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Green ICT: a strategy for sustainable development of China's electronic information industry.


Since China's reform and opening up in the late 1970s, information technology (IT) and information and communication technology (ICT) have been perceived by the central government as "an important driving force for economic and social development". (1) In the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 2002, the government launched the national strategy of "let informatisation drive industrialisation, and let industrialisation promote informatisation". (2) This strategy reinforces the importance and critical role of IT towards achieving industrialisation and modernisation in China.

The electronic information industry, also known as the ICT industry, consists of two fundamental sectors, namely the manufacturing industry for designing and producing ICT products and accessories (e.g., desktop personal computers (PCs), laptops, tablet PCs, DVD-ROM drives, monitors, printers, scanners, mobile phones, and TVs), and the software industry, which includes the design, development, implementation and maintenance services of computer software and information systems. As the backbone of the development of informatisation and the building of an information society in China, the electronic information industry is considered by the State Council as "a strategic, fundamental and pioneering pillar industry of the national economy".

With substantial political and financial support from the government, China's electronic information industry has achieved rapid and continuous development over the last 30 years. From the beginning of the 21st century, China's manufacturing output increased from RMB755 billion in 2000 to RMB4,456 billion in 2009, accounting for more than 8 per cent of the nation's total manufacturing industry. (3) Sales in the software industry has also increased sharply, from RMB76 billion in 2001 to RMB1,336.4 billion in 2010, registering an average annual growth of 38 per cent. (4)

However, the apparent success of the sector and the increasing use of ICT-related products in the society have caused significant environmental issues that can threaten the long-term development of the ICT industry. In particular, the production of ICT products is in fact very energy intensive; for example, it is estimated that producing a desktop computer with a 17-inch CRT monitor consumes 6,400 megajoules of energy and 260 kilogrammes of fossil fuels. (5) The widespread use of various ICT products not only leads to higher electricity consumption but more importantly, also leads to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For example, the use of every desktop PC can lead to 0.1 tons of CO2 emissions per year (6) (electricity generated by fossil fuels creates CO2 emission issues in the usage of ICT products while electricity generated by renewable sources, such as solar or wind power, do not produce CO2 emissions). Considering the fact that China manufactures thousands of millions of ICT-related products each year, the associated environmental impacts and pollution problems are mind-boggling. Moreover, the disposal of such large quantities of ICT products at the end of their lifecycle leads to further environmental challenges.

While the fixation is on increasing industrial profit margins, improving indigenous innovation and mitigating the negative effects of the 2008 financial crisis on China's ICT industry, the environmental issues have not received sufficient consideration from industrial manufacturers and ICT product users (e.g., chief executive officers, managers and employees of companies, and individual citizens). This article thus provides an analysis and discussion of the current environmental challenges faced by China's ICT industry. The objective of this paper is to increase the awareness of Chinese policymakers, industrial manufacturers, and commercial and home users about the emerging severe environmental problems caused by the production and increasing use of ICT products in the information age. (7)

The article is structured as follows. The next section provides a brief background of the development of informatisation in China, followed by a review of the government's development plans for the ICT industry as well as an overview of the industry's status quo. The environmental issues at various stages of manufacturing, and the usage and disposal of ICT products are subsequently discussed. This article proposes the use of green ICT as a possible solution and strategy to handle the environmental challenges. Finally, the article reviews successful green ICT experience in the West, together with a discussion of the potential difficulties and barriers in implementing green ICT in China, as well as conclusions and recommendations.


China's informatisation development can be traced back to the 1970s, when the country advocated the use of computers to support government administrative activities. (8) In the 1980s, a number of information system development projects were launched and completed in 12 key sectors of the national economy. (9) The building of China's national information highway started in 1993 when the government launched the Golden Bridge Project, which aimed to form a nationwide network linking together all discrete and diverse networks across the country, thus serving as the backbone of China's national information infrastructure. As a result of the Golden Bridge Project, by the early 2000s, China had built up a modern information network covering more than 2,000 cities in the country and linking all the major international networks in the world. (10)

Associated with the development of this national information network, the number of net citizens (i.e., users of the Internet) in China has increased annually (Figure 1). According to the official data provided by the China Internet Network Information Center, (11) in October 1997, China had only 0.62 million net citizens, with only 0.3 million PCs that had access to the Internet. However, by the end of 2005, the number of net citizens and PCs with Internet access grew to 111 million and 49.5 million respectively. By July 2010, the number of net citizens reached 420 million, accounting for 31.8 per cent of the Chinese population. In addition, Chinese net citizens are no longer just using traditional desktop PCs to gain access to the Internet. A larger number in fact also use their wireless laptops (36.8 per cent) and mobile phones (65.9 per cent) to browse the Web. With this popularisation rate of Internet usage, China has now become the largest Internet-using country in the world--well ahead of the United States.

Apart from the achievement in popularisation, the results of informatisation development in Chinese companies are also very remarkable. In particular, all Chinese large-sized firms nowadays have computer facilities and company websites. Of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 94.8 per cent were equipped with PCs, and 43 per cent had built their own company web pages by end-2010. Moreover, according to CCW Research, (12) IT investment in China's manufacturing sector reached RMB24.5 billion in 2004, of which 61 per cent was invested in hardware and IT infrastructure-building and 39 per cent in the development of information systems and the outsourcing of IT services. A more recent survey report by CCW Research (13) showed that IT investment in the manufacturing sector increased to RMB52.9 billion in 2010.

Overall, such rapid development of informatisation in China has resulted in a high national demand for ICT products at both the organisational and individual levels. In order to meet the increasing national demand of ICT equipment as well as to accelerate the progress of national informatisation and industrialisation, the Chinese government has provided very substantial support in developing the domestic ICT industry.



Since the 1980s, the government has formulated and implemented a wide range of industrial programmes and policies to support and promote the development of the ICT industry. One of the prominent programmes is the "National High-Tech Research and Development Program" (also known as the "863 Program"). (14) Launched in March 1986, it specifically emphasised that the electronic information industry was one of China's prioritised development sectors. Moreover, China has continuously placed the ICT industry at the top of the national development agenda in various Five-Year Development Plans. (15)

Most of these policies/programmes call for special government funds to be assigned and used to support the indigenous research and development (R&D) of core technologies and products in the electronic information industry. (16) In particular, a major fund operated by the Chinese government in this sector is the "Development Fund for the Electronics and Information Industry" (also known as the "IT Fund") established in 1986. From 1986 to 2010, the IT Fund supported a total of 3,909 R&D projects with funding of RMB8.02 billion. (17)

In addition, China's ICT companies are able to tap into a host of tax benefits and incentives available to them, including income tax exemption and reduction, value-added tax rebate and exemption, and preferential tariff treatment. For example, China's software companies can enjoy full income tax exemption for the first two years from the first year of profit generation, followed by a 50 per cent tax reduction for the subsequent three years. It is clear that these tax incentives can help increase the profit margins of ICT companies in China.

In 2008, the global economic crisis hit the international market and China's national economy hard. In the second half of 2008, the export growth rate of ICT products slowed down considerably. Sales revenue of many subsectors in China's electronic information industry showed a significant decrease and even negative growth rates. Many leading domestic companies in the sector also reported operational and financial difficulties. In response to these severe challenges, the State Council released a new "Revitalising Plan for the Electronic Information Industry, 2009-2011" in April 2009. This plan provided a set of development guidelines in seven key areas, namely increasing the national demand for electronic information products, increasing state investment and policy support, improving the investment environment, supporting mergers and acquisitions, exploring the international market and enhancing indigenous innovation. (18)

Hence, the remarkable development of China's electronic information industry in the last three decades can be attributed, in large measure, to the Chinese government's strong political and financial support.


China's electronic information industry contains two essential components: the manufacturing sector and the software industry. As the world's leading manufacturer and assembler of ICT products, in 2009, China produced 182.2 million units of desktop PCs, 619 million units of mobile phones, 99 million units of TVs and 41.4 billion units of integrated circuits, which accounted for 60.9 per cent, 49.9 per cent, 48.3 per cent and 12.9 per cent of the world's total production respectively. (19) Exports of ICT products grew from USD55.1 billion in 2000 to USD591.2 billion in 2010, accounting for 37.5 per cent of China's total exports. A number of domestic ICT manufacturing companies, led by Huawei, Konka, TCL and ZTE, have become increasingly well-known in the international market. Furthermore, the industrial output value of the ICT manufacturing sector in 2009 increased rapidly from RMB583.1 billion in 1999 to RMB4,456.3 billion, registering an average annual growth rate of 22.5 per cent (Figure 2).

It is noteworthy that the ICT manufacturing sector accounted for 8.1 per cent of the total national industrial output. Table 1 shows that this represents the highest contribution to China's total industrial output. The rapid development of the ICT manufacturing sector has also created job opportunities in China, with 6.64 million people in employment in 2009, accounting for 7.5 per cent of the total national industrial employment (Table 1).

On the other hand, the software industry, as an emerging sector, is playing an increasingly important and strategic role in the national economy. Sales in China's software industry increased dramatically from RMB59.3 billion in 2000 to RMB583.4 billion in 2007, registering an annual growth rate of over 30 per cent. The 2007 sales also accounted for 8.7 per cent of the world's total, making China the fourth-largest IT market in the world. (20) In 2010, the sales revenue of the software industry reached RMB1,330 billion, representing 18 per cent of the total sales of China's ICT industry. Employment in the software industry also increased significantly from 300,000 in 2000 to 2 million in 2010. (21)

Overall, given the high contribution to the national economy, China's electronic information industry is widely perceived as the number one pillar industry of the country. (22) However, the ICT industry's breakneck growth and the wide usage of ICT products in China have led to a slew of serious environmental issues. Although the central government is aware of these ICT-related pollution issues and is attempting to tackle them, results have not been seen yet. Moreover, given the size and the fluid situation of the country, China faces great difficulty in countering these environmental challenges.



It is widely recognised that the use of ICT tools can help address environmental problems by improving production efficiency, reducing unnecessary production waste and enhancing production control. However, environmental issues caused by the increasing use of ICT products have not been well reported. This section highlights China's current level of CO2 emissions, and provides a critical discussion of how the manufacturing, use and disposal of ICT products increase C[O.sub.2] emissions in China.

Chinas Increasing C[O.sub.2] Emissions and Government Commitment

Official statistics provided by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency showed that, in 2005, China's CO2 emissions were 2 per cent lower than the US's emissions. (23) However, in 2006, China's C[O.sub.2] emissions surpassed the US's by 8 per cent. China has since become the world's largest carbon dioxide-emitting country. Since 2006, China's CO2 emissions continue to soar rapidly. Further statistics provided by the US Energy Information Administration show that China's C[O.sub.2] emissions reached 7,711 million tons in 2009--higher than the combined total of the US, India and Canada--an increase of 171 per cent since 2000. (24)

Faced with severe environmental threats, China has recently taken significant steps to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions. In 2007, China released its first national strategy on climate change, namely China's National Climate Change Program. (25) In conjunction with China's 11th and 12th Five-Year Plan, this plan aims to reduce the country's CO2 emissions substantially by improving energy efficiency, upgrading energy-saving technologies and expanding low-carbon energy supply. (26) China's committed target is to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent below the 2005 levels by 2020. (27)

An Industrial Dilemma: Will ICT Reduce or Increase C[O.sub.2] Emissions?

It is widely understood that ICT is one of the most important tools for China to achieve its committed targets to reduce C[O.sub.2] emissions and build a low-carbon society. In fact, the adoption of ICT technologies (e.g., computerised information systems) has significantly transformed the legacy system of China's manufacturing companies. Such ICT-enabled transformation has resulted in better production control and monitoring, more efficient resource management, better transportation and logistic management, less energy waste and less pollution emissions in the industry across the country. It was estimated that every kilowatt-hour of electricity devoted to ICT would result in saving an average of 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity for the entire economy. (28)

Although ICT does have the potential to save energy by making other processes more energy-efficient, there may be rebound effects. (29) Rebound effects are empirically known to work against energy/resource usage efficiency in energy economies. One of the most crucial rebound effects related to ICT is that the increasing use of ICT products at work and at home has led to a significant increase in the ICT sector's carbon footprint. Gartner (a very well-known international IT consulting firm) estimated that the global ICT industry was responsible for 2 per cent of the world's C[O.sub.2] emissions-- a figure equivalent to the aviation industry. (30) In China, it was estimated that C[O.sub.2] emissions from the domestic ICT industry accounted for 2.4 per cent of the country's total in 2007. (31) It was also estimated that by 2020, the ICT industry would produce 415 million tons of C[O.sub.2] emissions, which represents 3.0 to 3.3 per cent of China's total emissions. The increasing C[O.sub.2] emissions of the ICT industry in the world in general, and in China in particular, are attributed to a wide range of pollution issues that can occur during the manufacturing, transportation, usage and disposal of ICT products. (32)

As discussed earlier, the production of many ICT products and related components are resource-intensive and energy-intensive. For example, a study by the United Nations University revealed that the manufacturing process of a desktop PC with a 17-inch monitor required the use of 1.8 tons of materials and natural resources, including 240 kilogrammes of fossil fuels, 22 kilogrammes of chemicals and 1,500 kilogrammes of water (equivalent to the quantity of resources required to produce a mid-sized vehicle). (33)

According to a report from the European Commission, the average power consumption of a laptop is about 97.34 kilowatt-hours per year; (34) this can result in 38.94 kilogrammes of CO2 emissions. For a desktop PC with a 17-inch monitor, the CO2 emissions were estimated at almost 0.1 ton per year. (35) Given that China manufactured 182.2 million units of desktop PCs and 150 million units of laptops in 2009, the amount of CO2 emissions from production to use is enormous.

Furthermore, with increasing consumer demand for new functionality, the lifecycle of ICT products has become much shorter. The disposal and recycling of these ICT products is fraught with problems and difficulties. It is common knowledge that ICT products contain various harmful and toxic substances such as lead and mercury. Therefore, the recycling process of these products is very complicated and energy-intensive. Instead of being handled with proper collection and recycling techniques, many ICT products are often simply dumped into landfills. In the US, 92 per cent of obsolete laptops end up in landfills and only 8 per cent are recycled. (36) Worse, most discarded and toxic electronic waste (e-waste) from developed countries has been shipped overseas to Asian developing countries such as China and India. It is estimated that 70 per cent of the world's e-waste in the world has been illegally brought to China every year. (37) With the addition of 2.3 million tons of e-waste generated domestically, (38) China has been facing very severe environmental threats.


The above discussion shows that while ICT is a key tool for the reduction of China's carbon footprint, the ICT industry per se is ironically a significant source of pollution emissions. Therefore, building an environment-friendly ICT industry is imperative not only for sustainable development of this sector, but also for meeting the energy saving and environment improvement goals of the overall economy in the long term. Consequently, the "green ICT" strategy has emerged in recent years as a holistic way to achieve these objectives.

Main Features of Green ICT

Green ICT is a strategy implemented over the entire lifecycle of ICT products, from design and development to usage and disposal. It aims to achieve the green and sustainable use of ICT in the information society, and reduce the current 2 per cent figure of global CO2 emissions generated by the electronic information industry. As green ICT is a fairly new concept that emerged in the West, it is hard to find a universally accepted definition of it. To encompass the elaborate concept and all of its essential aspects, this article considers the definition given by Murugesan (39) and Elliot (40) and defines green ICT as:
   The strategy and practice for designing, producing, using and
   disposing ICT products and related components and accessories in an
   efficient and environment-friendly manner to minimise harmful
   effects and achieve sustainable use of ICT in the long term.

In actual practice and implementation, green ICT covers a wide range of collaborative activities categorised into four main types:

* Green design of ICT. In terms of green design, ICT technologists, designers and developers should explore innovative designs and technologies for maximising energy efficiency and minimising the environmental impact of ICT products. One such example is "Energy Star"-qualifying computers. The Energy Star programme was launched by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992 and then revised in 2006. According to the revised requirements of the programme, all Energy Star-qualifying PCs are designed to be 65 per cent more power-efficient than conventional ones.

* Green production of ICT. In terms of green production, ICT manufacturers should attempt to reduce the use of harmful substances in ICT products by investigating new alternative materials or solutions. Moreover, current production and transportation models adopted by ICT manufacturers should be reviewed, evaluated and improved in order to reduce power consumption and the carbon footprint during these processes.

* Green use of ICT. Modern ICT-intensive organisations (especially banks, universities, government institutions, hospitals, and large and medium-sized companies across all industries) should develop and implement a set of internal policies and initiatives to enable energy-saving and environment-friendly use of ICT. Some basic green ICT activities being adopted by leading global companies (e.g., Microsoft, Google, HP, GE, Toyota and Fujitsu) include:

** setting double-sided printing as the default for all office printers (to prevent unnecessary paper wastage);

** encouraging video conferencing meetings across geographical locations (to reduce travel costs and related carbon footprint);

** purchasing and using Energy Star-qualifying PCs and monitors (to reduce energy costs);

** turning off the main power of buildings (and thus all PCs) after office hours (to reduce power consumption);

** outsourcing databases, servers and IT applications to third-party IT firms in a cloud computing environment (41) (to reduce the number of in-house servers required and simplify the internal IT infrastructure).

In fact, many of these practices (e.g., using double-sided printing, switching off PCs when not in use, purchasing Energy Star-qualifying computers) can be implemented not only by organisations but also by individual home users in order to reduce ICT energy consumption in the whole society.

* Green disposal of ICT. Agreements can be established between ICT manufacturers and ICT-intensive organisations to ensure proper collection and return of obsolete ICT products for recycling. Manufacturers and distributors of ICT products may also establish certain reward schemes (e.g., offer cashbacks or give discounts for the next purchase) to encourage consumers to trade in unused ICT equipment. These green disposal activities conducted by ICT manufacturers should be acknowledged and supported by the government.

The wide range of green ICT activities involves various stakeholders in different areas (e.g., government policymakers, ICT technologists and manufacturers, user organisations and individual citizens). Also, given the diverse causes of the ICT sector's carbon footprint, a standalone endeavour is insufficient for making substantial effects towards improving ICT energy consumption. Therefore, to encourage environment-friendly use of ICT, what is essential is an integrated, nationwide effort that includes government support and initiatives, industry-wide collaboration and cooperation, interdisciplinary research, and extensive social awareness. (42)

Benefits of Green ICT

The immediate benefit of implementing green ICT is the reduction of the ICT industry's environmental impact and pollution emissions. A holistic approach in the green ICT strategy will yield sustainable benefits at both the national and organisational levels.

Successful implementation of a nationwide green ICT strategy at the national level can substantially reduce the nation's C[O.sub.2] emissions, energy consumption and resource wastage. This will help leading polluting countries--China, the US and India--to achieve their committed targets of C[O.sub.2] reduction by 2020, as well as to improve their international image.

At the organisational level, ICT-incentive organisations can significantly reduce energy and IT costs by adopting good practices of green ICT. For instance, it was estimated that higher education (HE) institutions in the United Kingdom have a total of 1,468,000 computers, 246,000 printers, and 238,000 servers. These pieces of ICT equipment are typically used for fewer than 40 hours a week, but are often always left switched on (this comes to a total of about 168 hours per week). Consequently, the UK's HE sector has to foot a hefty ICT electricity bill of at least 116 million pounds per year. By encouraging the intelligent use of ICTs, the UK HE sector is expected to make more efficient use of its IT infrastructure and save up to 75 per cent of its electricity bill annually. This may also enhance the lifetime of the hardware, thus reducing the IT cost of purchasing new hardware.

Other than direct cost savings, green ICT can also offer intangible benefits to organisations. In particular, the adoption of green ICT to reduce C[O.sub.2] emissions will enable organisations to better fulfil their social responsibilities and improve their corporate image and reputation. Employees, especially those in the West, tend to show higher levels of loyalty and satisfaction when they work in an organisation that has clear social and environmental commitments. (43) Moreover, organisations that are environmentally conscious see positive marketing impact in increasing customer loyalty and attracting new customers.

Table 2 provides a summary of the key green ICT benefits as discussed above.

Green ICT Programmes in the US and Europe

As the carbon footprint of the ICT sector receives increased international attention, Western countries, led by the US and European countries, have been working closely in recent years to establish and implement holistic and integrated green ICT plans and programmes. These cover the entire lifecycle of ICT products, from design, production, usage to disposal.

The US government plays a significant role in establishing the Energy Star programme as a means to promote energy-efficient design of office ICT equipment (e.g., PCs, PC monitors, printers, fax machines, photocopiers and scanners). (44) In 2001, the European Union (EU) partnered with the US government and launched the EU version of the Energy Star programme. (45) Since then, office equipment that is specifically designed to meet the predefined energy-efficient criteria of the programme receives the Energy-Star label in the US and European markets. ICT-incentive organisations in these countries are encouraged by their government to purchase Energy Star-qualifying equipment.

To cover the production aspect, the EU launched the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive in 2003. This directive restricts the amount of use of six hazardous materials (i.e., lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ether) in the production of various types of electronic and electrical products. Using the RoHS directive as a guide, all EU member states have adopted their own implementation policies and laws to restrict and control the use of toxic substances in the manufacturing of ICT equipment. On the other hand, although the US currently does not have a federal law regulating the use of hazardous substances in ICT products, individual states have been attempting to implement their own laws related to this issue. For instance, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA) adopted by California is generally referred to as the "California RoHS".

As a complement to the RoHS directive, the EU also released the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in 2003. (46) The WEEE directive imposes responsibilities for the disposal of obsolete electrical and electronic equipment on manufacturers. As a result, all ICT manufacturers in the EU are predisposed to establish appropriate procedures and targets for collecting, recycling and/or reusing e-waste in an environment-friendly manner. In the US, despite the current lack of federal laws concerning recycling e-waste, some individual states (e.g., California) have established statewide programmes that require manufacturers to gather and recycle disposed ICT and electronic equipment.

Apart from these directives and programmes that are being applied to manufacturers, in recent years many EU member countries have also started implementing regulations that aim to improve energy efficiency and cut emissions in ICT organisations. For instance, the UK government introduced the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme in 2008. (47) This mandatory scheme involves all large public and private sector organisations (including all government departments, universities, hospitals, banks, supermarkets and large manufacturing companies), which currently contribute 10 per cent of the UK's emissions. All participants of the scheme are required to report their annual energy usage and emissions to the government, as well as buy allowances for their C[O.sub.2] emissions each year (the CRC allowance is planned to be sold at a fixed price of 12 pounds per ton of C[O.sub.2] from 2012). In other words, the less energy an organisation consumes, the lower the energy bill and CRC allowance that the organisation needs to pay. By adopting these procedures, the CRC scheme aims to encourage organisations to develop and implement energy management strategies (such as internal green ICT strategies) to achieve better utilisation of energy and thus reduce emissions and cost.

Green ICT Initiatives in China

Green ICT, one of the world's most widely discussed topics, has attracted the Chinese government's attention. By collaborating with Western partners and taking into account the successful practices adopted in the West, the Chinese central government has established a set of green ICT measures and programmes in recent years. In particular, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has been collaborating with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on several projects that are helping China to improve its energy efficiency. By learning from the US EPA's experience with its Energy Star programme, China set up a list of domestic energy-efficient standards for labelling 10 key ICT product categories, including PCs, monitors, TVs, office copiers, and fax machines. (48)

In 2006, China released a national regulation, known as the Administration on the Control of Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products (also commonly called the China RoHS), to control the use of toxic materials in ICT equipment. (49) The China RoHS, which came into effect in 2007, has similar functions as the EU RoHS, but differs from the EU directive in certain aspects. For example, the EU RoHS covers eight broad categories of products including ICT equipment, but the China RoHS focuses specifically on electronic information products. (50) This regulation is enforced and made mandatory for all ICT manufacturers, importers and distributors in the Chinese market.

In addition, the China WEEE directive (officially known as the "Regulations on the Recycling and Treatment of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment"), which was initially drafted in 2004 and revised in 2009, took effect from 1 January 2011. (51) The China WEEE, which is a complement to the China RoHS, sets out responsibilities for various parties (e.g., ICT manufacturers, distributors and importers) in relation to importing, recycling and disposing of waste of ICT equipment.

Overall, China's recent green effort has covered the design, manufacture and disposal phases of ICT equipment. Nevertheless, there are currently limited nationwide regulations that aim to promote energy-efficient use of office equipment in China's ICT-incentive organisations. Although China implemented a green public procurement programme in 2004 requiring all public sector organisations to purchase certified energy-efficient products, no similar regulations have been introduced to private sector organisations. Furthermore, the implementation of the green public procurement programme has also been fraught with problems and challenges. (52) As mentioned earlier, large public and private sector organisations, which are heavy ICT users and energy consumers, contribute 10 per cent of the C[O.sub.2] emissions in the UK. Although no similar statistics were found for China, it can be argued that given the size and number of large organisations in the country, the C[O.sub.2] emissions of these organisations are very high. It is hence essential for China to introduce more schemes and regulations (e.g., a similar scheme to the UK's CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme as discussed) to control and reduce the energy consumption and pollution emissions of these ICT-incentive organisations in both the public and private sectors.

Difficulties in the Green ICT Implementation in China

Despite the substantial government effort towards improving ICT-related environmental problems, implementation of the abovementioned programmes may not be easy in China, owing to the existence of several barriers in the current national context. This section provides an analysis of the key barriers that can affect green ICT implementation in China, and proposes some recommendations.

Poor Enforcement of Laws and Regulations

China has a large body of laws, the implementation of which, however, is not always easy. It is often pointed out that double standards exist in the enforcement of some laws in China, and that over/under-enforcement is not uncommon. (53) The existence of these problems can certainly threaten the effective implementation of the Chinese RoHS and WEEE regulations. For example, it has been frequently reported that despite the implementation of Chinese RoHS for over four years, many domestic ICT manufacturers have yet to adhere to the regulation that requires displaying the specification of the amount of toxic substances used in products on product packages. Due to a lack of awareness of the regulation and inefficient monitoring of local governments, many Chinese supermarkets and retailers nowadays are still selling ICT equipment and components that have not met the RoHS requirements.

This shows that related government departments (e.g., the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) must take further action to improve the enforcement of China RoHS and WEEE regulations. Chinese consumers should also be educated and made aware of these green ICT directives. By doing so, it is to be hoped that consumers will refuse to purchase ICT equipment that do not satisfy the mandatory requirements and learn to dispose ICT waste products in appropriate ways (e.g., return them to original manufacturers).

Insufficient Investment of ICT Manufacturers on Environment-Friendly Technologies and Processes

In order to meet the standards and requirements of the China RoHS and WEEE, domestic ICT manufacturers need to adopt new technologies and processes to minimise the use of toxic materials in manufacturing and ensure proper recycling and disposal of waste products. However, following the 2008 global financial crisis, many Chinese ICT manufacturers (especially those of smaller business size) struggled for survival and were thus not ready to invest further resources in the development of new production technologies and business processes.

As the Chinese government approved the enforcement of the China RoHS and WEEE regulations, it should provide sufficient support to help domestic ICT companies meet the required standards. For instance, more funding schemes should be launched to support industrial projects that aim to develop new green technologies. It will also be beneficial for Chinese ICT market leaders, partnered with their counterparts in the West, to share their green production and recycling experience with smaller players in the industry. These industry-wide collaborative activities should be supported, and probably even initiated and organised by the government.

Unbalanced Economic Development

Wide gaps and inequalities exist among different cities and regions in terms of China's industrialisation and economic development. Citizens in less developed and rural areas are less well-off and live in poorer conditions, and thus have less awareness of environment protection. The problem is particularly obvious in China's northwest region (e.g., Xinjiang, Qinghai and Ningxia) and certain areas in the southeast region (e.g., Guiyu in Guangdong and Taizhou in Zhejiang), in which the majority of the people are peasants and live in very discrete geographical areas. These local economic features make collection, disposal and recycling of ICT equipment extremely difficult. In fact, China's northwest region, where effective legal control and monitoring is lacking, has now become the country's largest base of toxic e-waste. Worst of all, due to the unavailability of proper recycling technologies and inefficient transportation, e-waste in these regions is simply dumped, in large quantities, into landfills, causing significant environmental damage in the long term.

To mitigate the problems and prevent the situation from worsening, the Chinese government should introduce new schemes (e.g., cashbacks or trade-in programmes) to encourage citizens and peasants in less developed and rural areas to return their obsolete ICT products through proper avenues. This will also help facilitate the government's investment in new ICT recycling centres in the northwest regions, and reduce the difficulties related to technology and local transportation.

Lack of Social Awareness and Interest in Environment Protection

China's national economic reforms have brought significant socio-economic and market changes. The most important change is the stiff competition introduced in the entire Chinese economy. Under a consistently competitive environment in modern China, individuals and organisations are increasingly driven by short-term and immediate economic benefits and are blind to or unaware of environmental threats and impacts. Consequently, there is disinterest among individuals and managers of organisations in cooperating with the government with respect to environmental protection. This can pose considerable barriers and resistance in implementing green ICT projects in Chinese firms.

Therefore, to effectively raise public awareness in China about the environmental impacts of increasing use of ICT equipment and the role and responsibilities individuals and organisations can take to help prevent further environmental degradation, the imminent task is to launch publicity and advertising campaigns in the mass media.

Lack of Green ICT Awareness in Organisations

The concept of green ICT is very recent. According to a survey conducted by CIO Insight China in 2008, (54) 65 per cent of Chinese chief information officers (CIOs) have not heard about green ICT. Of the remaining 35 per cent, 25 per cent stated that their organisations have not planned for any green ICT projects. Interestingly, the survey also found that 48 per cent of these Chinese CIOs have not received any information about green ICT equipment from their IT system and service providers. This finding clearly indicates that IT vendors should make greater efforts to promote green ICT to Chinese companies. The Chinese government should also consider the Western experiences and initiate more industrial schemes (like the UK's CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme), to encourage large public and private sector organisations to develop proper green ICT plans to improve their energy efficiency and reduce pollution emissions.


China's electronic information industry is one of the most important pillar industries in the national economy. In fact, it not only plays a strategic and fundamental role in driving China's industrialisation and modernisation development, but also advances the country's vision to build an energy-saving and environment-friendly society. Nonetheless, the rapid development of the ICT industry and the increasing use of ICT products have raised significant environmental concerns and threats to the Chinese economy. With China facing these environmental challenges, this article proposes the use of green ICT equipment as a strategy to reduce pollution and the carbon footprint at various stages of the ICT products' lifecycles, from design to disposal. While the Chinese government has drafted and assiduously put in place a set of green ICT regulations, the actual implementation is fraught with problems and difficulties. Moreover, public awareness of green ICT in China is still low. Given that there are many sources of ICT-related pollution, no single effort is sufficient to effect a substantial improvement in the situation. In order to achieve sustainable and more environmentally friendly use of ICT, it is imperative to build more substantial and closer collaboration and cooperation among government policy-makers and ICT manufacturers, ICT technologists, academic researchers and CEOs and managers. To conclude, China has made an important first step, but still has a long path ahead towards developing a green ICT industry.

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(4) Ministry of Information Industry, "Status Quo of China's Software Industry in 2010", at <http://www.> [26 Apr. 2011].

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(6) RK Incorporation, "What is Green Computing", at <> [9 Apr. 2011].

(7) The information age (also commonly known as the information era or digital age), refers to the phenomenon that, with the use of IT, individuals in the 21st century can transfer information more easily and freely, and get instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or even impossible to locate before.

(8) Chen Xiaozhu, "The Ideas and Practices of Promoting E-government in China", paper presented at the Asia E-Government Forum in 2007, at < apcity/unpan039695.pdf> [15 July 2011].

(9) Ibid.

(10) China Economic Yearbook Editorial Committee, China Economic Yearbook (Beijing: China Economic Yearbook Press Office, 2004).

(11) China Internet Network Information Center, Statistical Reports on the Internet Development in China, at <> [23 Mar. 2011].

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(13) CCW Research, "IT Investments of the Manufacturing Sector Reached RMB 52.9 billion in 2010", at <> [20 May 2011].

(14) "China's National High-Tech Research and Development Program, also known as the 863 Program, emerged in 1986 as a response to the growing technological and innovation gap between China and the West [...] The main objectives of the 863 Program are to fund technological research and innovation in areas of strategic importance to the nation's economic and social development", quoted from Ben Thornley, David Wood, Katie Grace and Sarah Sullivant, "Impact Investing: A Framework for Policy Design and Analysis", 2011, at < report/13-High_Tech_R&D_Program.pdf> [10 July 2011].

(15) China's Five-Year Plans are a series of economic development indicators. Each plan sets the blueprint, strategies and targets for national economic development for a period of five years. China is currently implementing its 12th Five-Year Plan for 2011-2015.

(16) Terence P. Stewart, "China's Industrial Subsidies Study: High Technology", 2007, at <http://origin. pdf> [12 Apr. 2011].

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(18) General Office of the State Council, "Planning on Adjusting and Revitalising the Electronic Information Industry".

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(20) Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, "China's Software Industry Reached RMB583.4 Billion", at <> [12 Apr. 2011].

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(41) Cloud computing refers to an emerging and innovative model for enabling convenient and on-demand access to a pool of shared computing resources (e.g., databases, servers, IT applications and services) through the internet.

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(51) More information about the China WEEE is available at <> [16 June 2011].

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(53) Charles Pigott, China in the World Economy: The Domestic Policy Challenges. (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2002), pp. 378-80.

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Guo Chao Alex Peng ( is Lecturer of Information Systems in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, UK. He obtained his PhD in Information Systems from the University of Sheffield. His research interests include information system implementation and usage, green information technology, smart information system applications for smart cities and cloud computing issues, especially within the Chinese context.

Manufacturing sector                   Industrial      % of total
                                         output         national
                                     (RMB 1 billion)    industry

ICT product                              4,456.3          8.1
Ferrous metals smelting                  4,263.6          7.8
Transport equipment                      4,173.0          7.6
Chemical material and chemical           3,690.9          6.7
Electrical machinery and equipment       3,375.8          6.2
General purpose machinery                2,736.2          5.0
Non-metallic mineral product             2,484.4          4.5
Textile                                  2,297.1          4.2
Total of the top 8 manufacturing        27,477.3         50.1

Manufacturing sector                  No. of     % of total
                                     employees    national
                                     (million)    industry

ICT product                            6.64         7.5
Ferrous metals smelting                3.23         3.7
Transport equipment                    4.98         5.6
Chemical material and chemical         4.40         5.0
Electrical machinery and equipment     5.35         6.1
General purpose machinery              4.87         5.5
Non-metallic mineral product           5.09         5.8
Textile                                6.17         7.0
Total of the top 8 manufacturing      40.73        46.1

Source: National Statistical Bureau of China, China Statistical
Yearbook, 2009.



To the whole nation and society:

* lower the CO2 emissions;
* reduce energy and resource consumption;
* help achieve national commitment of CO2 reduction; and
* improve international image.

To ICT-incentive organisations:

* reduce energy costs;
* increase efficient use of IT infrastructure;
* enhance lifetime of hardware;
* fulfil corporate social responsibility;
* improve corporate image and reputation;
* increase employee satisfaction and loyalty; and
* improve marketing.

Figure 1. Scale of Net Citizens and Popularisation Rate in China

                  Number of         Popularization rate
                  net citizens      of internet

December 2005      8.5%               11,100
                   9.4%               12,300
December 2006      10.5%              13,700
                   12.3%              16,200
December 2007      16.0%              21,000
                   19.1%              25,300
December 2008      22.6%              29,800
                   25.5%              33,800
December 2009      28.9%              38,400
                   31.8%              42,000

Source: China Internet Network Information Center, 2010.

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Figure 2. Industrial Output Value for the Manufacturing Sector of
Electronic Information Products (1999-2009)

Industrial output value (Unit: RMB 1 billion)

1999   583.1
2001   899
2003   1,584
2005   2,699.4
2007   3,922.4
2009   4,456.3

Source: National Statistical Bureau of China, China Statistical
Yearbook, various years.

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:RESEARCH; information and communication technology
Author:Peng, Guo Chao Alex
Publication:China: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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