The Importance of Materiality for Green ICT

Materiality is a measure of the potential effect that something may have on a final outcome. Not everything that is relevant is truly material. Some recent examples that we've encountered:

The carbon footprint of a DVD is less material than the the footprint of the automobile trip to buy/rent it

Increased energy efficiency can be immaterial to decreased energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Investment in managing standby energy waste can be immaterial in the big picture of office power utilization

The number of proposed GreenICT tactics grows every year. Tactics that appear vaguely relevant or are intellectually interesting to implement may not yield the greatest results and risk giving GreenICT initiatives a sense of triviality. GreenICT, like all endeavors, needs to focus on materiality to be credible.

A few days after writing this, @open4energy called my attention to an analysis of behavioral power management technique that could save the USA ~$60 million in annual electricity costs but the individual only ~$3. This is similar to Vertatique's analysis of a television program's audience: ~8 MWH and ~5 metric tons of CO2 for only a penny per household.

The biggest materiality challenge may well be how to resolve the dissonance between that which is material in the aggregate, but apparently immaterial to the individual.

Click here for a discussion on the challenges of implementing behavioral power management.

Update 2009.09.05:
CNET tests of Apple's new Snow Leopard OS reveals a ~10% reduction in energy consumption over its predecessor. For the individual, this means annual savings of only ~9 kWh (US$1-2), but is much more material when scaled across tens of millions of users. Most important, it shows the impact platform technology makers can have by iteratively leveraging individually modest savings across large user bases.

Update 2009.09.12:
By contrast, consider the challenge when millions of users each individually needs to change behavior.. A comment to that post proposes a unique solution to motivating behavior.


I guess that recycling and saving energy are key aspects of being able to sustain a growing population. I was talking the other days with one of my friends who works for Vancouver junk removal and he is happy that more and more people are growing awareness towards being responsible people and recycling more. I hope that in the future to come, the recycling rate will increase even more. Keep your fingers crossed!!!

Increase Energy Awareness

open4energy has been exploring the issues of materiality, consequences and attitude to energy saving.

Our intention was to explain the slow uptake in energy saving projects - for consumers, data centers and buildings.

In our article Increase your Home Energy Awareness we explore the issues of denial, the different approaches to persuasion, and what we think lies at the root of the problem.

There are many cases where materiality is only achieved if many people/businesses save energy, or the consequences are small until collectively accounted for. We conclude that until we look at the root issue of selfishness and see the bigger picture of how this affects us all, we will not be persuaded to make the efforts needed to save.

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