achieve the technological solutions that will lead the world to a safer and cleaner future.

I look forward to sharing our guide with you in October, so watch this space!

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