Information and communication technology (ICT) products are one telling example for increasingly globalized production and consumption patterns and resulting distributional effects on a global scale. Consumption, which still takes place primarily in ‘Northern’ countries, is connected to a flow of valuable resources from developing countries to the industrialized world and at the same time leads to increasing environmental and social pressures mostly in developing states, where environmental costs are not internalized. For example, the mining of rare materials that are crucial for the production of electronic devices often involves poor working conditions and high environmental impacts; or an increasing quantity of electronic waste is exported to developing states where disposal and recycling takes place under dire working and health conditions. Both phenomena imply shifts of environmental burdens into developing countries.
Therefore, the paper touches issues of international justice and equity. It deals with the questions how ‘Northern’ countries can cope with the issue of transboundary environmental problems, which are caused by their domestic consumption, but which appear outside their own territory and outside their authoritative reach.
It will be argued that achieving a more resource efficient society and economy would be one way to deal with this problem. Drawing on an analysis of the main obstacles on the way towards higher resource efficiency, and using the example of ICT-products, the paper offers concrete policy proposals. In order to gain better knowledge about global material flows and the material input (incl. 'ecological rucksacks') per product, the implementation of information obligations following the 'No Data, No Market' principle could be a promising approach. On this information basis, dynamic standards and green public procurement could foster the production and consumption of resource efficient ICT-products. This policy mix of both supply- and demand-side instruments would have the potential to minimize translocated environmental burdens.
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