Can IT be sustainable?

October 2020 is certainly a milestone for digital development in France.

A conference organized in Bercy on October 8, “Environment and Digital”, began the announcements for engage the digital sector in the energy transition and rectify this oversight in environmental and climate policies.

It is true that the growth of this sector over the past 30 years has made it essential in many other sectors. If sometimes it can help them reduce their environmental impact, it does so with an infrastructure, often “invisible” to ordinary people, which is the source of millions of tons of CO2 in its balance sheet.

Global IT is spending 3,200 billion euros each year, without really knowing if they are responsible or not. At the business level, infrastructure, materials and communications represent roughly 60% of IT costs, when service is 23% and software 12%.

But digital also includes household equipment in computers, smartphones and TV boxes, with an impact that depends heavily on uses, even if this impact remains lower than that of businesses.

Cedric O, Secretary of State for Digital, therefore wants the State to mobilize to make this sector of the future, in terms of jobs and sovereignty, a little more environmentally virtuous. A first priority, because there must be “quick wins”, is to tackling the lifespan of electronic devices, and especially smartphones. This is one of the grievances brought to 5G, with the pressure it puts on the demand for renewal of terminals.

The manufacture of these terminals would represent 75% of the digital ecological footprint, according to Barbara pompili, the Minister of Ecological Transition also present at the conference, in particular because of the use of rare earths and metals. GreenSI take this figure, but still find it high over the lifetime of the equipment.

The report of Senate of June 2020 “For an ecological digital transition” takes again the figure of 3.7% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world in 2018 for digital. Of this amount, only 44% of this footprint is due to the manufacture of terminals, data centers and networks and 56% to their use.

This report, of which GreenSI recommends reading, is full of recommendations that could be the subject of a future bill, but also certainly new controversies such as the end of unlimited data plans (proposal ° 15) or the obligation to automatically adapt the video in terminal format, when surfing the Internet (proposal n ° 16).

But the biggest project will be infrastructure. We need to tackle their energy consumption, particularly that of data centers, with efficient management of the energy consumed and the heat generated by computer servers. Government announcements will concern, in 2021, access to a reduced electricity tariff when a datacenter demonstrates its eco-responsibility. It is the beginning of an environmental policy to encourage responsible digital technology.

But these infrastructures are mainly used by companies. Their mobilization must therefore not be outdone, otherwise infrastructure providers will have no incentive to change their practices.

It’s done with the launch of the platform “Planet Tech’Care ” speak Syntec Digital – digital suppliers – and Cigref – large companies using digital technology – and several other partners committed to responsible digital technology such asResponsible Digital Institute, the pole Systematic or The Shift Project.

By joining the “Planet Tech’Care” platform, companies are mobilizing to integrate digital into their environmental strategy, or the opposite.

But, even with the best intentions in the world, the problem also lies in the ignorance of the concepts of sustainability, the complexity of calculating GHGs, of implementing measurement procedures … Without this knowledge, how to orient technological choices, and architectures, in digital transformation projects?

From the October 8 launch, a hundred companies were already signatories (over here to join the movement!).

These companies are therefore also committed to supporting those involved in training and to promote, within their organizations, the development of responsible digital skills.

These skills can then take action: reduce the current carbon footprint of internal IT, influence the trajectory of digital transformation to make it sustainable or promote responsible use, etc.

Because the real subject may be thatcurrently the governance of IS, integrates little, if not at all the environmental question.

We are talking about Green IT for more than 10 years, but this is only the last update of the IS audit guide, which reveals a general criterion of responsibility including ethical issues and societal and environmental responsibility (CSR), defined by the strategy of the company.

The break that awaits IS managers (CIO, CDO, CEO, etc.) is therefore to go beyond this posture, behind the company’s strategy, and to take the leadership of a sustainable approach to IS.

In addition, IS are systems deployed well beyond the datacenter, with multiple terminals and recently with the development of connected objects, for example for logistics. The consideration of teleworking is also a new subject, seen for the moment only from the angle of cyber-security.

These managers must now understand the environmental implications of the technologies used and systematically assess the energy and carbon relevance of a given technology, before its deployment. The IS study and design process can then integrate this dimension for infrastructures, but also for applications with the development of eco-design. Because software also has an environmental impact, since algorithms can be more or less efficient at converging, and require more or less communications.

But who to drive this environmental transformation in a company, in addition to the digital transformation?

This conference was launched by two ministries, Environment and Digital.

GreenSI wonders if such a beautiful photo could be taken in the company. If the ISD can be legitimate to represent the IS, which direction does environmental responsibility represent?

Apart from a few companies that are ahead of this subject and have dedicated departments, the environment is often empty in the organization chart of the company.

Data protection has required, via the GDPR, all companies and local authorities to have a DPO (data protection officer). It is clear that today, as regards the governance of the impact of information systems, data is certainly better protected than the environment!

The initiatives of recent weeks should therefore mobilize and bring out in companies the actors who will be able to install a new governance of IS. This governance must be able to influence decisions by taking into account the environmental impact, in addition to the business, security or personal data impact.

Responsible digital technology is emerging on information systems, but there will certainly be a long way to go.

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