10 object lessons in Green IT and eGovernment

Diminishing resources and a growing world population underscore the absolute necessity of protecting our environment for the benefit of future generations. This will require us to rethink our existing patterns of resource use to globally establish a shared frame of reference and take concerted action. We have no other choice than to act collectively to achieve sustainable development.

Major forces at work would appear to support a general movement toward a sustainable society. A sustainable society is one that can fulfill its needs without experiencing catastrophic setbacks in the foreseeable future. The principles of a sustainable society are interrelated and mutually supporting, giving equal consideration to social development, economic development and preservation of the environment. The very concept of sustainability itself is defined as the confluence of these three constituent parts.

eGovernment is among the leading figures of this global movement. It is driven by a real awareness of the need to redirect a significant portion of the benefits of growth toward better human development. Digital modernization of processes used by public bodies and private enterprise will play an active role in striking a new balance between current and future needs.

 

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Lesson 1: The myth of return on investment

Return on investment can’t be reasonably expected from a movement that seeks to transform society over several generations. Although eGovernment programs have a major role to play in the emergence of a sustainable society, significant short-term budgetary gains are unrealistic. In fact, the lack of quantifiable gains from sustainable development often leads to disappointing results or even the failure of publicly funded programs. This is because performance targets are either not feasible or set without a relevant analytical frame of reference.

eGovernment initiatives modernize a state by endowing it with the technical infrastructure necessary to enable future government processes. France has already made a successful foray into eGovernment with online income tax filing, paperless medical expense claims and online VAT filing and payment. While measurable cost-benefit analysis has yet to be carried out, tremendous progress has been made through increased administrative productivity, lowered processing costs and an overall reduction in the country’s carbon footprint.

 

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Lesson 2: The myth of progress from green IT

Green IT can act as a powerful catalyst to close the social divide and promote human development. Even so, transformation is a process brought about by human endeavor, not technological achievement. Technology can actually widen the gap between the most affluent and the most disadvantaged due to unequal access to technological means, social differences and inequalities, and uneven penetration of usage. That is why bringing the Internet into villages for example is not enough to transform them.

The Drishtee project is a social enterprise focused on information and communication technologies. It provides a kiosk-based platform to deliver IT training and micro-financing and enable eCommerce in over 4,000 villages in rural India. Facilitating access to technology was not enough to achieve the social and economic transformations initially hoped for, however. Although it gave many agricultural communities access to expertise, the Drishtee project did not prove sustainable because deployment was not well rooted locally.

Kentaro Toyama: "ICT4D should be about people"

Drishtee Case Study
[International Conference on Achieving Connectivity for the Rural Poor in India, Baramati, India, May 31 - June 3, 2001]

 

Lesson 3: Green IT is really about people and their roots

Green IT is particularly effective when the right approach is used to introduce it into people’s everyday lives. Change is easier to implement when modernization does not alter frames of reference and meaning. As one example, the eco-development of sugar cane in the Philippines demonstrates that green IT can be a powerful way to leverage sustainable development policy.

As the 11th largest producer of sugar cane worldwide, the Philippines enacted a law on biofuels in 2006, opening the way for the production of ethanol for fuel. Commercial production of sugar cane as the main source of raw material is aimed at helping the country to diversify its energy use and ensure energy security. Innovative new technologies were required to make Philippine sugar and biofuels more competitive, particularly on the world market. Convinced of its effectiveness, farmers eagerly adopted drip irrigation, which raised production yield considerably while ensuring sustainable use of water resources.
 

Lesson 4: Healthcare, a hotbed for green IT development

Telemedicine is one promising area where green IT will have a fundamental impact on personal and social well-being. A top priority for any emerging sustainable society is the ability to provide a better standard of healthcare to an ever-growing number of patients. Using telecommunication and information technologies, telemedicine makes it possible to provide remote assistance to medically dependent persons and perform detailed diagnosis in more isolated regions that specialists cannot visit.

Telemedicine enables people to overcome the geographical and socio-economic barriers that isolate medically underequipped rural regions by providing them with access to healthcare services through multimedia technologies. Advanced satellite technologies also make it possible to project the spread of major diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera, as well as other diseases responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. These epidemics can now be tracked by satellite sensors and monitored through tele-epidemiology.
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Lesson 5: Green IT, the key to sustainable traceability

The society of the 21st century will be one that is fundamentally mobile and traceable. For world health authorities, broad traceability can help determine the causes of food contamination, reducing the potential danger to the public at large. For private enterprise, traceability can help companies comply with standards and promote development to increase competitiveness and improve quality management.

Traceability can also contribute to an efficient digital world for public authorities and citizens. Electronic identity, signature, time stamping and archiving are essential to ensuring legal protection and redress. In this regard, eID forms the key link in the chain of trust. When requested, the governments of Belgium, Estonia and Portugal are required to disclose any electronic records maintained on individual citizens. Belgian citizens can also contest whether their government has the right or legal obligation to maintain certain records. In all instances, allowing traceability to serve citizens’ interests fosters civic behavior and self-regulation. .


 

Lesson 6: The right to be different in a sustainable society

Based on the harmonious co-existence of diversity, the sustainable society is a social model that places people, human development and personal well-being at the center of how society is to be structured. Naturally, such a society believes that inspiring people to fulfill their potential is essential. This in turn means encouraging individuals to stand out from the crowd. With the advent of new technology, eID takes on special significance.

By managing the relationship between individual identity and all secondary identities without risk, eID contributes to the emergence of new, multi-layered identities. Rooted in the citizen’s social, hereditary and professional titles, eID enables management of secondary identities for each circle of trust to which the citizen belongs. Over and above national and regional borders, what really defines individuals are the circles of trust they belong to, in which they can freely express a multi-layered identity in all its richness and complexity.

 

Lesson 7: There can be no green IT without green spirit

Behind efforts to fight climate change rages a debate on how best to create a more sustainable, balanced society and close the very divides that current development trends threaten to widen. Social innovation and new business-minded ideas are key to boosting productivity, both in the public sector and in philanthropic endeavors. Green technology already enables thousands of local projects to work more efficiently and on a grander scale.

New behaviors and methods—particularly those involving emerging technologies or tools—can only take root in society when used by locally based intermediaries, however. These individuals are well placed to ensure that transformations catch on and achieve results. This green spirit is embodied by the United Kingdom’s Big Society, which fosters social action, community engagement and public sector reform through a framework of policies and strategies. The initiative’s expansion of cooperative social activity aims to benefit individuals, communities and society.

 

Lesson 8: Green IT, a powerful tool for sustainable governance

To effect lasting change, sustainable governance must transform uncertainty into opportunity, creating an exponential capacity for innovation and new initiatives. National governments realize that a sustainable society model for the post-industrial era still needs to be created. A new governmental organization is required at all levels to reconcile central mandates with local objectives. Green IT’s ease in facilitating point-to-point exchanges will prove instrumental to achieving cooperation at a local level rather than strictly conforming to policy set forth by central authorities.

Support from public authorities provides the critical resources needed to create communities of interest and local systems of government enabled by green IT. Like the UK’s Big Society, the Obama administration’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation uses public policy as a catalyst of local civic engagement. The recently created agency promotes the use of new communications technology to identify and fund innovative community solutions with demonstrated results.

 

Lesson 9: Building a sustainable society means doing one’s part

The sustainable society is not merely a concept. It is rooted in ideal social values that determine the highest priorities for the enablement of human development. Both the 2010 Deutsche Post DHL study on green business trends and the third annual National Geographic/GlobeScan Consumer Greendex demonstrate that the general public is more than ready to take voluntary action to enter the era of sustainable development.

Consumers would appear to have regained control of the social value system by taking action to do their part to promote sustainability. Two-thirds of consumers surveyed say they would make purchasing choices based on the sustainable development policy of a company or brand. Respondents also said they expect greener alternatives to be available at the same price as conventional services in the near future. For their part, 56% of businesses surveyed believe consumers prefer greener solutions to cheaper ones.
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Lesson 10: From window dressing to genuine green spirit

Public authorities and businesses are coming to realize that unsubstantiated claims are just window dressing for an increasingly sophisticated public and clientele. Today’s citizen has high expectations of concrete action to achieve sustainability goals. To effect the cultural change necessary to achieve a sustainable society, organizations must move beyond empty claims to produce products and services that can herald the society of the future.

For public authorities, eID programs and eGovernment services are vital because they go to the very heart of the bond between citizens and public services. These increasingly widespread services enable citizens to exercise their rights and become more involved in administrative procedures. eID is destined to become the standard-bearer and symbol for bridge-building between citizens and public services. Indeed, it represents renewed stock given to local needs, the hope for a brighter future, and the emergence of a new society over the long term.