From high prices at gasoline pumps to higher energy and consumer expenses to global climate change, Americans are increasingly aware of the enormous challenges posed by this troubling trend.
It's not just the family budget or business bottom lines that are at stake: The consequences of our energy policies could affect Americans' quality of life and the health of our planet for generations to come. Americans seem to have reached the tipping point in their desire for a sustainable, greener future.
All too often, observers perceive this challenge as someone else's failure. "Feckless" government leaders, "fat-cat" oil executives, fast-growing emerging economies and "indifferent" SUV drivers all have been blamed. As a result, solutions are too often perceived as someone else's responsibility. There ought to be a law ... "they" should be stopped ... when will "somebody" act?
The good news is there is a lot we can do together right now. Innovators across a variety of business sectors are responding to the growing concerns about our energy and climate future by accelerating their focus on smart, green technologies and business practices. Around the world and across our nation we see significant investment in alternative and renewable energy sources that pollute less and ultimately may cost less.
Even absent new laws and without new sources of energy, there is much that can be done immediately to lessen energy demand without sacrificing economic progress. Energy efficiency is our country's greatest renewable resource. It is underappreciated, underutilized and often misunderstood, but it presents a unique opportunity to make our energy dollars go much further, while reducing adverse impacts on our climate.
Information and communications technologies (ICT) have significant experience doing more with less. And ICT is driving increased energy efficiency—fast. In a landmark study, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that "for every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT technologies, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10." From teleworking to traffic management, from virtualization to computer-aided design and manufacture of advanced composite materials, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman correctly observes that "you can't make a product greener—whether it's a car, a refrigerator or a traffic system—without making it smarter."
The ICT industry is investing billions of dollars to research, develop and market advanced, energy-efficiency technologies and business process solutions, creating thousands of new, high paying jobs in a fast-growing part of the industry. And the smarter systems they are creating already are yielding tremendous benefits for the environment, consumers, and the economy.
Smart technologies are the "brain power" that enable many industries—including transportation, utilities, manufacturing, health care, finance, retail and education, among many others— to reduce their energy and fuel consumption and lessen their impact on the environment. The ICT industry is not just getting smarter, it's getting greener.