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         7 June 2001
UNU/IAS Press Conference on Digital Economy and the Environment: New International Project Tackles the Environmental Implications of Information Technology

Every day we see something in the newspaper or on television regarding the Information Technology (IT) revolution or the "new economy." Often, the news article or advertisement is about how IT improves the economy or makes life more convenient. The reason for all the attention is that IT is driving changes in business and society - changes so deep that many commentators suggest we are shifting from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age.

A topic much less discussed is what the IT revolution means for society and especially the environment - in particular, with respect to global warming and fossil fuel use. IT affects energy issues in many ways. On one hand, IT drives increases in the efficiency of production, both of manufacturing and distribution processes and in how firms network to form a production system. However, IT also contributes to economic growth and creates demand for a range of new products and services, which tends to increase use of fossil fuels. Realizing a green digital society is a major task for the future, and requires action from government, businesses and civil society.

The United Nations University/Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU/IAS) is holding a press conference to announce the launching of an international collaborative project to investigate the implications of the Information Technology revolution for the environment. Relevant issues will be investigated via a new collaborative project titled "Digital Economy and the Environment." Partners in this project (in alphabetical order) are Carnegie Mellon University, Science University of Tokyo, The Sumitomo Marine Research Institute Inc., UNU/IAS and University of Tokyo. The project will officially launch on 27 June 2001 and continue for two years, with support from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

The press conference is being held as an initial start of a number of activities designed to raise awareness of the importance of the IT and environment issue. Preliminary research results will also be distributed. Some highlights of issues to be discussed include:

  1. The overall energy intensity (Energy use/GDP) of the US economy decreased 9.7% over the period 1996-99, which some analysts suggest is largely due to implementation of IT. In contrast, the energy intensity of the Japanese economy increased 0.9% over the same period.

  2. IT has an increasing role in corporate strategies for efficiency and environmental performance. For instance, AT&T in the US reports financial and environmental success in promoting internal use of telecommuting and "paperless office" strategies. IBM has reduced unneeded production through supply chain management. The project will investigate how firms in sectors across the economy can use IT as a tool for efficiency and environmental performance.

  3. Is e-commerce good for the environment? Preliminary research has been done by UNU and Carnegie Mellon University to compare energy consumption, waste and pollution emissions associated with the distribution of books by e-commerce and conventional bookstores. Early results suggest that while e-commerce tends to save energy for consumers in suburban or rural areas, increased packaging used in e-commerce can reverse the situation, especially for those living in big cities. E-commerce may also contribute to reducing overproduction of unsold inventories.
  4. The production of computers and telecommunications equipment has "hidden" environmental impacts in the form of chemicals, energy and water used in manufacturing. Recent research suggests that 157 kg of chemicals and fossil fuels are used to make one microchip for a personal computer.

  5. There is an increasing problem regarding what to do with waste electronics. Recent results of UNU research suggest that reselling or upgrading a computer is about 20 times more effective at reducing environmental impacts than recycling it. Despite this, the policy discussions in Japan and Europe continue to focus on recycling as the major end-of-life option.

3:00-3:10 Opening remarks by Prof. Hamid Zakri, Director of UNU/IAS
3:10-3:25 Overview of connections between the IT revolution and global warming, and the structure of the collaborative project, by Prof. Shunsuke Mori, Science University of Tokyo, and Masayo Fujimoto, The Sumitomo Marine Research Institute Inc.
3:25-3:40 Overview of issues related to distribution systems (e-commerce and telecommuting) and environmental impacts and management of IT infrastructure, by Dr. Eric Williams, UNU/IAS, and Prof. H. Scott Matthews, Carnegie Mellon University
3:40-4:00 Question and Answer Period
The press conference will be conducted in Japanese. A variety of materials related to IT and environmental issues will be distributed.

  • Time and Date: Thursday, 28 June 2001 15:00-16:00
  • Venue: 1F Seminar Room, United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies 53-67 Jingumae 5-chome, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8304
Media representatives are cordially invited to attend. For further information, please contact Eric Williams at Tel: 03-5467-1390, Fax: 03-5467-2324 or Email: (Inquiries in Japanese or English are fine.). Directions to UNU/IAS may be viewed at

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For inquiries please contact UNU Public Affairs Section: Tel. (03) 5467-1243, -1246; Fax (03) 3406-7346




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