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Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Exploring a systemic design inspired responsible innovation framework for addressing ICT carbon emissions

Format: Papers, RSD12

Marcia T. Smith, Bran Knowles, Kelly Widdicks, Gordon Blair, Gabrielle Samuel, Marina Jirotka, Federica Lucivero, Carolyn Ten Holter, and Lucas Somavilla

The carbon footprint of the world’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is growing at an alarming rate, giving rise to calls for tools and methodologies for reporting on carbon emissions towards greater accountability within the sector. Accurately calculating the emissions of digital technologies is a complex task where there are no clear standards for methodologies or boundaries for what should be included in these calculations. Nevertheless, a number of online carbon calculators exist to quantify carbon emissions of ICT. The starting question in this paper is how much such tools can inform and provide insight to people working with ICT innovation to take action to reduce the environmental impacts of the products, services and systems they create. To explore this question, we analyse ICT carbon calculators from a digital innovation designer’s perspective, exploring what they enable those creating ICT to see and understand, as well as the limitations of these views on carbon. We argue that these approaches are limited and that a better way to address the issue is by moving from designing carbon calculators to co-designing a framework for responsible innovation that enables systems thinking, exposes complexities, helps with the assessment of carbon emissions without fixating on numbers, and supports evaluation and visualisation of future scenarios. 

KEYWORDS: sustainability, climate change, carbon emissions accounting, digital technology, responsible innovation, co-design, systemic design

RSD TOPIC(S): Technological Entanglements

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Citation Data

Author(s): Marcia T. Smith, Bran Knowles, Kelly Widdicks, Gordon Blair, Gabrielle Samuel, Marina Jirotka, Federica Lucivero, Carolyn Ten Holter, and Lucas Somavilla
Year: 2023
Title: Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Exploring a systemic design inspired responsible innovation framework for addressing ICT carbon emissions
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/ict-carbon-emissions
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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