SYMPACT: Tools for assessing the systemic impact of technology deployments on energy use and climate emissions (EP/H033610/1) (TEDDI call Part 1)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Computer Science


There is a general need to carry analysis of the possible broader, systemic impacts of technological transformations on energy and climate emissions of society, and to support policy developers, business strategists and technologists in considering this in their decision making. This need is particularly acute in the case of information technology, where the impact of the changes in behaviour and organisation which are enabled by new technologies is often far greater than the direct impact of the IT solutions deployed.One example currently in transformation is the news publishing and media industry. Over the next decade, a number of digital technologies will mature which will change the industry: high-speed digital printing, e-readers, personalisation technologies, mobile phone readable 2-D barcodes, etc. How the industry exploits these, and the resulting change in the overall system, could have a substantial (but not a-priori predictable) impact on the energy use and carbon footprint of the overall industry.Our research aims to develop methods and tools that would enable collaborative model building to take place at scale to enable shared learning to take place over large sets of stakeholders, and to trial this with a user community associated with the technological transformation of the news publishing industry. The following will be required:- Develop a toolset to allow less systems-aware stakeholders to either develop their own systems model, or explore their understanding of a given model, of the energy use and climate emissions impact of a specific technology intervention. The approach would require an appropriate graphical user interface that enables wide inclusivity.- Develop functionality which allows a community of stakeholders to explore the assumptions behind the models, critique them, and look at the impact of altering the assumptions in some way.- Work with a group of stakeholders to use prototypes of the toolset to develop initial systems models of the news publishing stakeholder system, how technology might transform it in the next 10 years, and the potential energy and climate implications of this. Gather feedback on appropriate design and functionality of the system iteratively. This will be done in collaboration with the Guardian Media Group.Allowing stakeholders in the industry to explore the possible broad impacts of different decisions as this technology transformation unfolds would increase the chance that a lower energy path is taken, and reduce the exposure of the industry to energy and carbon prices.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries of the Research - The Guardian News and Media Ltd will benefit by having a deep and detailed understanding of the potential energy and climate impacts of the future business models they consider, and so will be able to integrate considerations around these into the strategic decisions they take. - The news media industry will benefit by having access to summary results of the work, and also interactive models which they can explore using their own data and assumptions. - The IT and Digital Print industry will benefit by having access to summary results of this work, which will give them a deeper understanding of the potential impacts of their technologies, and hence allow them to consider these factors in their research, product development and marketing. - The Business Strategy community (strategists within businesses, and also consultants in this space) will benefit from having access to a tool which allows them to create models and explore the impact of strategic decisions on energy use and climate impact. [For this benefit to be tangible, further work beyond SYMPACT will be required to generalise beyond the news media sector.] - Interested members of the general public will benefit from having interactive access to the models generated. This will increase understanding of the media transformation which is taking place, it's sustainability implications, and more generally systems thinking and its relevance to sustainability. - The RA and other members of the team will benefit from training in cross-disciplinary research combining systems science, computer science and sustainability analysis. They will also benefit from training in the use of agile software development methodologies in the context of a research environment. The impact plan document provides proposed approaches to ensure that the various beneficiaries are engaged and involved appropriately.


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Daniel Schien (Author) (2013) A Methodology for Green System Design of Online Media Services in Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on World-Wide Web

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Daniel Schien (Author) (2011) Approaches to the Dynamic Energy Footprinting of Online Media in Proceedings 25th International Conference on Environmental Informatics (EnviroInfo) 2011, Joint Research Center (JRC), Ispra, Italy

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Daniel Schien (Author) (2012) LCA for Green System Design of Digital Media in Proceedings of Electronics Goes Green 2012+ (EGG)

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Mike Yearworth (Author) (2011) Systems Modelling of New Media Services. in Proceedings of the 29th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society

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Stephen Wood (Author) (2014) Energy use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Digital News Media in The Future of Journalism 2013

Description The SYMPACT project has resulted in a more detailed and refined understanding of the impact of the digital transformation on the energy use and environmental impact of the News and Media industry, particularly Guardian News and Media ltd (GNM). Specifically, it has produced;

- A systems model of the longer term trends in the industry on digital product use and its impact on energy consumption.

- A detailed methodology, model and accompanying data of energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with digital product delivery. The model includes energy usage in the various data centres providing content, the network equipment to deliver it to the end user, and the devices used by the end user to view the service. This model is unique in its ability to be integrated with user behaviour data coming from services such as the GNM's Web Analytics, to give far more accurate impact figures for a given service. It's modelling of uncertainty is more refined than previous models.It has been applied to data from GNM, and the results have been made public in their sustainability report.

- Models allowing a service provider such as GNM to explore the impacts of business strategies, product design decisions, and larger industry trends on their expected energy use and GHG emissions. These have been applied to a number of scenarios which were identified in conversation with business strategists and technologists at GNM. For example, we explored the possible impacts of actively promoting a product based on an eReader.

- A visualisation tool for use by Guardian customers to allow them to explore the energy usage and GHG emissions associated with their use of GNM services. Customers were able to explore different access scenarios - such as video to a mobile phone over 3G, or 10 minutes browsing from a desktop PC, and compare energy usage across the entire delivery chain. This has been used by members of the public at the Guardian Open Weekend in 2012.
Exploitation Route The findings are relevant to anyone deploying a large scale high-bandwidth digital service - such as the BBC, Spotify, YouTube, etc. They an help such organisations design their digital services, particularly their deployment architectures, to reduce energy usage.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment

Description The model of the Guardian's digital sustainability that was developed in the project continues to be applied in the Guardian annual sustainability report. The model was delivered to the Guardian sustainability team at the end of the project and is maintained by them. We've been told the model of the digital sustainability is also being applied as a key performance indicator that is reported to the board. Beneficiaries: The Guardian News Media Contribution Method: The research resulted in a development of a quantitative model that is applied to calculate environmental impact from operation of ICT. As part of the annual sustainability report of the Guardian newspaper one of the key project results was the assessment of the environmental impact through energy and carbon footprint of the digital news delivery. This was delivered as part of the "Living our values" report ( in the section Digital sustainability). This report is highly respected in the business community. Our assessment is the first of kind in many ways and very likely influential in the media industry and possibly beyond. Beneficiaries: The Guardian News Media directly. As a matter of public interest, this contribution has value to the broad public and other businesses, both nationally and internationally. Contribution Method: The assessment resulted in a quantitative assessment of the annual carbon emissions through the online delivery of news. This was the first time, the Guardian could juxtapose the impact of the digital and the traditional print delivery. Separately, the developed methodology can be used by the Guardian beyond the end of the SYMPACT research project to monitor and reduce their carbon emissions from digital. Through their leadership in the space of digital news media both as a technology innovator as well as an organisation with a strong commitment to sustainable issues, this assessment and its methodology is likely to be influential to the wider business community.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Societal

Description Chapter Co-Authorship GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard ICT Sector Guidance
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact In co-authorship with Dan Williams from the University of Reading we have contributed to the development of the GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard ICT Sector Guidance which at the time of the writing is coming to the end of the draft phase. This document is an extension of the GHG Protocol which has been extremely influential to the practice of carbon accounting in organisations and had set standards which have influenced government policy, for example on the CRC energy efficiency scheme. Target Audience: Industrial / Commercial;Charitable Organisation
Description Carbon Trust Assessment Methodologies for Sustainable ICT 
Organisation Carbon Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The project team collaborated with the Carbon Trust. In particular, the assessment models of energy consumption and carbon footprint of digital media were of interest to the collaborators.
Collaborator Contribution To the "software chapter" describing the impact of software on energy consumption and its assessment we contributed the parts that referred to servers computers.
Impact The GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard ICT Sector Guidance is currently still in the review stage but our contribution to it has finished.
Start Year 2011
Description Collaboration with Guardian News & Media Ltd 
Organisation Guardian Media Group
Department Guardian News and Media
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The Guardian News Media Ltd (GNM) was essential project partner for the SYMPACT project. It provided the research context in which the investigation of the transformational influence of ICT on digital media was explored. Additionally, it provided key input data to the modelling work and helped validate the research outcomes. Collaboration was with many staff, including but not limited to those explicitly listed as contributers.
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration with the Guardian was a central part of the research project. The Guardian was industrial partner and the analysis of sustainability implications of the still ongoing transition of its business from print to digital was the key research goal. Areas of the Guardians activities this included were their data centre operations, the delivery via the network and the customer device use across multiple platforms such as PCs, laptops, tablets (iPad) and smartphones. Our team provided models and assessment methodologies to the Guardian to estimate their "digital footprint".
Impact Besides the digital sustainability report, a key impact from this work was the establishing of their digital carbon/energy footprint as a key performance indicator to be reported to the strategic board of directors.
Start Year 2010
Description Collaboration with Jorge Zapico for KTH Stockholm, Sweden 
Organisation Royal Institute of Technology
Department Centre for Sustainable Communications
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At the time, Jorge Zapico was a PhD student at the KTH Stockholm, Sweden. He has contributed significantly to the "Webenergy" educational web application. Jorge also participated at the Green Hackathon and continues to engage in discussions on the topic of sustainable ICT and sustainability through ICT.
Collaborator Contribution A tool was build in form of a web app in the browser to educate the general public about energy consumption of ICT. It was also used to survey general knowledge and assumptions around energy consumption of ICT. Jorge contributed the visual design and the implementation of the UI of an interactive tool to explore the energy footprint of media service configurations, such as using a PC over a Mobile Phone or watching a video rather than reading a web page.
Impact Our group from Bristol attended the Guardian open day 2012 at the Guardian offices in London. There we presented the visualisation app on iPads to the visitors and engaged with them to fill out web based surveys on their knowledge about sustainable ICT/ energy and carbon footprints of ICT. The discipline was chiefly concerned with IT.
Start Year 2012
Title Chrome browser plugin 
Description The browser plugin was build during the green hackathon (separately documented). 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2013 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact hh 
Title Source Code Webenergy Demonstrator 
Description The source code of the web demonstrator (described as separate outcome) is accessible at: 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2013 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The app and survey were deployed and used during the open day event which is documented as a separate research outcome. 
Description Guardian developer engagement on energy efficient software 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact An important field of decision making which is influenced through the results of this project is that of software development of digital media service. Specifically, the current software engineering and web development practice has not representation for principles of energy consumption by service consumption. During a session with the developers we explained those principles based on the end-to-end models we presented in research papers. The developers actively engaged in the discussion and we believe that we could influence their decision making at least infomally.

The Guardian has adopted the models developed by the project to provide a new KPIs.
The engagement of the software development team will increase their ability to respond to this KPI with change of practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Keynote Presentation at Swedish Centre for Environmental and Sustainable Communications 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Presentation of technical results from Sympact project regarding LCA of digital services.

Continued and strengthened links with KTH and Uni Zurich.
Hand over of chair of ICT4S conference from these.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Public engagement at the GNM Open Weekend 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On the weekend March 24th/25th, 2012 the Guardian News Media Ltd opened their offices to the general public. At this event our group of researchers was present with the web energy demonstrator (separately documented outcome). Throughout the day we involved the general public in experiencing the energy explorer web app. We received great interest in the topic and learned that the issue of energy consumption by Internet media was new to most people. AS part of the demonstration we collected survey data about the attitudes and knowledge towards the issue.

The response given to our engagement indicated surprise, interest and concern by the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Webenergy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This web app is an educational tool for regular users as well as media professionals. It is based on a quantitative model of the end-to-end energy consumption of online news consumption. The app provides for interaction and exploration of the influence of different parameters of consumption mode to the energy footprint.

The app was encompassed by a survey, collecting general public opinion/ knowledgeability on matters of digital sustainability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012