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What is the resource footprint of a computer science department? Place, People and Pedagogy

Mian, I.S; Twisleton, D.; Timm, D.

Our goal is formulating policies and developing guidelines that create a more resilient and healthier Department of Computer Science at University College London: a living laboratory for teaching and learning about resource constrained computing, computation and communication. Here, we outline a roadmap and propose high-level principles to aid this effort. We focus on how, when and where resources – energy, (raw) materials including water, space and time – are consumed by the building (place), its occupants (people) and their activities (pedagogy). We describe practical difficulties associated with identifying, acquiring and analysing relevant data. Beyond technical challenges, we find a need to rematerialise the information society: to reveal the full costs of Internet and Communication Technology and electrical and electronic equipment by, for example, undertaking life cycle analyses of end-user paraphernalia such as smartphones and demonstrating the corporeal nature of seemingly immaterial entities such as the “cloud.” We outline routes to realising three interlinked aims: cap the power consumed and greenhouse gas emitted per person per year, become a zero waste institution, and rejuvenate and (re)integrate the natural and built environments. We propose two maxims to aid policy making and guideline preparation: resource use needs to be minimised and minimal (reduced in relative as well as absolute terms), and responsible research and innovation encompasses decreasing the Department’s resource footprint and considering non-technological solutions to complex real-world problems. Keywords: resource footprint; energy; water; internet and communication technology; electrical and electronic equipment; e-waste; resource constrained computing, computation and communication; rematerialise the information society. 

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