ICT for Sustainability - The Challenge of Making It Real

Daniel Spreng 

Thursday, February 14








Interactions between Energy, Information and Growth
ICT has huge potential to contribute to sustainable development. Doing things in a more controlled and intelligent manner can be an essential ingredient for a long-term viable future. Often energy consumption is used as a proxy for sustainability. The theme of this conference is then the effect of ICT on energy consumption. However, the discussion of the direct relationship between ICT and energy consumption is incomplete. Time, interacting both strongly with ICT and energy, has to be added to the equation.
In the 1970’s I made the observation that to save energy one needed either more information and/or more time. This observation led me to the hypothesis that energy, time and information can be seen as the main production factors for tasks, processes, services and products and that they are partially substitutable for each other.
Experience and my own research shows that ICT can be used to save energy or to save time and that, given the choice, we almost always choose time. ICT can speed-up production and consumption. It can also make processes and practices more sustainable. However, by choosing time we choose the less sustainable path. The talk will present examples and will suggest ways of directing choices towards more sustainability, i.e. towards qualitative rather than quantitative growth.



Daniel Spreng is professor emeritus of ETH Zurich. His field of expertise is energy analysis and energy economics. He was the founding director of CEPE, the Centre for Energy Economics and Policy of ETH Zurich, and co-directed this center until 2005. After his retirement he was still a member of the executive committee of the Energy Science Center of ETH Zurich (until 2007) and president of the Swiss chapter of IAEE, the International Association of Energy Economics (until 2008).

His recent interest and research is reflected in the following two publications:

  • D. Spreng, T. Flüeler, D.L. Goldblatt, Jürg Minsch Eds. (2012). Tackling Long-Term Global Energy Problems; The Contribution of Social Science. Springer
  • S. Pachauri, H. Zerriffi, W. Foell, D. Spreng Eds. (2011). Household cooking fuels and technologies in developing countries. Special Issue of Energy Policy: Vol. 39

Born 1940 in Bern, Spreng studied physics at ETH Zurich and did his doctorate in Materials Science at Northwestern University, Evanston IL, USA.
From 1970 to 1983 he worked for Swiss Aluminium Ltd. where, in 1976, he was appointed to head the ecology department, the first such department in Swiss industry. The themes he worked on were the energy requirement of aluminium and its products; recycling; solid waste; and the prevention of air pollution.
During his employment in industry he was one year (1975) as Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Energy Analysis, Oak Ridge TN, a think-tank for DOE headed by Alvin Weinberg. At that time he developed the idea of what was later called the Spreng-Triangle. In 1984 Spreng was Guest of the Rector at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin.
The research interests of Daniel Spreng from that time to his retirement were the scientific analysis of energy conservation and its relation to policy measures; the effects of information society on energy consumption, including the energy consumption of information technology hardware; the possibilities of continued education in speeding-up the deployment of energy efficient technology; bottom-up models for energy scenarios; indicators of sustainable development; energy consumption, energy access and poverty; and the economic role of hydropower.


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