Turn digital responsibility into a competitive advantage, today.

Rodolphe Strauss
July 1, 2022

Turn digital responsibility into a competitive advantage, today.

Digital Responsibility. What does it involve? What are the main issues? How can this be turned into a competitive advantage?

In the age of the metaverse, a hitherto invisible aspect - but one with an environmental and social impact that is anything but virtual - has now become essential: digital responsibility. In addition to redeeming themselves, many organisations see this component of their CSR policy as a way of contributing to a major societal issue. 

Seventy-seven percent of the professionals surveyed in a BearingPoint study said they had already launched, or planned to launch in the coming months, a digital responsibility initiative. 

What is digital responsibility? What are the main issues? This article will explain it all.

Digital Responsibility: definition  

Digital responsibility refers to a continuous improvement approach that aims to reduce the ecological, economic and social footprint of information and communication technologies. Although difficult to perceive, digital technology has a significant impact on the ecological and social footprint of organisations. 

It is estimated to be responsible for 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And there is every indication that this will intensify. According to the Shift Project's figures, the sharp increase in digital usage suggests that this carbon footprint will double by 2025

Making a strong appearance in the public debate in 2019, reinforced by the pandemic, digital responsibility and its corollary, the fight against digital pollution, call on companies to see innovation in a more virtuous light.

New challenges in the race to Net Zero

It is no coincidence that "Race to Net Zero" was one of the six main themes of Vivatech 2022. Beyond marketing differentiation, innovation is now expected to respect the environment as well as individuals.

Measuring for control 

The road to carbon neutrality is long and arduous. To achieve this, you have to start at the beginning, i.e. measure your footprint before and after the various measures and eco-actions implemented internally. Whether it is a carbon footprint or an IT-specific component, measurement of the carbon footprint takes into account three different levels of assessment, or "scopes" according to the IPCC 2013 model:

  • "Scope 1" for all direct greenhouse gas emissions (heating/air conditioning of premises, vehicle emissions, etc.) 

  • "Scope 2" for all indirect GHG emissions during the production process (electricity, steam, heat, etc.)

  • "Scope 3" for indirect GHG emissions relating to the entire value chain (transport/distribution, purchase of goods and services, business travel, investments).

Rethinking innovation with "eco-design"

To be virtuous, innovation must be sober and respond to a precise need, right from the production phase. Only then will it be able to respond to environmental challenges. This is what is known as digital eco-design; a concept that applies equally to a website and to digital devices (mobiles, computers, etc.). 

One of its key pillars is the circular economy, which allows the lifespan of IT equipment to be extended. In recent years, the latter has indeed become a solution to the increasingly short obsolescence cycles of electronic devices.

In addition, low impact hardware solutions are already emerging. Two of them were particularly praised at Viva Tech: 

  • the Luna PC presented by Dell: A laptop with a fully removable keyboard that can be easily repaired. With a simple screwdriver, the user can access and replace components (processor, graphics card, etc.). Result: Extended life and a reduced carbon footprint of 65kg/CO2 compared to an industry average of 300kg/CO2. 

  • Abascus by Pentaform: a biodegradable, minimalist and affordable laptop. Looking like a simple keyboard, this laptop can be operated on any computer monitor available. This tour de force reduces the hardware carbon footprint by 65%. It is also energy efficient, consuming no more than a single LED bulb (15 to 18 watts).

However, eco-design requires looking at the whole production chain. Beyond the pollution linked to digital devices, the impact of data is becoming a major concern. 

Between operating systems growing by an average of 20% per year and the construction of virtual universes, the world is witnessing an inflation in the volume of data transferred and stored. Whether it is sending emails, communicating remotely, scrolling through social networks or consuming streaming video, the impact on the environment is far from neutral. 

Training and awareness-raising on these issues will be crucial in reducing the negative externalities of digital technology. 

A societal duty, imposed by Governments in the near future

While no one knows whether the legislator will be cracking down in 2024, 2025 or 2026, we do know that digital responsibility is already the subject of bills. 

For example, the REEN law adopted last November aims to reduce the environmental footprint of digital technology, based on the recommendations of the information mission on the environmental footprint of digital technology report

Although the legislation did not succeed in raising the life expectancy of electronic devices from 2 to 5 years, the tide is starting to turn. It is only a matter of time before regulation imposes concrete actions on companies. This is why experts recommend that you take the lead now. 

"Adopt a digital responsibility approach now because tomorrow it will be a legal requirement. Inevitably, like a nutriscore or an energy balance, tomorrow you will have an environmental footprint attached to your organisation." says Frederick Marchand, CEO of Fruggr. (SaaS for measuring and monitoring digital carbon footprints)

A future addition to the attractiveness of the employer brand

People increasingly see companies as agents of change in their own right. Far from the trials of intent, they are calling for tangible actions. Henceforth, storytelling - the telling of the story of the company's actions - will give way to the era of "story proving", in other words, demonstrating the initiatives taken in this respect. 

It is not surprising that a growing number of employees in companies consider digital responsibility as a strong vector of meaning.

Today, the subject is of particular interest to tech professionals (developers, data managers, etc.). While the responsible approach is not yet a factor in the choice of a company in the face of the protocols, software and technologies in force, this will nevertheless be the case in the future, and this for all trades. 

Thus, opting for digital responsibility means strengthening the attractiveness of one's company in the midst of the talent crisis and the phenomenon of large-scale resignation. 

A consolidating ecosystem of solutions

Fortunately, companies are not alone in the Herculean task of implementing a digital responsibility policy, and there are a number of auditing solutions related to carbon accounting. We have selected two of them. 

Fruggr is a company committed to the social and solidarity economy - which goes beyond being a simple mission-driven company - and offers a SaaS platform that enables measurement, action and communication around a more sustainable digital transformation. 

For its part, Greenly, which raised 21 million euros last April, offers a Saas solution that also specialises in carbon audits. It also includes recommendation tools for less carbon intensive alternatives. 

In short, digital responsibility is not only for large groups that can finance expensive carbon audits. All companies can now do this. Affordable measures that will build resilience and strengthen their employer brand. 

Next week, we will continue to explore this little-known facet of CSR strategy through a series of simple steps you can take to make digital responsibility a competitive advantage.

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