How Broadband Can Be the Backbone for a Green Economy

Networked digital technology can lead to energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. That’s the underlying notion from two sources this week — a report from the Progressive States Network, Communications Workers of America, Sierra Club and the Blue Green Alliance, as well as a call to action from Hans Vestberg the CEO of telecom gear maker Ericsson (s ERIC). Both sets of voices are lauding broadband as the backbone for creating a green economy, and calling for more federal policies and incentives to help boost the buildout of broadband infrastructure.

The report, called Networking the Green Economy, focuses on how investment in information technology can help the economy and reduce energy consumption (and carbon emissions) by developing a smarter grid, smarter buildings, and using broadband to boost teleconferencing and telehealth services. (We’re covering all of these themes at our Green:Net conference on April 29 in San Francisco).

As most of us know by now, adding digital intelligence to the power grid can make the grid much more energy efficient, and it’s becoming a booming industry. The world’s utilities spent $25 billion on both traditional IT and smart grid technology last year.

The report also points to how home and business broadband connections can reduce the number of miles people travel (cutting emissions in the process) via teleconferencing and web-based health services (using the Internet, video conferencing and email to replace doctors visits). At Green:Net we’re having a panel that will focus on dematerialization — replacing atoms with bits — and will look at video conferencing with a discussion from Saul Griffith founder of Squid Lab, Jonathan Koomey, Scientist for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Stanford, Molly Webb, Analyst with The Climate Group and Casey Harrell, IT Analyst for Greenpeace International.

The report, quoting numbers from The Climate Group, says that information and communication technology can help the U.S. “reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 13 to 22 percent by 2020.”

Ericsson’s CEO Hans Vestberg made similar remarks at the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet conference in New York on Thursday. Vestberg said:

“[E]conomic growth and environmental protection do not need to be in conflict. On the contrary, investments in broadband can help to stimulate both and bring a new era in green economy. Broadband will be a pre requisite for a 21st Century low carbon economy, and will enable services such as smart grids, intelligent transports, e-health, all of which have significant contributions to reduce CO2”.

So now computing and Internet companies, the greentech industry, environmentalists and policy-makers can all have a common goal: to promote the proliferation of broadband as much as possible across the U.S. Both the report and Vestberg called for more government incentives for broadband infrastructure to help the U.S. boost broadband users. In some areas of the country (particularly in low-income and rural areas, and among some minority populations), less than half of the population uses broadband.

Image courtesy of the report Networking the Green Economy.