Becoming digitally responsible in 6 steps
Let’s continue our exploration of the seventh continent that is the digital universe - which is heavily used in business - and especially its impact, both environmental and social. After having, in a previous article, laid the foundations of the concept of digital responsibility and its various challenges in the race to net zero carbon, it is time for action.
Here, you will see that, in addition to the much-praised carbon footprint, there is a whole range of eco-gestures capable of reducing your organisation’s carbon footprint, while at the same time involving the community.
What are the six concrete measures to be deployed now in order to strengthen your employer brand and avoid the sudden accusation of greenwashing? A review of the new digital reflexes to have in order to preserve your data and the planet with it.
Digital responsibility: definition
Digital responsibility is a continuous improvement approach that aims to reduce the ecological, economic and social footprint of information and communication technologies.
This digital responsibility is said to be responsible for 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And there is every reason to believe that if nothing is done quickly, the phenomenon will get worse. According to the figures put forward by the Shift Project, the sharp increase in digital uses (data inflation, connected objects and new uses) suggests that this carbon footprint will double by 2025.
Best Practices on the way to a carbon neutral digital footprint
To deploy an effective digital responsibility approach internally, we have identified six steps, well beyond the traditional carbon footprint.
Step 1: Measure the impact
As Frederick Marchand, CEO of Fruggr, an organisation that aims to make digital more accessible to the vulnerable public, points out: “You only control what you measure.”
Thus, before embarking on a deliberate digital responsibility strategy, it is important to be aware of the environmental impact of one’s activities and the footprint generated by computer systems. Only then will it be possible to act effectively on it. However, while most companies rely on carbon footprints, very few carry out a dedicated assessment of the impact of their IT.
Beware, however: “the carbon footprint remains “administrative”: it makes it possible to take into account an overall footprint but absolutely not to act.” Therefore, more than ever, a dynamic measurement of the different digital services is needed to go further.
But unlike the construction or transport sectors, digital technology has the advantage of leaving traces everywhere, which makes it easier to measure the impact. This is a great advantage when environmental studies are mainly based on flow feedback to measure the footprint. However, these studies are based on manual data entry, which is a cumbersome and infrequent process that introduces many biases.
This is where SaaS diagnostic solutions such as Fruggr and Greenly come into their own.
However, as Alexis Normand, CEO and co-founder of Greenly, recently stated in a press release, “Today, barely 20% of companies’ carbon emissions are monitored and controlled, and this mainly concerns large groups that allocate budgets in excess of €15,000 via consulting firms.”
A weak monitoring that still hinders the digital responsibility movement but is not inevitable.
Step 2: Optimise data management
Once the carbon footprint has been established, it is necessary to look at the management of the data, so that it is as energy-efficient as possible.
To achieve this, Guillaume Font, CTO of Seyna opted for a serverless strategy with the help of AWS (Amazon Web Service). This is a managed service to outsource the storage of company data.
In addition to financial savings, serverlessness allows for improved optimisation of resources (both energy and human).
This newfound agility allows the company to free itself from the need for heavy air conditioning in its premises - essential for cooling the servers - while optimising their use. In addition, not having the data storage in-house means that the upgrade is directly supported by AWS, so that you can benefit from the latest standards effortlessly.
“Our cloud-only development allows us to significantly reduce our impact on both the bill and the production of greenhouse gases.” Guillaume Font, CTO of Seyna
Step 3: Opt for refurbished equipment and make it last
There is no secret to reducing the footprint: you have to make your hardware last longer.
With this in mind, as its CTO reminds us, Seyna has chosen to favour reconditioned equipment. Although the measure currently only concerns the Tech developer teams, the company would like to systematise it internally. Particularly since going through a service provider specialising in reconditioned products means that delivery can be accelerated. This is currently the case, for example, with the shortages of electronic components in China and the disruption of global supply chains (following Covid and the Ukrainian conflict). In this case, reconditioned computer equipment can reduce the delivery time from 6 weeks to 2 days.
On the Fruggr side, it is the employee who chooses the hardware. In this way, the company ensures that the employee will take what is most suitable for his or her use, without having a large PC and 3 extra screens as a default.
Fruggr also calls for the extension of the entire lifecycle of terminals in the company.
Thus, once a piece of equipment is no longer suitable for an employee’s use, it is necessary to consider how it can be reused within the organisation. Equipment that is not suitable for one person may be suitable for another. Finally, once the equipment is no longer suitable for the organisation itself, the question is how to ensure that it is used in other structures and not go straight to the recycling and e-waste box. Indeed, more than half of the equipment is not recycled and ends up in a landfill in Africa.
“Once you have the right equipment and the lifespan of the equipment has been extended it’s fine but if you haven’t done digital eco-design it doesn’t work.”
Frederick Marchand, CEO of Fruggr.
Step 4: Favour digital eco-design
“Continuing to learn how to develop without knowing how to do eco-design is an aberration.” Frederick Marchand, CEO of Fruggr.
It is a paradox that the CEO of Fruggr deplores: eco-design is still too rare in production methods, while it is still absent from many school programmes.
Mentioned in a Senate report on 7 July 2020, eco-design is defined by ADEME as a preventive and innovative approach that makes it possible to reduce the negative impact of a product or service on the environment throughout its lifecycle, while preserving its qualities of use.
But that’s not all: the obsolescence of computer programs can be a deterrent to those who are most committed to digital responsibility. As a result, application operating systems are becoming 20% heavier on average each year. In doing so, it is vital to reverse the trend through more environmentally friendly products and training.
Step 5: Raise awareness of good practice among teams
It is well known that any change requires a certain amount of awareness-raising in order to share with stakeholders the keys to understanding the benefits of the ecological transition and good practices. However, as Frederick Marchand, Fruggr’s CEO, regrets, most employees are not trained. “Despite the work of some players such as ADEME, there is a real global lack of understanding of the subject.” Many focus on greenhouse gases. However, the impact of digital technology on abiotic resources (water, electricity, etc.) is just as important, if not more so.
As the digital world is virtual, people find it difficult to grasp their footprint. So much so that the reflex is to see the computer server as the main culprit. However, the data centre is not the heart of the problem: it is “only” the source of 10% of the digital footprint. It is therefore the whole relationship with digital technology that needs to be changed, starting with the way it is used (email management, contexts and frequency of connection).
In addition to simply scanning paper documents, it is highly recommended to better manage your emails. And this starts by no longer systematising the sending of attachments or the “reply to all” option.
Also, it is better to connect to the internet via the office wifi rather than a 4 or 5G stick. According to Frédéric Bordage, chairman of the GreenIT.fr consultancy, the impact of 4G is 5 to 20 times greater than that of an ADSL + Wifi or ADSL/fibre+++ connection.
Following the example of other players, Seyna thinks, within its teams of developers, about other ways to reduce the environmental bill. The next step will be to capitalise on new uses and to dispose of duplicate equipment. This is how a mobile-first perspective starts to emerge at Seyna, in other words: to allow the teams here to work directly from a mobile phone, connected to a simple screen. As phones are increasingly powerful and adapted to a mobile lifestyle, they are better able to respond to the flexibility requirements of a hybrid organisation mixing face-to-face and teleworking.
Step 6: Monitor environmental and social impacts
Once good practices have been put in place, it is necessary to measure the evolution of impacts in the medium to long term. With tools such as Fruggr, identification of the points of vigilance enables the company to better grasp its issues and thus halve its digital carbon footprint.
The idea is to take responsibility for one’s own footprint and to consider that, whatever happens, the effort can always be improved.
Finally, to learn about best practices, nothing beats exchanging with other professionals facing the same type of challenges. This is a way to increase knowledge to better optimise resources and to contribute to the achievement of threshold effects, a prerequisite for the massive adoption of new practices.
“Whatever your size, there’s no need to have a complex: Today, when it comes to digital responsibility, no one is doing it right. The important thing is to measure and display in all humility and transparency, where the company is and where it wants to go.” Frederick Marchand, CEO of Fruggr.
In short: digital responsibility technology makes it possible to reconcile the need for business performance and connectivity with climate and social issues. More inclusive than it seems, digital responsibility is aimed at all companies, from very small businesses to large groups.
While not all companies can afford a full carbon audit, there are a number of common-sense steps that can be taken today to build resilience and strengthen the employer brand.
The good news is that more and more of them are taking the plunge, so why not you?
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