The Sustainability of ICT: The Carbon Footprint Nobody Talks About 

In the global pursuit of sustainability, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) often stands out as a beacon of hope, promising innovative solutions to mitigate environmental challenges. However, amidst the celebration of ICT’s potential, there lies a significant yet overlooked issue: the carbon footprint of the technology itself. 

As we embrace ICT in every facet of our lives, from communication to commerce, and witness the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s crucial to confront the energy demands and environmental impacts of these digital innovations. While it’s easy to applaud the efficiency gains and carbon savings that ICT can bring, we must also acknowledge the environmental cost of powering this digital revolution. 

Increasing Emissions

The ICT sector accounts for approximately 3-4% of global carbon emissions [1], a figure that is projected to rise with the expansion of digital technologies. Within Europe itself, the energy consumption of data centers, the backbone of ICT infrastructure, is a significant contributor to this carbon footprint. According to recent JRC report [2] 45–65 TWh of electricity is consumed by data centers in 2022 (1.8–2.6% of total EU electricity use), while telecommunication networks used an estimated 25–30 TWh of electricity (1–1.2% of total EU electricity use) 

The rise of AI and IoT technologies will further amplify the energy demand of ICT. AI, with its complex algorithms and data-intensive computations, requires substantial computational power, often provided by energy-intensive servers. Similarly, the IoT, which connects billions of devices to the internet for data collection and analysis, also adds to the strain on ICT infrastructure, increasing its carbon dioxide (CO2) output even further. 

Urgency to Act

It’s evident that the ongoing digitization of society and recent ICT trends are also transforming the telecommunications landscape, which in turn is leading to increased power consumption and CO2 production.  

Generations like 4G and 5G have already made strides in reducing radio power consumption, but when looking at future projections of ICT’s carbon footprint, despite 5G’s more efficient radio transmission technology, it could still contribute to a significant increase in energy demand in data centers by up to 3.8 TWh by 2025 [3] 

This underscores the pressing need for innovative approaches to reduce the carbon footprint of ICT services, particularly in the context of 6G; the next-generation mobile telecommunications.  

The urgency to act is further emphasized by initiatives like the European Green Deal [4], which aims to make Europe carbon-neutral and highlights the importance of circular economy principles. The Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI) under the European Green Deal may require reliable carbon footprint measurements for all products and services provided in the EU, including ICT services. 

Holistic Approach

Addressing the carbon footprint of ICT services does require a more holistic approach, contrary to what is available now. The current mobile architectures, including 5G, are disconnected from both the service realm and many infrastructural provisions, making it challenging to maximize resource efficiency or minimize carbon footprint. 

This is where projects like EXIGENCE come into play. Inspired by the urgent demands of the current situation and the advent of 6G technology, EXIGENCE aims to devise a novel approach to reducing the energy consumption and carbon footprint of ICT services. By encompassing, evaluating, and optimizing ICT service invocations from end-to-end, EXIGENCE seeks to improve resource efficiency and achieve significant reductions in energy consumption. 

To achieve this goal, EXIGENCE proposes flexible architectural patterns, new modules, and interfaces with additional procedures for measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of ICT services. Proper incentive mechanisms across the ICT service delivery value chain will be crucial for driving adoption and ensuring the success of such initiatives. 

The need for Innovative Solutions

However, accurately measuring the carbon footprint of ICT services poses a significant challenge. Currently, it’s not feasible to retrieve comprehensive data across domains in the ICT sector to assess such figures accurately. Energy-related data, including consumption and the actual energy mix, must be fetched from various sources, including the local device (terminal), the mobile network, end-to-end transport, and service endpoints like data centers, respectively accounting for each particular flow or task. 

As of today, fetching real numbers from all these crossed domains cannot be implemented due to lacking interfaces to access such data and mechanisms for energy or CO2e-specific accounting on a per-user flow basis. There is a notable absence of standardized formats, data structures, and semantics for such measurements, making it challenging to gather and interpret the necessary information uniformly across the ICT ecosystem. 

In contrast, upcoming EU regulations [5] suggest making eco-impact data available along with each ICT service. This shift towards transparency and accountability underscores the importance of developing reliable methods and tools for measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of ICT services, driving the need for initiatives like EXIGENCE. 

Towards a sustainable digital era

In conclusion, while ICT holds great promise in driving sustainability efforts, we must not ignore its own carbon footprint. With the increasing digitization of society including the emergence of 6G technology, it’s imperative to develop innovative solutions to help reduce the environmental impact of ICT services and pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future. 

EXIGENCE stands at the forefront of this endeavor, pioneering novel approaches to tackle the carbon footprint of ICT services. As the project progresses, it promises to unveil insights and solutions that could reshape the landscape of ICT sustainability. Stay tuned to follow EXIGENCE’s developments as we work towards a more sustainable digital era. 


  1. Charlotte Freitag,Mike Berners-Lee,Kelly Widdicks,Bran Knowles,Gordon S. Blair,Adrian Friday, “The real climate and transformative impact of ICT: A critique of estimates, trends, and regulations”  
  2. The JRC Highlights Report 2023, Simpson, C., JRC Highlights Report 2023, Bonjean, I., Fornara, M., Jonkers, K., Klaassen, T., Lehto, S., Soldatova, L., Thielen Del Pozo, J. and Westra Van Holthe, M. editor(s), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2024 
  3. Tim Höfer, Sebastian Bierwirth und Reinhard Madlener, „C15 – Energie Mehrverbrauch in Rechenzentren bei Einführung des 5G Standards“ ( 
  4. European Commission – “A European Green Deal” ( 
  5. European Commission – “EU Circular Economy Action Plan” ( 

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