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|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|2305||2012||12 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Research Policy, Volume 41, Issue 9, November 2012, Pages 1631–1642
Information and communication technology (ICT) can be seen as a general-purpose technology with wide-ranging socio-economic and environmental implications across sectors. ICTs also constitute a system of technologies with stronger internal links since the emergence of the Internet and broadband as a new information infrastructure. The new infrastructure has co-evolved with widespread integration of ICTs in everyday life, and consumer demand has been decisive for ICT innovation. This article explores the environmental directionality of ICT innovation and the broadband transition, focusing mainly on energy impacts. It is argued that much innovation tends to develop in an unsustainable direction and that public regulation falls far short of the challenge. Transition theory is applied to analyze the background for the unsustainable development and the reasons why environmental concerns do not figure more prominently in the broadband transition. Finally, it is discussed how the direction of ICT innovation could be influenced in order to realize more of the positive sustainability potential.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a long history in which the foundations were laid for separate industries such as telecommunications, recorded music, film, radio, television, and office equipment. In spite of this long history, the concept of ICT is of more recent origin in relation to the merger of technologies for communication, broadcasting and data processing. The basis for the merger was the emergence of the transistor and later the microchip, which made it possible to install an ever-increasing number of transistors in a very limited space. This miniaturization enabled the inclusion of advanced data-processing facilities for monitoring, management and manipulation in a multitude of products, as well as development of the general-purpose personal computer. Digitalization led to increasing intertwining between the different industries related to telecommunications, entertainment and office equipment, and the appearance of the Internet reinforced the process considerably. ICTs have developed into a cluster with large social and economic importance, and although Winston's account of the historical development of media technologies emphasizes that the present changes are far from being as “revolutionary” as the hype sometimes suggests, it is probably safe to say that the potential for future change related to ICTs is enormous. The Internet is at the core of the present ICT-related changes, and the establishment of high-speed networks is often seen as the basis for realization of the great potential for social and economic change related to ICT. As Melody puts it, the broadband as the new information infrastructure will be the most important public utility in 21st century economy (Melody, 2007). How is this potential used in relation to the great challenge of transforming societies in a more sustainable direction? ICTs can be used in many different ways, and the different paths are decisive for the resulting environmental impacts. Already in the early phase of microelectronics and digitalization, much hope was attached to the potential for environmental improvements through ICT (Freeman, 1992), and surely, ICTs have contributed to such improvements in various ways – from environmental information systems to better management of production processes. Unfortunately, however, ICT also gives rise to considerable environmental costs, not least in relation to the integration of ICT in everyday life. Some have tried to assess the “net” environmental impacts of ICT, but this exercise is so complex that it is difficult to reach reasonable and useful conclusions (for a recent survey, see Erdmann and Hilty, 2010). It may be more useful to explore the environmental directionality of various kinds of ICT-related innovations and consider the conditions for promoting sustainable and discouraging unsustainable innovation. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the discussion on the environmental directionality of ICT-related innovations. Innovation studies often assume implicitly that innovations are socially beneficial, and they focus on how to stimulate economically successful innovation. The increasing importance of the environmental agenda, however, calls for more focus on the directionality of innovations, including both the encouragement of green innovation and the discouragement of environmentally problematic innovation. The paper thus explores the following questions: What are the environmental implications of ICT innovation and the broadband transition? How are the environmental impacts influenced by public regulation? Why do environmental concerns not figure more prominently? And how could the direction of ICT innovation be influenced in order to realize more of the positive sustainability potential? ICT has many different environmental impacts, but this paper concentrates mainly on the energy impacts, which are more topical than ever due to the climate change agenda. Experience with regulation is extensive with regard to energy impact, and the data availability is good. The paper is partly based on a previous empirical study on the use of ICT in Danish households and the related energy impacts (reported in detail in Røpke et al., 2010a and Røpke et al., 2010b), combined with studies of government and business reports, and participant observations from business conferences related to broadband development. In addition, the paper brings together three different sets of literature, which tend to develop in isolation from one another: economic studies on ICT, studies on ICT and the environment, and sustainable transition studies. The paper starts by introducing different perspectives on the integration of ICT in the economy and everyday life. In particular, the meso-level perspective is elaborated, seeing ICTs as forming a cluster of technologies and industries that can be studied as a system. Then, Section 3 outlines the energy impacts of ICT-related development, and Section 4 highlights how public intervention deals with these impacts. Since energy regulation has not succeeded in curbing the growing ICT-related energy consumption nor in realizing the sustainability potential of ICT, Section 5 explores why environmental considerations do not figure more prominently in innovation processes. This section brings in transition theory to organize the discussion. The concluding section summarizes the results and discusses the conditions for promoting a more sustainable direction in innovations.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
While the previous section contributes to explaining why environmental concerns do not figure more prominently in the broadband transition, this section discusses what can be learned from the present study regarding the shaping of the directionality of innovations, and how ICT innovations could be steered in a more sustainable direction. The heuristic framework of transition theory is applied to organize the discussion – to pinpoint the factors and circumstances that are important for innovation's directionality, as well as the possibilities for influencing the development of ICT innovation in order to realize more of its positive sustainability potential. Although the shaping of directionality is seldom the focus of transition studies, the framework provides a way to structure an analysis of the selection environment, which encourages some kind of innovations and discourages others. Considering the landscape level, ICT's falling prices form a basic condition for the dramatic increase in ICT use – a cheap generic technology inspires innovation in possible applications. This condition is seen as a landscape phenomenon, because it relies not only on technological improvements, but also on large environmental and social externalities based on the general conditions of power and global inequalities. With the ICT search for applications, the directionality of innovation was influenced by the low price of energy, which was decisive for the lack of focus on energy-saving innovation. Simultaneously, it was influenced by the availability of large markets able to pay for new consumer goods – again, based on large global inequalities. The climate discourse has increased the focus on energy savings, but as yet, this has only to a limited extent been transformed into tough policies with substantial impact on innovation. The example highlights the importance of the landscape level for the directionality of innovation. Similar landscape phenomena are also decisive for unsustainability in other fields, such as apparel (Schor, 2005). When environmental externalities, low wages and poor working conditions are the basis for providing cheap consumer goods, consumption of large quantities is encouraged, environmental impacts are considerable, and the incentive for innovations to produce long-lasting quality goods is weak. This perspective calls for policies that address landscape conditions, and for integrating such considerations in studies on sustainability transitions. A tendency exists to leave out landscape elements, such as large inequalities of income and power – maybe because it is so difficult to influence such conditions through transition management strategies as they are usually conceived. But since transitions involve long-term processes, it would be relevant to extend the perspective and include the possibilities for influencing the basic conditions of supply and demand – access to and price of resources, and large inequalities in income and power. For instance, this could imply supporting unionization and implementation of more effective environmental regulation in developing countries. Combating corruption that leads to cheap access to natural resources, and more effective international monitoring and regulation of transnational companies would also be constructive elements. Just as long-term sustainability strategies depend on increased awareness of rebound effects and active policies to counteract them (van den Bergh, 2011), transition strategies depend on increased awareness of the large-scale systemic interdependencies that undermine sustainability and call for active policies to address them. Turning to the regime level, the following first deals with the shaping of directionality and then the possibilities for influencing direction. First, a few words on the material backbone of the regime that is constituted by the infrastructure of Internet and broadband. Here, the directionality of innovations is influenced by the fact that this infrastructure is based on competing technologies promoted by different actors. Therefore, many resources are used to increase the speed of various access technologies and prolong the life of the old copper net. For many other material elements in the ICT ecosystem, established trajectories frame the development, and they only involve energy savings to a limited extent. On the application side, it is obviously decisive that new infrastructure providers construct a market for the new services. When the electrical system was established, electricity companies made a big effort to encourage consumption and construct new applications of electricity (e.g. by promoting the modern design and effective sale of new appliances, Forty, 1986). Likewise, broadband providers are searching for ways to promote services that can render the large investments profitable, so that the infrastructure co-evolves with the successful applications. In terms of transition theory, this co-evolution can be seen as an example of multi-regime interaction, which has been studied as a dynamic in relation to transition processes ( Geels, 2007, Raven, 2007 and Raven and Verbong, 2007). These studies focus on the interactions between two regimes, and Raven and Verbong (2007) suggest a typology for such interactions (competition, symbiosis, integration and spill-over). The variation and selection processes in the regimes interact and influence the kind of innovations that emerge. Over time, the relationship between the regimes can develop – for instance, from competitive to symbiotic ( Raven, 2007 and Geels, 2007). In the case of Internet and broadband, more than two regimes are involved – both the emergence of the regime and the ongoing development involve interactions between several regimes – in particular, telecommunication, various entertainment regimes (television, music, games), and office work. There are also interactions with other regimes related to, for instance, healthcare and education, but these are much weaker. The regime interactions take place through the social network, which according to Fransman's account of the ICT ecosystem includes the providers of the networked elements (equipment and software), network operators, providers of contents and applications, and the final consumers. This is a very broad regime configuration in which it would be possible to identify several ‘sub-regimes’ that are either completely within the framework of the overall regime or only partly integrated. For the purpose of this paper, it is not relevant to discuss this in detail, but it is important for the directionality of innovations that companies selling equipment and services related to television, mobile phones, games etc. become key players in the social network. In terms of quantity, consumers’ demand for communication and entertainment services has been decisive for the allocation of innovative resources, and consumers’ interest in these services fits well with experience from media history: Both radio and television diffused at unprecedented speed compared with other household goods (Wistoft et al., 1992, p. 134), and the success of the telephone for social purposes far exceeded all expectations. The focus on consumer-oriented innovation in communication and entertainment has been supported by various institutions. Important cognitive and normative aspects relate to the dominant understanding that ‘free’ markets should determine the directionality of innovations. Internet and broadband developed during a period with strong emphasis on liberalization and little focus on industrial policies that could steer innovation towards high-priority societal goals. The general goal of national competitiveness was considered to be best served by general policies, and when this understanding was combined with relatively favorable economic conditions and property gains, consumer demand became decisive for innovation. In addition, governments and consumers adhered strongly to the idea that ICT use and the related development of competences would be decisive, both for future national competitiveness and for the individual's ability to manage in modern society. Regulatory institutions related to ICT focused primarily on market liberalization and competition, but diffusion, competences and safety also called for regulatory initiatives. Concern regarding the energy impacts of ICT belongs basically to a different social domain with different regulatory authorities, international organizations and research communities. The situation resembles the difficulties confronting environmental and energy authorities with regard to influencing sectoral ministries for transport and agriculture. The work of IEA is thus the work of ‘outsiders’ and may be considered a disturbance in relation to the core concerns of the ICT regime actors. Since the energy consumption of ICT products and services is also difficult to regulate, the regulatory promotion of energy-saving innovation lags behind. How, then, can the broadband transition be steered in a more sustainable direction at the regime level? The development of the infrastructure raises two questions: is it really useful from a societal perspective to focus so much on high-speed broadband; and is liberalization the right way to achieve infrastructural improvements? For many societal purposes (e.g. related to health), widespread high-speed connections are not important, and competitive improvements of the infrastructure are mostly dependent on dynamic interplay with increased consumption of high-definition television programs etc. Slower development of the infrastructure and funding that is independent of consumption growth could be more environmentally sustainable, but it would require different social priorities. In principle, the emerging critique of the dominant regulatory paradigm (which focuses on competition and short-term prices) could provide an opening for including environmental considerations in a new regulatory paradigm, but the dominant focus is still on ensuring innovation in general and long-term competitiveness. More signs are emerging to indicate that regulatory policies will become more effective in the near future with regard to the first-order effects of ICT use. The climate agenda strengthens the position of the authorities engaged in energy savings in their relations with other sectors, and the work by IEA and others (e.g. Hilty's (2008) suggestions to increase the scope of regulation) provides ideas about stronger regulation. Simultaneously, some of the forward-looking business actors are demonstrating that considerable savings are possible. As always, however, rebound effects threaten to undermine the results unless they are effectively counteracted by policy measures that hamper consumption growth. Concerning ICT applications, it seems crucial to encourage changes in the multi-regime interactions. Since ICT is a general-purpose technology that supports the useful functions of monitoring, management and communication, great potential exists for environmentally beneficial applications, but realization depends on increased interplay with other sectors than consumer electronics and entertainment. In a general macro-economic perspective, such a shift fits well with the ecological economic idea that a wider social transformation towards more sustainable development must entail a shift from consumption to investment (Jackson, 2009). More sustainable development requires deep-going transformations of socio-technical systems related to energy provision, transport, food and housing, and such transformations require investments. From an ecological economic point of view, it is argued that since natural resources and the capacity for absorbing pollution are limited, and since it is an ethical obligation to make room for increased consumption in the poor countries, a stable or even reduced consumption is necessary to make room for these investments. More specifically, the transformations would depend on sector-specific low carbon policies rather than policies focusing on liberalization and competition and policies to encourage innovation in general. Examples exist of increased interplay between ICT development and sustainability transformations – for instance, in relation to intelligent transport systems, systems for car sharing and, in the energy sector, the present hype related to smart grid development. Over time, these links may strengthen the related social networks, and direct more innovative resources from the ICT sector into more sustainable channels. It should be noted again, however, that the apparent sustainability of these ICT applications is subject to rebound effects and that also green ICT niches are influenced by regime and landscape processes. For instance, intelligent transport systems may encourage more traffic, and the smart grid development may be ‘sold’ to consumers through ‘fun-washing’, where demand management is combined with other ICT services that may increase energy consumption (Nyborg and Røpke, 2011). Landscape developments – like energy prices – influence the outcome of changed regime interactions, and so does the political will to introduce effective anti-rebound policies (van den Bergh, 2011). Since it is still a dominant idea that continued consumption growth is compatible with climate change mitigation, such policies are not probable in the near future, which makes the realization of the sustainability potential of ICT difficult. In conclusion, this paper calls for increased focus on how to avoid unsustainable transitions. Most transition theorists prefer to deal with “green” niche innovations and transitions from incumbent unsustainable regimes to more sustainable ones – a tendency that may be due to the political legitimacy of dealing with more optimistic topics that do not question economic growth in OECD countries in more fundamental ways. But it grows increasingly difficult to see how such questioning can be avoided. To increase the visibility of unsustainable trends, it is important to bring consumption issues into focus; and when dealing with generic technologies, multi-regime interactions are decisive for the directionality of the innovations and the environmental outcomes. Of course, it can be argued that new technologies that are first introduced for fun and games may later become core technologies in the solution of serious societal problems, but it seems more useful to steer innovative resources and talent directly towards pressing problems. Development of “green” innovation policies and sector-specific low carbon policies – rather than just policies to encourage innovation in general – could be a step in the right direction, by promoting useful applications and strengthening the links between ICT development and sectors other than consumer electronics. Since such policies do not change the basic conditions of provision, it is also essential to focus on changing landscape elements – access to and price of resources, and large inequalities in income and power – in order to develop long-term sustainability strategies. Transition theorists tend to avoid including such politically sensitive landscape elements; but in the long run, more sustainable development cannot be realized without profound transformations of these fundamental conditions. The ongoing broadband transition illustrates both the need to supplement the interest in “green” innovations and in dismantling unsustainable regimes with increased focus on avoiding development of new unsustainability and recognizing the need to include core landscape elements in transition management.