Digital technologies are indispensable to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and reducing carbon emissions on a large scale in many sectors. Yet, digital systems themselves have an immense energy requirement for their countless devices, data centers, applications and global networks. Already today, the carbon footprint of digitalization is twice as high as the global air traffic. Current applications of innovative IT-Systems, such as AI and Blockchain are very energy-intensive. Training a state-of-the-art AI model can emit as much CO2 as 300 round-trip flights from NYC to San Francisco. Bitcoin alone produces approximately the same amount of carbon emissions as entire countries, such as Jordan.
However, it would not be wise to reduce the use of digital systems, since they are the key to decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture and the energy sector. Governments, international organizations, research institutions and companies should rather engage in a discussion of how to ensure that the development and use of digital systems is more resource- and energy-efficient. Research at HPI and its partners shows that with little effort, digital tools can be developed in an energy-efficient manner and reduce energy consumption by many magnitudes. To scale-up such efforts, awareness of the carbon footprint of digital systems and software needs to be raised and research as well as application processes for energy-efficent IT systems need to be supported. Therefore, the Hasso-Plattner-Institute for Digital Engineering has founded the clean-IT initiative.