Addressing AI Energy Consumption: Why the EU Must Embrace Ecodesign for Software

Zuzanna Warso is the Director of Research at the Open Future Foundation. David Man & Tristan Ferne / Better Images of AI / Trees / CC-BY 4.0 Digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) account for 3.5–4 percent of the world’s carbon footprint and 6–7 percent of its electricity footprint. Both the energy consumption of ICT products and their longevity are inextricably linked to the software products that run on them.  In the upcoming EU ecodesign regulation, software is addressed in a couple of contexts. For instance, there is a requirement that software updates shall not worsen product performance – however, because “products” are defined as “physical goods,” it is not treated as a separate product group. As a result of this wording, software products remain outside the scope of the proposal, falling through the gaps of the ecodesign requirements. Given the impact of software on overall ICT energy consumption, the lack of legal requirements addressing sustainable software usage represents a considerable blindspot.  This issue is becoming increasingly urgent in light of growing concerns about the energy consumption of AI-enabled products. As AI continues to permeate our lives and the products we use, the lack of regulations governing sustainable software is poised to deliver a significant blow in the not-too-distant future. The energy efficiency of ICT and the “Jevons’ paradox”  The energy efficiency of ICT systems has increased significantly over the last few decades. Nonetheless, the ICT industry’s overall environmental footprint has been steadily growing.  Several factors, such as the proliferation…Addressing AI Energy Consumption: Why the EU Must Embrace Ecodesign for Software