Green IT: the importance of educating consumers on their environmental footprint



Temps de lecture

3 min


The use of internet-based communication networks and data centers – including online meeting platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and numerous streaming services for music and video (Netflix, Spotify, etc.) – has rocketed in recent years. The environmental footprint of using these technologies, however, is often overlooked by users despite their considerable and increasing environmental footprint.

A recent study* by two professors from IÉSEG has explored the use of an online meeting tool to gain insights into the factors influencing more environmentally friendly use of such systems. Green IT behavior may typically involve, for example, switching off a webcam during a meeting, downloading music to listen offline (rather than repeatedly streaming) or simply erasing old emails or photos from cloud-based systems.  Previous studies have highlighted the environmental impact of going ‘off camera’, during a video conference, with one suggesting this could reduce the carbon footprint by up to 96%.

Trade off with environmental concerns

However, as the authors, Jennifer ZIEGELMAYER and Frank GOETHALS, point out in their study: “Opting for more environmentally responsible use is not without disadvantages.”  There is often a tradeoff between environmental concerns and the different benefits such tools bring. For example, in the case of a meeting tool, using a webcam may have distinct advantages in certain professional situations.

The researchers conducted a series of studies with students in the US and in Belgium, to analyze whether their environmental concerns would impact both intentions and use of the webcam during online meetings.

Link between concerns and green IT: the role of awareness

Their results confirm that there is a clear link between environmental concerns and the green use of IT systems. “We found that the higher the level of the users’ environmental concerns, the more likely they were to not use the webcam – measured by their intentions and reported use of the tool. However, this was only the case if the user was aware of the environmental footprint of using the tool.”

“This is an important finding because if users are unaware of the impact of their usage, they will not necessarily change their behavior”, explains Prof. GOETHALS. “For instance, if people are not aware of the environmental footprint of images they send in emails, for instance embedded in PowerPoint files, and they are not aware they can easily compress those pictures, they will not compress them. And all those big emails will then take a lot of storage space on servers, consuming energy.”

Applications for internet-based platforms

The authors note the study has implications for different stakeholders. Online platforms might want to be more proactive in the ways they inform users of their services about the environmental footprint of the different options. For instance, Netflix uses thousands of servers to stream videos, but if subscribers could be motivated – by educating them about the environmental footprint – to lower their video quality settings, Netflix would need less server capacity.

In addition to lowering their own footprint, this could also actually help these companies to save money (as they would reduce their energy needs etc.) and actually contribute to giving them a greener corporate image.

Educating users about their footprint

This study underlines the importance of educating the end user. “We found that people with higher environmental concerns are not necessarily better informed about the environmental footprint of their IT use. So, there are citizens with environmental concerns who are open to changing their behavior.  However, they need to be aware of what they can do, so we need to inform them,” adds Prof. Goethals. 

Furthermore, as end users become more informed and aware about the impact of their IT use, it is also likely they will look for more responsible alternatives, and this is something the ICT sector should take into account when delivering and developing services.

Areas for future research

The authors point out that much previous research has focused on the “Greening of IT”, which refers to the development of more-energy efficient technology, rather than the greening of IT use.

They also point to new avenues for research in terms of Green usage of IT, something which they underline has become increasingly important given the explosion in these technologies in recent years… and the expectations that demand will continue to grow in the next decade.

More information is available in their study: *”The Greening of IT use: the impact of environmental concerns on the use of internet systems”, published in Information, Technology and People (Volume 37, issue 1, 2024).

Category (ies)

CSR, Sustainability & DiversityIT, Technology & Industry


IÉSEG Insights

IÉSEG Insights


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