Digital sobriety: Ethical and practical issues

27 February 2022

What is digital sobriety?

Computers, smartphones, tablets, computer equipment: digital technology is omnipresent in our daily lives and will continue to increase. High time to ask questions about its ecological impact on the environment, and about the way we interact with digital technology.

The Internet today emits as much CO2 as air travel and consumes 16% of the world’s electricity. The annual ecological digital footprint of an employee is equivalent to nearly 360 kg of CO2 annually or about 2,400 kilometers traveled by car 1.

Sources of digital emissions

Source: International Energy Agency

In view of these facts, it is legitimate to ask what the Internet and, more generally, digital technology will mean for our environment in the coming years. It is not a question of doing without the progress that the new information and communications technologies bring us. Rather, we need to question their energy-intensive and poorly optimized operation. There is a growing awareness among the population. A new concept is currently emerging that is leading to new consumption models: digital sobriety.

What does digital sobriety mean?
Digital sobriety means learning to reduce one’s ecological digital footprint and thus CO2 emissions in everyday life. This includes changing our digital consumption habits, as well as using products that consume less energy.

Isabelle Autissier, President of WWF France, put it this way:

« We urgently need to set in motion an alternative concept that guarantees the production of organic, fair, local, accessible, ethical, useful and constructive bytes in sufficient quantity starting from their creation, but most importantly, no more than necessary. This concept already exists; it is called digital sobriety».

There are two approaches to digital sobriety: the blue economy and the green economy. The former is aimed at the present, while the latter aims towards the future.

The blue economy

The blue economy concept, conceived by Belgian entrepreneur Gunter Pauli, is based on the principle of a recycling economy and takes this thinking even further.

Known as the “Steve Jobs of sustainable development,” he advocates the idea that all waste produced is to be used as a source of energy for another process. His credo is “nothing is lost, everything is recycled.” According to G. Pauli, the key is simply to “discover the value of waste.”

Returning to the topic of digital consumption: Adopting the concept of the blue economy means that we use our IT products throughout their entire life cycle. It is too late to have an impact on their production when we make a purchase – we already hold the products in our hands. This is why we must try to get as much use out of them as possible by extending their service life and recycling the components that can be recycled.

The green economy

The green economy principle does not question the fact of consumption, but entails consuming more responsibly. Here we try to reduce the impact on our environment with the aim of keeping our “natural capital” in balance. Not consuming more than nature offers us is the driving force behind the green economy concept.

Coming back to digital consumption: adhering to the concept of the green economy means using products that are more environmentally friendly and less energy consuming.


How can a digital-sobriety concept be introduced in companies?

1. Sensitizing employees to a more mindful digital culture

Any change management is initially based on an information and education phase for the stakeholders. It is important to communicate about the topic to raise people’s awareness.
Furthermore, the approach to a more responsible digital world must be in line with the company’s values; it is about leading by example top-down for better cohesion. Behavioral changes affect everyone. The resulting success is then also based both on the individual and collective efforts of employees as professionals and individually.


2. Turning to environmentally compatible products

To be effective, the digital sobriety concept must also be integrated into the company’s IT purchasing policy. As Muriel Barnaud, Director of Social Engagement at La Poste Group, points out, “Purchasing power is also about changing the world. You have to know how to build appropriate clauses into calls for tenders.”

Questioning energy consumption before purchasing equipment is therefore fundamentally important, and the range of more environmentally friendly solutions in the market is visibly growing.

The ROOMZ display consumes 10,000 times less power

ROOMZ did not wait for digital sobriety to take a more environmentally friendly approach. Ecological aspects were already taken into account when it came to the components of our devices. On average, a ROOMZ meeting room display uses 10,000 times less power than a tablet and has a lower ecological impact for several reasons:

  • Our solutions are 100% wireless. This means that no additional equipment is required, such as for laying cables or installing a PoE switch.
  • The sustainability of our products is among our guiding principles. Our screens display in black and white and a ROOMZ tablet only connects during an average of two minutes each day, the rest of the time it is in “standby” mode. This subjects the components of our screens to very little stress, guaranteeing a long product life (well over 10 years is possible).
  • We guarantee our products for two years (with the option extending to five years), while the life of our batteries alone is four years for the screens and five years for the sensors.

ROOMZ products: (eco)logical!

When you choose ROOMZ solutions, you are choosing products that consume little energy and are designed to adapt to the strategic and organizational developments in your company. The year 2021 will continue in this spirit, with increasingly eco-friendly projects that we look forward to soon presenting to you!

You can have a positive impact on the environment by opting for a green solution right at the start of an IT procurement project. As Anne-Cécile Orgerie, IT researcher at IRSA, points out, there is still to a lot to be done in terms of existing equipment:

« Power consumption is already at a maximum when a router operates at 60% of its capacity. This also applies to data centers that are little used at night. They consume a lot of energy even with little activity. »

We can, however, influence developments in the coming years through our decisions.


3. Simple measures at the workplace to reduce ecological impact

Even small changes implemented with the scope of a company’s CSR policy can significantly reduce its employees’ ecological digital footprint.

  • Limit the sending of e-mails
    Worldwide, nearly 12 billion emails are sent every hour, which is equivalent to the electricity produced by 18 nuclear power plants for one hour2
    From sending to storage, this means that e-mails exchanged every day consume a considerable amount of energy.
    One way to reduce their ecological impact is to reduce the number of recipients as much as possible. It also makes sense to add links instead of attachments in an e-mail. This reduces the weight of messages, making them less harmful to the environment. Finally, you can reduce the number of messages stored on the servers by regularly emptying your trash bin.
  • Reducing accounts
    The greater the number of accounts that are created, the more data is stored on constantly running applications. The data tends to only be replicated from one account to another and therefore does not add any value. Reducing the number of existing accounts is therefore a good practice that we should adopt in both our personal and professional lives.
  • Careful handling of computer equipment
    Even the devices we use every day for work or pleasure are energy hungry. So the following actions are good for our planet: putting the computer in standby mode after a few minutes, turning it off at night, using the “eco” display mode, regularly emptying the “Downloads” tab, and closing tabs or applications that do not need to be open.
  • Overhauling computer equipment
    It is known that a great deal of digital pollution (about 57%) is generated during the production of equipment. Therefore, when renewing a computer park, it is a good idea to contact a dealer who knows how to give your equipment (often still in very good condition) a second life by refurbishing it.
  • Reducing print-outs
    Print only when necessary and preferably double-sided, use recycled paper with a label (FCS or Blue Angel), remove unnecessary elements (e.g. images) and buy recycled ink cartridges. With these few simple measures, you can save up to 90% water.

The shift to an ecological way of doing business and the associated digital transformation represent two major challenges for the 21st century. Understanding of this is on the increase; more and more CSR charters are emerging, such as Planet Tech’Care, which has already been signed by more than 157 international companies.

[1] Benchmark Numérique Responsable 2017 – Report – Le Club IT
[2] ADEME – Agende de la Transition Ecologique

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