Climate challenge: digital technology, a strategic tool for action

According to the latest joint study by Arcep and Ademe, they already represent 2.5% of France’s greenhouse gas emissions, but digital represents 10% of global electricity consumption, thus causing 4% of global emissions, thus far exceeding the civil aviation sector, which is more regularly decried.

And the sharp increase in our personal and professional practices suggests a doubling of this carbon footprint by 2025. The manufacture of servers, computers and other smartphones is the main source of CO2 emissions, but this manufacture also requires a lot of energy, chemical processing and the extraction of finite resources such as rare metals (Tantalum or Indium for example).

The concept of an ecological backpack is thus striking since to manufacture a 2 kg laptop computer, it is necessary to mobilize 800 kg of resources as well as several thousand liters of fresh water. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The digital is like the “pharmakon”, this word from ancient Greek which designates both the poison and the remedy. Digital activity is part of the problem and part of its solution. What the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler reminded us of in his time.

This duality à la Janus is expressed by the expressions “green IT” and “IT for green”. In the first case, it is a question of using all possible levers to reduce the effect of digital technology on the environment and in the second of using new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of an organization or a job.

From green IT to responsible digital

While the concept of green IT dates back to the early 2000s, it has taken on unprecedented proportions in recent months. At the end of 2021, the GreenTech Forum was held, the first event dedicated to reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology. A show born on the initiative of Planet Tech’Care, a project initiated by the professional union Numeum. For its part, Cigref, the club of “big” CIOs organized the second edition of its conference on digital sobriety. Since green can be associated with “greenwashing”, the concept of responsible digital has replaced that of green IT. A semantic shift that illustrates this change in dimension. This responsible digital has become a key component of the CSR strategies of pioneering companies such as Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, SNCF, Fnac Darty and Pôle emploi.

Responsible digital not only responds to environmental concerns but also to societal issues. For example, many adapted companies have successfully positioned themselves in the niche of reusing and reconditioning electronic equipment. An excellent opportunity for companies to promote the employment of people with disabilities by entrusting this essential subject to these partners.

Remember that a large part of the digital carbon footprint comes from the manufacture of equipment and that extending their lifespan is a major lever for reducing this footprint. If for business or security reasons, companies cannot extend this lifetime within their fleet, it is essential that they implement this 2nd life. On another level, being digitally responsible also means making your applications and websites accessible to users with disabilities (20% of the French population, or even 40% taking into account temporary disabilities) and this, from the start of the project.

The digital accessibility of fragile or isolated populations can also be promoted: eco-design and code optimization make it possible to produce applications with simple functionalities operating on any type of computer and not only on “gamer” PCs. latest generation. This frugality in developments does not only concern new projects. A company must review its application heritage to reduce its technical debt. Some applications, little or not used, can be decommissioned, that is to say withdrawn from the information system when others will see their functional evolution revised downwards or else be transformed to gain in sobriety and consume less ‘infrastructure.

A configuration management database (CMDB) notably makes it possible to establish correlations between an application and the resource consumption of a server that hosts it. In these trade-offs, the energy consumption of an application becomes one parameter to be taken into account among others, such as value creation or productivity gains. This carbon impact can go as far as reviewing a business process under this prism.

Based on the pooling of infrastructures, the use of the cloud has positive impacts, provided that full transparency is obtained from suppliers on the actual consumption of cloud resources. In this case, it is not necessary to be limited to the calculation of the operation of the datacenters but to take into account the externalities, that is to say the manufacture of the machines and the infrastructures.

In this regard, the FinOps approach, aimed at reducing excessive Cloud spending by better optimizing resources, can allow a company to reconcile the objective of cost reduction with the challenge of digital sobriety. But be careful not to give in to the sirens of cloud providers. A company can fully optimize its datacenters (via the containment of hot and cold aisles or by changing the cooling system) and its servers (densification, virtualization, shutdown of machines in the evening and on weekends, downsizing) to obtain a equivalent result.

Measure, train, transform

On the IT for green side, digital technology has been contributing to environmental protection for years. Let us cite, for example, the monitoring of tunas using Argos beacons. These measurements made it possible to know their numbers, their migratory flows and their breeding sites. It is this knowledge that has made it possible to act in order to protect this threatened species (diversion of maritime traffic, protection of certain areas, etc.).

More generally, this “measure to act” approach applies perfectly to the business world and digital technology can contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.

Collecting a large amount of sparse data allows an organization to calculate its current footprint and generate extra-financial reports. Several start-ups have positioned themselves in this niche of measuring and then monitoring these emission reduction targets: Traace, Carbo, Greenly, Fruggr, Plan A, Aguaro, Toovalu, among others. Some are oriented on the carbon impact of digital, others are more general.

All assume that more or less precise activity data is obtained (under penalty of having to base one’s carbon footprint on monetary ratios far removed from reality). This information feedback can be based on connected sensors (IoT). The data collected makes it possible to optimize the energy consumption of buildings or the management of a logistics chain, for example. Associated with artificial intelligence, this also makes it possible to carry out simulations and thus facilitate decision-making. Before launching a new process, a company can assess its carbon impact.

If the first 2 pillars (measure-analyze, transform-act) are essential to a responsible digital strategy, we should not forget its third pillar: train-raise awareness. On this last point, all employees of a company are agents of change. In order not to cause eco-anxiety, it is necessary to inform without causing panic. The use of gamification mechanisms makes it possible to federate a collective around initiatives.

The Ecoly application thus offers to act for the environment while having fun, taking up challenges. MyCO2, meanwhile, invites company employees to entertaining and interactive conferences to guide them in reducing their carbon footprint. This strategic commitment resonates well with environmental concerns and employees’ quest for meaning. It constitutes a lever of attractiveness and loyalty in the context of the war of talents.

But beware of the excesses of greenwashing consisting in repainting the slightest communication operation in green. The effect would be devastating for the consistency of the company, its candidates and its employees. For this, a good rule can be: “Do more than you say and say less than you do”.

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Climate challenge: digital technology, a strategic tool for action


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