ICT Sustainability

Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

An Online Graduate Course & Book by Tom Worthington MEd, FACS CP

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Energy reduction is only part of making a Green ICT system, there is also the issue of use of materials and hazardous substances.


Electronic waste ("e-waste") is the material from unwanted electrical or electronic devices. Some e-waste can be sold for recycling and is described as "commodity" to distinguish it from "waste" which can't be reused. E-waste may contain toxic material is mostly not biodegradable.

Many countries have regulations covering e-waste, including bans from landfill in Europe. Metals, including gold and silver make some e-waste commercially viable to reprocess.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (1989) is an international treaty limiting the movement hazardous waste between nations. Australia, the EU and many developed nations, apart from the USA, have ratified the treaty.

Australian Regulations

Australia implemented the Basel convention with the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act (Commonwealth of Australia, 1989). This regulates export, import and transit of hazardous waste within Australia. The Criteria for the export and import of used electronic equipment (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2005) assumes that electronic equipment is hazardous waste, until shown otherwise. Equipment to be re-used (after repair, refurbishment or upgrading) are not considered hazardous waste. Australian states have regulations on the disposal of hazardous waste.

Voluntary Programs

Byteback (2008) was an Australian partnership between Sustainability Victoria, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Apple, Canon, Dell, Epson, Fujitsu, Fuji-Xerox, HP, IBM, Lenovo, and Lexmark. It allowed individuals and small businesses to deposit unwanted computer equipment at Victorian locations. Similar programs operated other states. These were replaced with a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme funded by industry, under the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations 2011 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012).

Volunteer run community groups in several Australia states refurbish donated computers. Free open source software is installed and the computers are then sold to for a nominal fee to not-for-profit groups and those on low incomes (including students). Computerbank has been offering refurbished computers since 1998 (Computerbank, 2017).


The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT, 2008) is a US based system for evaluating electronic products against 51 environmental criteria.

The criteria for EPEAT are contained in "Standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products, Including Laptop & Desktop Computers & Monitors" (IEEE 1680-2006).

Products are ranked in three tiers:

  1. Bronze: Meets 23 required criteria
  2. Silver: Meets all required criteria plus at least 50% of the optional criteria
  3. Gold: Meets all required criteria plus at least 75% of the optional criteria

Materials criteria are categorised as:

  1. Reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials,
  2. Materials selection,
  3. Design for end of life,
  4. Product longevity/life cycle extension,
  5. End of life management, and
  6. Packaging.

Energy conservation using US EPA Energy Star and Corporate performance with adoption of ISO 14001 are also criteria.

Government Procurement using EPEAT

US Government agencies are required to procure products which meet 95 percent of the EPEAT criteria under "Executive Order: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management" (Bush, 2007).

The Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator (Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, 2008) was used to assess EPEAT. For 2007 reduction in use of primary materials was assessed at 75.5 tons, reduction in toxic materials of 3,220 tons, and avoidance in the disposal of 124,000 metric tons of hazardous waste.

The Calculator was sponsored by the U.S. EPA and estimates benefits, such as green house gas reductions, waste avoided, mercury eliminated for EPEAT purchases. Metrics used are:

  1. Energy savings
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction
  3. Solid waste reduction
  4. Primary material savings
  5. Hazardous waste reduction
  6. Toxic material reduction
  7. Air emissions
  8. Water emissions

The Calculator is provided as an Excel spreadsheet. Purchasing data input is the number and type of EPEAT products purchased. The tool calculates the environmental benefits from the EPEAT products in comparison with an average non-EPEAT product.

Now Read

  1. Responsible Actions - Product Stewardship, The Natural Edge Project (2008b). Note: it is not necessary to undertake the "Required Reading" listed in the Natural Edge notes.
  2. Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT, 2008). A one hour video "General EPEAT Orientation" (EPEAT, 2012) is also available.
  3. Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment (2008).


  1. E-waste policies in your organisation: Identify any e-waste or other ICT materials use policies in your organisation. Include references to any publicly released policies (with links to any web based information).
  2. Materials and energy use issues with donating old computers: Computerbank has been offering refurbished computers since 1998 (Computerbank, 2017). Volunteers recondition donated computer, which are then sold to for a nominal fee to not-for-profit groups and those on low incomes (including students). What materials and energy use issues would arise for an organisation donating computers?

Next: Carbon Accounting

About the book: ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

Edition Notice

ICT Sustainability is about how to assess, and reduce, the carbon footprint and materials used with computers and telecommunications. These are the notes for an award winning graduate course on strategies for reducing the environmental impact of computers and how to use the Internet to make business more energy efficient.

Copyright © Tom Worthington, 2018

Third edition.

Cover shows Power on-off symbol: line within a circle (IEC 60417-5010).

Latest version of materials available free on-line, under at Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license at http://www.tomw.net.au/ict_sustainability/

Previous edition, 2017:

ISBN: 9781326967949 (Hardback)
ISBN: 9781326958503 (Paperback)
ISBN: 9781326967918 (PDF)
ISBN: 9781326958497 (ePub eBook via Lulu and Apple)
ASIN: B005SOEQZI (Kindle eBook)

Editions of these notes have been used for the courses:

  1. ICT Sustainability (COMP7310), in the Graduate Studies Select program, Australian National University (first run July 2009), and
  2. Green ICT Strategies (COMP 635), Athabasca University (Canada). Adapted for North America by Brian Stewart.
  3. Green Technology Strategies: offered in the Computer Professional Education Program, Australian Computer Society (first run as "Green ICT Strategies" in February 2009),