This methodological note aims to explain the functioning of WeNR, the tool for measuring the environmental footprint of information systems developed and proposed by the network of Institutes for Sustainable IT (ISIT/INR) in Europe in collaboration with its partners, including La Rochelle University and EIGSI.
WeNR 2021, the first version of the tool launched on 31 March 2021, analyzed the impact of the use of more than 1.3 million European employees and 5 million digital devices, based on the responses of 75 participating European organizations.
With WeNR, we want to enable any organization to measure the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with its information system (IS) and assess its sustainable IT maturity. The challenge is to enable the deployment of sustainable IT approaches in organizations of all sizes.
To this end, WeNR is an open-access tool, based on open and public data, which takes place once or twice a year over sessions of 2 to 3 months. The calculated data gives a general idea of the IS footprint, but cannot be an exact calculation given all the factors to be taken into account.
Using WeNR allows organizations to calculate the environmental footprint of their Information System (IS) from an open database of impact factors, the main sources of which are:
There are 3 main steps to create the WeNR report:
The reports created, consisting of about 15 pages, provide information on the Information System footprint. ISIT/INR member organizations in Belgium, Switzerland and France receive a more comprehensive and detailed report than non-member organizations. They also benefit from additional reports delivered later in the year to allow them to compare their results, in an anonymized way, to several averages (global, by organization size or by activity sector).
Understanding the GHG emissions from the organization’s digital activity (digital footprint hereafter) is a complex task requiring the collection of large amounts of data from many different sources, as well as modeling and inference, as there is no condensed and comprehensive data. Assessment procedures typically combine top-down methods and data with complementary bottom-up data.
According to L.1450, the assessment procedure for estimating the digital footprint consists of a number of different steps, which are summarized in the list below.
1) Define the overall objective of the study in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector coverage, time horizon and geographic coverage.
2) Define the unit of reference.
3) Define the boundary details:
1) For each category of ICT goods, the following data should be collected:
2) Collection of contextual data useful for interpretation of results, such as number of subscribers and data traffic.
3) If the study aims to estimate results relative to overall GHG emissions, data should be collected for those emissions.
4) For each data point, the available data sets should be analyzed for quality, limitations, assumptions, etc.
1) Calculate the footprint of each ICT asset category.
2) Calculation of the overall footprint of the sector by adding the footprints of the different ICT goods categories.
1) Analysis of the overall footprint of the sector by adding up the footprints of the different categories of ICT goods.
2) Mandatory comparison of the results with other studies and analysis of differences and similarities between the results.
3) Optional derivation and analysis of the footprint per user and per data traffic, especially if the study is to be carried out in the context of a research project.
1) A report that clearly outlines the purpose and scope of the study. It describes the rationale for the study, the assumptions made, and the definition of key concepts (the unit of reference) and boundaries of the applied ICT sector.
2) Reference of the data set.
3) Rights or access – any known confidentiality, intellectual property rights, statutory rights, licenses or restrictions on reuse of the data.
The WeNR methodology is based on these steps. Based on this recommendation, we created several calculation formulas that are both quantitative and qualitative.
The first step of the work concerns the calculation of the impact of the IS from a quantitative point of view. The WeNR study chose to focus only on greenhouse gases (GHG). This decision to focus on only one type of indicator made it possible to be as precise as possible in the results given. However, given all the data provided and all the parameters to be taken into account, there is some uncertainty in the figures provided. This is especially true since the available data are not 100% accurate: despite the density of the available data, a certain number of impacts remain unassessed and cannot be evaluated.
The second step consists of evaluating the maturity of the organization in terms of implementing responsible digital practices (NR maturity): this is the so-called qualitative analysis.
Impact: the formula calculates the impact of manufacturing digital equipment.
The manufacturing impact of an equipment type is calculated by multiplying the number of devices of that type by their manufacturing impact factor.
Impact: The formulas calculate the impact of the use of digital equipment.
Above, we first calculated the impact of the device usage by multiplying it by the hours of usage per year and the GHG emission factor of the electricity used, based on the country of consumption or other information provided by the respondents. If we are calculating the impact of a piece of data center equipment, we must also multiply it by the data center’s energy efficiency metric (PUE).
To get the total impact on usage, we multiply it by the total number of devices of that type.
Total annual impact: This formula calculates the overall impact on IS GHGs in proportion to the life span of the equipment.
We calculated the overall annual GHG impact of the IS by dividing the impact of manufacturing each type of equipment by the number of years of use, and adding the impact of use over one year. We thus quantify the greenhouse gas emissions according to the life span of the equipment.
The NR maturity assessment is based on columns showing the degree of progress in the implementation of each good practice according to the objectives set by the organization. The assessment includes the calculation of the average level of progress of each good practice corresponding to each of the 10 main categories covered by the standard. If no value is provided for any of the practices indicated, this data will not be taken into account when calculating the average.
Based on the experience gained with the 2021 edition of the WeNR, the calculation method has been revised as follows for the 2022 edition. The objective of the analysis is to assess the degree of maturity according to two criteria:
The higher the maturity, the more ambitious the objectives and the higher the progress.
The breakdown of the NR maturity calculation is as follows:
This graph shows how the values were calculated.
Malmodin, J., Lundén, D., Moberg, Å, Andersson G, Nilsson, M. (2014). Life cycle assessment of ICT – Carbon footprint and operational electricity use from the operator, national and subscriber perspective in Sweden. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 18, 829-845.
CDP, UN Global Compact, WRI, WWF (2017). Science-based target setting
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