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Green IT: How can digital services be environmentally friendly?

transition écologique (c) petmal pour gettyimages
Published on
23 November 2020

What conditions can enable digital services to support the environmental transition? Do possible solutions include recycling, circular economies and dematerialization? We shine the spotlight on good IT practices and digital sobriety.

"It can be difficult to conceive the negative impact of digital technology on the planet. This negative impact includes mining the land for rare materials, using children workforces, and the emission of greenhouse gases. Right now, we consider that digital technology accounts for 3-4% of CO2 emissions worldwide and this percentage should increase to 5-6% by 2025," highlights Fanny Rabouille, co-leader of the Digital Organizations & Society Chair at Grenoble Ecole de Management and the program director for the Big Data program at GEM. The first recommendation in terms of digital technology is for each player to act at their level by learning simple behaviors that are well identified and efficient in order to foster a greener IT.

Practicing digital sobriety

"Digital technology has become an essential tool that continuously produces immense quantities of data, which is then stored in data centers that require lots of energy. The first recommendation that anyone can do is to regularly empty their inbox because emails are stored and multiplied on servers," underlines Fanny. "It is also important to avoid excessive messaging via SMS, Whatsapp, Messenger, etc. The 'over-consumption' of newsletters (which we rarely actually subscribe to!) also generates useless data that must be stored. The best thing to do? Unsubscribe!"

Choose a green search engine

Certain search engines such as the German Ecosia donate 80% of their benefits to a global tree planting initiative. Every subscription equals a tree planted. Google has committed to reducing its CO2 emission to zero by 2030.

Reducing the impact of producing digital material

"The most important impact on the environment is the manufacturing of computers, tablets and smartphones. In order to encourage people to use such technology more reasonably, the first recommendation is to not change your equipment every year! It's also important to pay attention to software distributors as they, much like manufacturers, now rely upon planned obsolescence," explains Fanny.

In response, "Fairphone" offers a solution that builds on fair trade, sustainable and responsible practices from design to production, and phone models that are easily repairable and recyclable. Reconditioned IT equipment also offers an excellent solution that is more reasonable in terms of sustainable development. "GEM, for example, works with AFB Group, a local company that reconditions computers," adds Fanny. In addition, it's important to avoid wasting equipment.

Supporting positive practices from design onwards

"Of course the technology that makes the internet possible consumes energy, a lot of energy. However, the first thing is to focus on usage and manufacturing because these are two factors we can act on. Several organizations and associations have set themselves the mission of raising awareness among digital engineers (programmers, developers, data scientists,...) to encourage them to write programs that consume less energy," concludes Fanny.

Digital in service of the environmental transition?

What conditions can enable digital services to support the environmental transition? Do possible solutions include recycling, circular economies and dematerialization?
On December 10 at 6:30pm, the Digital Organizations & Society Chair at Grenoble Ecole de Management will hold a videoconference via Teams Events as part of the CDOS Thursdays, a GEM digital event. The theme will be how digital services can support the environmental transition. Françoise Berthoud will share her perspective on sustainable digital services.
Françoise Berthoud is an IT researcher at the CNRS. She is also co-founder of the EcoInfo group at the CNRS, through which she has been exploring the impact of digital services for the past couple of years. As a leading expert in the field, she shares her knowledge with students, researchers, ministers and other actors involved in this issue.

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