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The carbon footprint of the world’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is growing at an alarming rate, giving rise to calls for tools and methodologies for reporting on carbon emissions towards greater accountability within the sector. Accurately calculating the emissions of digital technologies is a complex task where there are no clear standards for methodologies or boundaries for what should be included in these calculations. Nevertheless, a number of online carbon calculators exist to quantify carbon emissions of ICT. The starting question in this paper is how much such tools can inform and provide insight to people working with ICT innovation to take action to reduce the environmental impacts from the products, services and systems they create. To explore this question, we analyse ICT carbon calculators from a digital innovation designer's perspective, exploring what they enable those creating ICT to see and understand, as well as the limitations of these views on carbon. We argue that these approaches are limited and that a better way to address the issue is by moving from designing carbon calculators to codesigning a framework for responsible innovation that enables systems thinking, exposes complexities, helps with the assessment of carbon emissions without fixating on numbers, and supports evaluation and visualisation of future scenarios.


Conference paper


Systematic Design Association

Publication Date



digital technology, systemic design, co-design, carbon emissions accounting, responsible innovation, FFR, sustainability, climate change