Sustainability and Computer Technology

As our lives are more integrated with computer technology, the more we need to understand the negative and positive impacts of computer technology on sustainability. There are some great things that computer technology can do to support sustainability.

For example, motion sensors integrated with lights in homes and commercial buildings can turn lights off if there is no movement for a given period of time, thus saving on electricity usage. Just like water detection technology can ensure that only the right amount of water is being used in a given situation. Better computer technology in automobiles has helped reduce emissions as well. But there’s also a downside to computer technology.

Many of the pieces of hardware, the things that we can physically touch, like our smart phone batteries, screens, and cases, are sometimes made up of minerals that are only found in certain places in the world.

The most recent example of how the minerals and other raw materials needed to make our smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc. and how that sourcing of raw materials has a negative impact on the corresponding communities can be found in a very recent story by CBS News,

Miners with cobalt and copper ore in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: Amnesty International and Afrewatch.

Some of us remember the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “Blood Diamond”, and how we got a glimpse of the horrendous ways and conditions some diamonds are mined. I may be being a bit melodramatic, but we need to really look at how raw materials for our ever expanding and demanding computer technology markets are sourced.

What are the impacts to communities across the globe in order to support the demand of people feeling the need for a new smart phone every year or every two years? There are complex issues as well as human, multi-industry, geo-political, environmental and global economic systems at play when it comes to the computer technology domain and sustainability.

One of the key professional and academic organization’s in the field of computer science that is addressing the many and varied issues when it comes to sustainability and computer technology is IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). IEEE’s tag line is “Advancing Technology for Humanity” ( By just entering the term, “sustainability” into IEEE’s web site, a large list of related resources, including the link to the “6th IEEE Conference on Technologies for Sustainability: Technologies that contribute to sustainability in all applications affecting human life” being held in November of this year shows up:

photo credit:

My hope is that with such respected organizations as IEEE and with more focus on sustainability and ethics placed in computer technology related curriculum at many universities and colleges throughout the world, more and more computer technology professionals, researchers and academics will understand the role computer technology can have in supporting sustainability and the more products and systems will be implemented that have a positive instead of negative impact on communities and the world as a whole.

(Header image courtesy of


About the Author

litz-trisha-bio-picTrisha Litz
Assistant Professor
College of Computer and Information Sciences
Regis University
Read her faculty bio

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