If our digital activities are virtual, their ecological impact is real. Computers, smartphones, data centers, transport infrastructure … all are very greedy in materials and energy. People are encouraged to clean their mailboxes, but responsibilities are more widely shared. Companies, designers, consumers … everyone has action levers. Meeting with three actors who are committed to a more sober digital.
If the Internet were a country, it would be the third biggest polluter on the planet after China and the United States. In 2020, nearly 9 billion connected objects will be in circulation worldwide. Video streaming alone captures nearly 60% of global web traffic. These figures * make us dizzy and yet we do not talk much about it. Because it’s invisible pollution, it’s hard to educate consumers and businesses about the environmental impact of digital.
Electronics: an ecological aberration
Adrien Montagut, a former chemical engineer revolted by the waste of resources generated by the electronics sector, decided to tackle the problem by starting with the smartphone. He co-founded the Commown cooperative, which offers rental services for ” fairphones ” **, eco-designed and repairable smartphones. ” The smartphone is the perfect allegory of globalization: it has traveled around the world four times before arriving in our pocketAdrien recalls, and the backstage of the trip is not glorious. From the extraction of metals needed for manufacturing to the planned obsolescence that drives the renewal of the device, through the impossible recycling of nano-materials, the carbon and social cost of a smartphone is enormous. The same goes for all our electronic equipment, knowing that on average, an American already has nearly 10, we quickly grasp the extent of the problem.
From property to use
This is why Adrien and his team defend a model based on the principles of the economy of functionality.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of connected objects owned by a person and especially to maximize the duration of use.”
Rather than having your smartphone two years and let him finish his life at the bottom of a drawer, Commown offers you to rent a fairphone, to guarantee the good functionality and to revalue it, if possible, at the end of rental agreement. If the fairphone is too damaged to return to the market, Commown seeks solutions to lengthen the duration of use of each of its components. For the moment, the offer appeals to customers already committed to ecological issues. The cooperative is now seeking to target companies to offer a sustainable alternative in mobile equipment.
Digital sobriety in business: a real cultural change
Companies also have a major role to play. How to offer customers eco-designed digital products and services while not sacrificing innovation and the sacrosanct “user experience”? That’s what Tanguy Dade, Head of the Digital Technology Department at MAIF, is doing. At the head of a team of 50 developers and designers, he campaigns daily to limit the environmental footprint of the digital solutions offered by the mutual group. For Tanguy, the key to success is to demonstrate that digital sobriety also has a positive impact on the business: ” if we succeed in lightening the mobile application MAIF, it will be less consumer in terms of energy and energy. resources, so more efficient, more efficient, and ultimately, the customer will be satisfied”. To convince all the actors of the company of the benefits of the eco-design of the web pages and services, it is better to adapt its argument to the interlocutor. In the communication department for example, particularly fond of the use of videos, Tanguy recalls that the weight of the web pages impacts their referencing on the search engines “the more the loading time of the pages is long, the less the site will be well referenced “.
A vision that must infuse all levels of the company
Raising awareness and demonstrating pedagogy is the challenge facing the daily Tanguy and his team. As in any cultural change, it is necessary that this vision be raised to the highest level of the company: if the leaders are not sponsors, the few convinced ambassadors will waste their energy. Many companies today work internally within their organization: by running campaigns to encourage employees to reduce the number of impressions or limit the sending of attachments, they seek to change behavior. However, the real change will come when the products themselves are designed with their environmental and social impact in mind. A building site on which designers have a role to play.
Designers: keystone of the system
Mellie La Roque, co-chair of the ” Designers Ethics ” collective, invites those who conceive and imagine digital products to question their responsibility. In recent years, innovation initiatives have focused on improving the “user experience” to provide the customer with the most intuitive experience possible. The products and applications are designed to be extremely simple to use and above all terribly addictive … It is against this principle of “attentional capture” that militates the collective. Their approach to design is systemic: they think beyond the user experience and ask themselves new questions ” What is the purpose of the service I design? What will be its environmental impact? Societal? “.
Take a critical look at current design practices
But before changing their behaviors and practices, designers must already be aware of the problem. Thus, the collective offers workshops to experiment with new methodologies and to understand, for example, the structure of a social network. “Recently, we have broken down Facebook’s structure. For some, the system of “infinite scroll” is an absolute obvious, a standard that can be found everywhere else, but we could do otherwise, everything is a matter of choice! “.For Mellie, it is precisely the role of the designer to take a critical look at the preconceived patterns. “Designers Ethics” invites designers to think otherwise, to design products that are not harmful to the user, for example by refusing the system of “likes” that feeds the game of social recognition.
All these actors, entrepreneurs, employees and designers are moving towards the ” low tech ” movement: they seek to promote a simple, accessible and sustainable technology. They think that another use of digital is possible and especially desirable. However, all agree that the policy of small steps has its limits and that these actions should be coupled with real structural changes. Politics can not continue to underestimate the environmental impacts of the increasing use of digital. Companies have their role to play, but states must also take stock of the issues and do what is expected of them at least : regulate.
* For more information, see The Shift Project’s Digital Environmental Impact Report
** Commown also offers a sustainable PC rental service
This article was written following a conference on digital sobriety organized at the MAIF Start-Up Club on September 12, 2019.
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Photo credit: istockphoto