Digital sustainability: Harnessing technology for environmental conservation

Technology’s role in environmental conservation is a controversial topic. On the one hand, technology, such as our mobile devices and the internet, does have an alarming impact. According to the Sustainable Web Manifesto, if the Internet was a country, it would be the 4th largest polluter. 

On the other hand, we have digital sustainability. Since there is no going back to a pre-digital world, digital sustainability promises to help us have a positive impact. It's also a chance to incorporate sustainable and profitable practices for businesses.

What is digital sustainability?

Digital sustainability means using digital technologies responsibly and sustainably to minimize their negative environmental impact. Even more importantly, it means maximizing their positive contributions to society. It involves integrating sustainability principles into the design, development, and use of digital systems, services, and infrastructure.

For example, a transportation company uses a solution that collects data from various systems, such as a truck board. The solution has a feature for fuel consumption optimisation that has been developed by considering variables related to transportation routes. 

Using those variables, the solution can surface the most cost-effective routes for drivers. It also keeps an eye on greenhouse gas emissions.

Why is digital sustainability important? 

Digital transformation implies using more technology to conduct day-to-day business operations. However, this can harm the environment if it’s not done efficiently. Digital sustainability wants to ensure that digital transformation is viable in the long term. It’s also important due to: 

  • Environmental impact - the digital sector, including data centres, electronic devices, and internet infrastructure, consumes significant amount of energy and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting digital sustainability, we can reduce energy consumption, adopt renewable energy sources, and minimize the carbon footprint associated with digital products
  • E-waste hazards - electronic waste poses significant environmental and health risks if not properly managed. Digital sustainability encourages responsible e-waste management, including recycling and safe disposal, to minimize pollution and resource depletion
  • Ethical considerations - digital sustainability includes ethical considerations such as privacy, data protection, and responsible data usage. Through ethical practices, we can protect individuals' rights, maintain trust in digital technologies, and prevent harmful consequences of misusing personal information.

Digital sustainability is crucial for creating a sustainable and inclusive digital future. 

What is a good example of sustainable digital technology?

One of our clients is an independent engineering consultancy company located in the Netherlands. They provide services for thermal energy projects for different clients in the industrial and geothermal development areas. We’ve developed two sustainable solutions for them. 

First, they needed us to create a solution that allows their clients to keep an overview of their soil energy systems. They also needed to view energy performance reports. This opens up the possibility for clients to easily check whether a system adheres to the data limits or not.

Secondly, another solution addresses the company’s need to explore all relevant external and internal information related to thermal energy systems. The solution centralises data invaluable to their work and enables them to address the lack of knowledge continuity and time waste. Most importantly, the consultants are able to give better advice to their clients. 

This is a great example of sustainable technology. It enables not only the company to become more efficient but also to extend those benefits to their clients. 

How to apply digital sustainability in your organisation

According to the Sustainable Web Manifesto, working towards a more sustainable internet means creating a clean and efficient environment. This is also to be accessible and transparent. Here are a few ideas for setting sustainability goals and improving sustainability: 

Assess your current digital sustainability status 

The first and one of the most important steps is to assess your current digital sustainability status. Here are just a few questions to ask:

  • How do you manage e-waste? - e-waste poses significant health and environmental risks. Your company can commit to recycling old tech and donating it to a business. In this way, you're contributing to the circular economy
  • Could you benefit from going paperless? - even today, businesses still use paper to organise their processes. This can be detrimental to the environment. It can also be a hassle to store and manage, so going paperless has many benefits 
  • Are there any changes to your infrastructure that could reduce your carbon emissions? - switching to the cloud, choosing more sustainable digital tools, and monitoring your activities’ carbon footprint is a great start
  • How can you educate your employees or clients? - many people aren’t aware that even sending an email can increase their carbon footprint. This is a sign to find more sustainable strategies and teach others how to do the same. 

Switch to a more sustainable infrastructure

The Great Energy Transition aims to bring renewable energy to the forefront, especially regarding businesses and their energy needs. For example, a more sustainable infrastructure could use:

  • Green web hosting - web hosting is energy-intensive and you can try to switch to a green web hosting provider 
  • Increasing your website’s efficiency - low-performance websites use more energy, so better performance means lower emissions
  • Cloud computing services - cloud computing is also an energy-intensive service. To understand your total emissions, you can calculate the cloud carbon emission and try to find ways to reduce it. 

Of course, this also means using greener solutions, which we will discuss next. 

Adopt sustainable digital tools

As seen in the example above, digital tools can help you reduce carbon emissions and be more resource efficient. However, you don’t need to be a sustainable engineering company to have a positive impact. Here are a few examples:

  • Energy efficiency - energy management should be a common practice in any organisation. Custom IT solutions help you understand energy trends and minimise costs related to energy consumption
  • Carbon footprint - start by calculating your company’s carbon footprint and find a way to reduce it. For example, the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) provides estimates of greenhouse gas emissions reductions based on waste management practices (such as recycling and landfilling). This will help you make the best decisions when dealing with the waste your organisation produces, such as mixed electronics and portable electronic devices
  • Life cycle assessment - assess the environmental impact of your product or service from beginning to end. This includes raw material usage, manufacturing and end-of-life stages. The goal is to find relevant information that can help you improve your product or service’s sustainability. There are open tools that can guide you through this process

Of course, as technology advances, so can your ESG initiatives. The important part is to start somewhere. 

Aim for accessibility 

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 6 people have a significant disability. A more sustainable internet is also a fairer one, with equal access and open exchange of information. It’s also important to allow site visitors to control their data. 

  • Improve accessibility - any tool you plan to develop and your website should follow basic guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an international standard that takes you through making any web content more accessible. To get started, here are some accessibility audit tools 
  • Ensure data protection- if you’re in the EU, GDPR compliance is a must. However, a solid data security policy is surely going to become the norm in many other regions. 

Working with a trusted IT company is a great starting point for protecting your clients’ data. It should be high on your list of requirements. Look for companies with certifications such as ISO 27001 that can help you mitigate any security risks. 

Meet Qubiz at ICT Spring 2023

Qubiz is a one-stop-shop technology partner, covering the whole application lifecycle, including functional design and consulting, software architecture design, UX/UI design, software development, QA, and maintenance. 

We’re dedicated to supporting business transformation and continuity. We have experience in building sustainable digital solutions in various industries, such as energy, healthcare and logistics. 

Digital sustainability is a major theme of ICT Spring 2023. ICT Spring is a global tech conference that will take place between June 29-30 in Luxemburg. Our colleague, Botond, is more than happy to meet and discuss if you’re interested in applying digital sustainability in your organisation.

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