Ensuring new technology is designed to help meet global climate targets

Designers of new ICT technologies will be able to ensure new computing products and infrastructure are compatible with international efforts to stop global warming by accessing a suite of digital tools as part of a new virtual ‘design lab’.

Core design principles, as well as the lab’s tools, will guide designers and show the likely carbon cost of their designs. These will help inform more rounded decision making about the impacts of digital technologies.

Led by a team of Lancaster University researchers, and in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Sussex and Kings College London, the PARIS-DE (Design Principles and Responsible Innovation for a Sustainable Digital Economy) project will create the virtual design lab with digital tools that assess the carbon emissions, and social impacts of ICT designs.

With the goal of ensuring alignment with Paris climate targets that seek to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, PARIS-DE will focus on three key challenges:

  1. Constructing a comprehensive methodology that can provide an evidence base for the carbon emissions of ICT, taking into account the multiple, often competing narratives around carbon emissions;
  2. Embedding responsible innovation into the fabric of a sustainability framework;
  3. Developing design principles and approaches for a vision of compliance-by-design, building on the rich heritage of socio-technical design and extending it to embed sustainability and consideration of planetary boundaries.

Principal Investigator Professor Gordon Blair of Lancaster University said: “We are all aware of the increasingly urgent need to address carbon footprints and improve sustainability in order to keep planetary warming to manageable levels. The digital economy must take responsibility for its contribution to this. We also plan to track and mitigate our own project’s carbon footprint, which as far as we are aware will be the first time this has been done.”

Adrian Friday, Professor of Sustainability and Computing and Head of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, said: “I profoundly believe that ICT and data have a critical role in helping us understand and mitigate our climate impacts going forward. Developing and integrating such principles of responsible innovation into ICT technologies is arguably long overdue. I’m delighted to see this incredible world class team come together to address this challenge and look forward to seeing what develops.”

PARIS-DE is one of ten projects funded as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Sustainable Digital Society call.

The project includes Dr Kelly Widdicks and Dr Bran Knowles, also of Lancaster University, Dr Federica Lucivero and Professor Marina Jirotka at the University of Oxford, Dr Gabrielle Samuel at Kings College London, Professor Steve Sorrell of the University of Sussex and Mike Berners-Lee (Small World Consulting). The project is proud to be working with a range of partners across industry and civil society, including the BBC, BT, Horizon, IBM and Star.

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