Can digital sobrietymean business?


Can digital sobriety mean business?

Businesses are going through ever-increasing digitization – amplified by the aftershocks of the pandemic – making it impossible to ignore the environmental impact of digital activities. According to the Shift project (a think thank dedicated to the low-carbon transition,) digital pollution represents a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions (3.5% in 2019) – and it is increasing by 6% every year. We interviewed Ivan Mariblanca Flinch, founder of Canopé (a Swiss start-up specializing in measuring and reducing the environmental footprint of companies’ IT assets) so that he could tell us more about how companies can take action by choosing digital sobriety… And in doing so, how they can grow through a dynamic and sustainable economy.

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By taking action to reduce digital pollution, companies are not only contributing to Europe’s ecological transition – they are also improving their brand image while reducing their costs. As responsible consumption is becoming more and more important to a growing number of European citizens, tackling the topic of digital sobriety sends a strong message that can attract new talents, demonstrate a commitment to responsibility, and enable companies to establish themselves as leaders of the digital transformation.

This means a great number of possibilities for companies to stand out from the crowd. By working towards a responsible digital transition, companies can make a competitive statement: the pioneers in this field can show their success, inspiring their competitors to follow the same path. For Ivan Mariblanca Flinch, competition is good – but not enough: “benchmarking should be a means to improvement, but not an end unto itself. It is a catalyst for action that allows us to understand the market’s maturity”.

Inside of companies, involving collaborators in digital transition efforts not only raises their awareness of sustainability issues – it also increases loyalty. Ivan Mariblanca Flinch even notes that “there is better cohesion within teams when the company’s values align with those of the collaborators.”

Collective actions

Back in 2018, the Institut du Numérique Responsable (The Institute for Responsible Digital Activities which operates in France, Belgium and Switzerland) created the “responsible digital charter.” Any company can decide to implement it to gain a better overview of the actions that need to be taken to move towards more sustainable digital activities. By inviting companies to think about the environmental issues related to their digital consumption, the charter fuels a collective debate – debate that then makes it possible to take action on a large scale, through a systemic approach.

This charter makes it easier to reflect on an energy policy aimed at reducing digital pollution, while representing the values of companies that adapt to the challenges of tomorrow – that is, developing sustainable services, limiting environmental impact, committing to ethical digital technology, and encouraging responsible behaviors and values.

With this aim in mind, the Cyber World CleanUp Day was created in 2020. A day dedicated to raising awareness around the environmental impact of digital technology, it happens every year in March. The initiative encourages people to delete unnecessary data and to offer a second life to old devices. In 2023, the French initiative will change its name to Digital CleanUp Day, to mark its international scope. Being part of a working group can also help organizations make decisions around their energy policy. In 2021, 27 major French groups concerned about the challenges of tomorrow (including Michelin and EDF) set up Les Collectifs – a federation that aims to raise awareness towards environmental issues among all companies.

The goal is to bring about a radical change of behaviors to connect business and the ecological transition. In Belgium, Kaya and Ecopreneurs Belgium merged to form Ecopreneur-Kaya, an alliance that aims to implement the regenerative economy within companies – that is to say, a more local “operating system” that improves resilience and reduces energy consumption. In Spain, the CEOE Foundation and the main non-profit organizations involved in e-waste collection launched the Digitalización Sostenible (Sustainable Digitization) campaign in January 2021. Their mission is to collect computers and tablets from companies across the country before reconditioning them and donating them to people who can’t afford such purchases.

Concrete applications within businesses

Everyone can include simple actions into their routine: deleting old e-mails, turning off the computer when leaving the office, printing sparingly…. But these small gestures have only a limited impact. The main lever for action resides in waste management and computer resources. Ivan Mariblanca Flinch reminds us that “90% of the environmental impact of digital technology is generated during the manufacturing steps.” Whenever possible, equipment lifespan should be extended, or devices recycled within the company. “For example, if a developer thinks his computer is no longer powerful enough to carry out their tasks, it is possible to reassign it to someone else.”

According to him, it’s all about reducing “digital bulimia”: one screen per person and one printer per open space are actually enough for an office to function properly, and help reduce digital pollution. As well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Companies can also implement new solutions to support them through their ecological transition journey. This is what Canopé offers: to help companies of all sizes set goals and reduce their digital footprint. For example, the Swiss start-up assists its clients in eco-designing their websites. Ivan Mariblanca Flinch explains that in addition to helping companies reduce their carbon footprint, an eco-designed website also improves the user experience: the smaller the page weight, the faster the loading speed – and the better the ranking. GreenIT and FinOPS approaches help companies optimize their processes and reduce both the costs and carbon emissions associated with using cloud technologies.

It is possible to combine digital sobriety and growth. Following the “less is more” principles can save costs, save time, attract talent while reducing the amount of material used – and waste. Reducing our digital footprint is as good for the planet as it is for business. “In the end, integrating environmental criteria is also good for business,” concludes our expert.