Insights

Eco-responsibility, an effortless commitment : digital is a driving force of the ecologic transition

Business Development & Strategy Director
Valtech France

July 01, 2016

For technical progress defenders, each and every new evolution would enable people to solve modern society’s wrongs and miseries. However, for its detractors, development would not only deepen the gap between rich and poor but also aggravate the ecological crisis. Digital being the matter of the latest technological transformation, the issue of its environmental impact is thus totally legitimate to be discussed. 

The abundance of platforms, social networks and other mobile applications definitely turned it into a key medium of the green revolution. Besides, the COP21 owes a lot to this tool, which is a real means of influence, visibility and creativity. This global event generated more than 2.09 million posts (Linkinfluence) and motivated many digital innovations. Yet, if it shed light on digital’s assets to save the planet, it appears that its ecological footprint would be really noticeable. Indeed, it produces as much CO2 as the overall aerial traffic. According to the UN, the situation is doomed to worsen since, if 3,2 billion people have access to the Internet today; they will be 5 billion in 2020. Therefore, the challenge lies in the fair equilibrium to be found between optimizing the conception and consumption – to make them more energy-friendly – of digital on the one hand, and unlocking the potential of creativity and engagement it offers on the other hand, in order to foster more responsible behaviours.

A fundamental need for structural adjustments

In order to reconcile digital with environment, the whole process that drives the lifecycle of hardware as well as software have to be reconsidered. If it is hard to revolutionize those skills because they became the fuel of a whole new economy, some are thus timidly being challenged by several greener solutions such as websites open source or eco-conception. The latters aim at reducing the necessary resources and, logically, the digital pollution. Besides, actors such as Black Market, a digital platform that offers to give a second life to devices, or ZEROwatt, that controls the device charge to avoid the battery degradation, are questioning the planned obsolescence principle that also produces a huge amount of waste. At last, many companies tend to relocate their data centres in cold zones – just like Facekook that settled his in Lulea, Sweden – in order to prevent the overheating downsides. More sustainable solutions like Internity, Smart Water or Q Rad advocate the recycling of energy generated by those servers, in order to heat water or places afterwards.

Big Data is definitely the new black-gold

If Big Data storage is one of the main perpetrators of CO2 emissions – 25% – after the network and users (Green It), it could also be virtuous. Well exploited, it could contribute to preserve the world, for instance through the implementation of predictive patterns. IBM developed with the Chinese government an Artificial Intelligence project, able to forecast pollution peaks and provide means to reduce them in the future. On its part, Google launched the cartography project Sunroof that indicates the solar potential of house roofs to show citizens the energy savings they could manage if they were taking advantage of solar energy. If the willingness to display a CSR policy seems to be driving many digital actions on ecology, the GAFAs and digital start-ups, because of their data expertise, have an environmental duty to assume. They have to make data available to all consumers to make them realize the current stakes. To this end, energy data tracking is a fertile ground for brand innovation. Some play the card of entertainment to nudge users to improve their energy consumption by offering them incentives such as money or their results publication and comparison with friends on social media. (Enffi, Compte CO2). Others endorse the green advisor cap, by diagnosing precisely the water and electricity consumption of a household and giving advice to reduce it (IP One, E-Genius, True Smart Grid, Advizzo). Another approach aims at empowering users to be part of the ecological transition, enabling them to synchronize their needs with available resources around them and to progressively switch to renewable energies (OEEX, Sympower)…

During that time, in real life…

The awareness concerning the environmental emergency is rising and tongues are being loosened when it comes to claim a willingness to save the planet. However, it may be complicated to link this ambition to our daily lives and act concretely. Sensors and other connected objects (Connect’O, Eugene, Ecoisme) that are now perfectly settled in our habits, fairly embrace this goal, giving everyone the power to change things. Therefore, to challenge the complexity of turning words into actions, services like Qu’est ce qu’on fait or Swadmap position themselves as city-guides to encourage a more local and sustainable lifestyle, thanks to geolocalisation. At last, by subtly anchoring themselves in our daily digital routine, Anona and Goodeed offer Internet users the possibility to support societal projects, simply by viewing an ad. This creative and above all non-binding solution thus allows, even the more refractory of us, to participate.

Digital will play a significant role in a future where Nature will more than ever be the focus of the international community concerns. A radical alternative solution to curb pollution may lie in the disconnexion injunction. And here again, there is a plethora of digital ways out for that purpose…