12 best practices for digital sobriety in business

22 Mar


Written by

Louise McNutt




12 best practices for digital sobriety in business
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As public awareness grows around the environmental impacts of digital tech, the concept of digital sobriety has been slowly making its way into the business world, across all industries and professions. Given that technology is a limited resource, the digital transformation of companies must now be approached from a perspective of ecological transition. This means rethinking its uses, to make sure we use digital technologies in a rational and reasoned way. How can we achieve this, in practice? Here are some initial courses of action and expert resources to take things further!

The environmental cost of digital technologies

Despite their apparent intangibility, digitalization and dematerialization are very concrete: they require the use of computer equipment, the manufacture and transport of which require resources and energy. As you can imagine, this is not without direct or indirect impact on the environment. Digital pollution is very real: according to Green IT, in 2019, the environmental footprint of digital tech represented 1,400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, or nearly 4% of global GHG emissions.Given its continued rise, the evolution of digital impact does not currently meet the COP 21 targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By managing information systems to meet their clients' needs, and by working with well-equipped and connected employees, companies have a clear role to play in helping to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology.But how can we limit the carbon footprint of digital activities in business? Frédéric Bordage, an expert in Green IT, defines digital sobriety as an “approach that consists of designing more sober digital services and moderating our everyday digital use ".

It's not about doing without this precious resource, but of questioning the relevance of a company's activities with regard to their impact and of encouraging responsible practices. Basically it's about doing more with less. And the good news is: it is entirely possible!

Why adopt best practices for digital sobriety?

Digital transition is essential to companies to ensure they remain competitive and efficient, thanks to: task automation, better working conditions, increased innovation potential, time and efficiency gains, cost rationalisation, and more. That being said, all these advantages could disappear if no action is taken to rethink digital practices.It is therefore in the interest of every company to embark on digital sobriety, and there are other benefits, too:

  • CSR commitment: companies are increasingly impacted by societal and environmental commitments and the expectations of their various stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, etc.), and responsible digital technology is a significant part of this.
  • Regulatory compliance: with the implementation of more and more initiatives and more stringent legislation, adopting digital sobriety helps businesses to anticipate the impact of regulations so as not to be taken by surprise.
  • Attractiveness and employer brand: tackling this issue is also an effective way to promote your brand, especially among younger talents, who are increasingly sensitive to corporate social responsibility.
  • Cost savings: opting for more responsible digital practices partly involves reducing energy use. The reduction in CO2 emissions also means a reduction in costs, as well as gains in efficiency.
  • A means of innovation: optimizing digital resources paves the way for innovation and the constant pursuit of greater efficiency.

12 best practices for getting on track to digital sobriety

Equipment management

Even before electricity consumption, the environmental impact of digital technology is mainly generated by the production of digital devices. Their manufacture and their transformation into electronic components requires the extraction of raw materials and leads to resource depletion. This manufacturing phase is responsible for 59% to 84% of the impacts of the digital sector on a global scale (source: Green IT). The proliferation of smartphones and computers is therefore problematic. In a company, equipment management is key!

1. Optimize the life cycle of IT hardware

Managing the entire life cycle of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is a way to limit the renewal of devices and reduce the impacts related to their manufacture and end of life.Among the courses of action to be implemented:

  • Opting to rent equipment rather than buy, when this solution is relevant and when its purchase does not allow you to manage the second life or end of life of the equipment.
  • Extending the lifespan of equipment and promoting its reuse (for example reconditioning) rather than recycling, which consumes a lot of resources and energy.
  • Reassigning equipment to other user categories, etc.
Computer greenery

2. Pool devices

The pooling of digital devices can be achieved at different levels:

  • Personal and professional devices: if possible, keep a single cellphone per employee with a dual SIM card. Another example is setting up a BYOD policy (Bring Your Own Device).
  • Own equipment: encourage the pooling of devices and resources to reduce environmental impact. For example, cloud computing, which pools architectures on the basis of services purchased, reduces the impact of internal data centers.

3. Define a sustainable purchasing policy

Responsible digital procurement is another means of action for companies. You can start by informing your purchasing department of your ambition to reduce ecological impact linked to digital equipment.Depending on your company's commitment to this issue, you can develop a list of best practices for your purchasing department to use, in favor of more sustainable procurement: the second-hand market, devices that have been refurbished or certified to guarantee compliance with environmental criteria, etc. There are resources to help you with this process, such as the “Procurement of Digital Technology” guide on the Digital Impact Alliance.

Choice of applications

4. Limit the number of applications

It is fairly common for companies to have an excess of digital tools, whether they be hardware or applications and software. Before equipping yourself with new software for your business needs, ask yourself if other tools already perform the same function.For example, do marketing and creative teams use different tools to organize, store, create, deliver and ultimately manage all their visual content?To streamline the number of software programs used, a Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution makes it easier to manage the life cycle of digital content, from creation to the management of creative projects within the solution.This practice offers rapid results and also improves team productivity.

5. Rethink your internal collaboration tools

A more minimalist approach can also be adopted to limit the proliferation of collaborative tools used internally and any related redundancies (Google Drive, online file directory, Intranet, etc.). This helps to prevent the same documents being stored in different locations, and therefore reduces their energy impact.Similarly, for tools developed in-house, an eco-design approach should be encouraged to reduce energy consumption with, in particular:

  • features that only meet the actual needs of end users;
  • an optimized architecture, promoting an environment (modularity, scalability, etc.) that helps developers to achieve more frugality;
  • measurement tools to track the energy consumption of applications during the development process.

For more information on this matter: Cigref published a report in 2020 on “Digital sobriety: a responsible business approach".

6. Opt for SaaS applications that reduce your carbon impact

The choice of business applications and software used is key to improving a company's carbon footprint. When acquiring a tool, you can turn to SaaS software rather than on-premises software: this means that the solution is not hosted on your company's servers, but with the publisher, whose services are accessible via a subscription and an internet connection. Why is SaaS more environmentally friendly?

Faced with a huge surge in data volumes, companies can limit the number of on-premises servers, which have a high carbon footprint. The main benefit of using delocalized servers is the optimization of their use. Because it is shared and more appropriately sized for the businesses' actual needs, the infrastructure consumes less energy. At the same time, the data centers to which the servers are outsourced are implementing more and more strategies and innovations to reduce their ecological footprint and their energy consumption.Other relevant criteria can be considered when selecting software, such as where to host your data. This will have an effect on the energy consumption of your data transfers, since the closer the server is to the location of data use, the lower the carbon impact. Also consider the energy mix of the country whose data centers are hosting your data: what is the share of energy produced by fossil fuels, and therefore more carbon-intensive?As a Digital Asset Management software provider in SaaS mode, Wedia is committed to protecting the environment and seeks solutions to limit its carbon impact and that of its customers. Our work includes:

  • promoting the use of refurbished servers;
  • working with partners who are committed to reducing their carbon impact;
  • developing an efficient DAM solution, and offering companies different features to embark on this path in turn: optimized storage, integrated to avoid duplication of content, and focused on data to assess the uses and performance of their media.

Moderation of uses

On the user side, a few simple practices can be put in place to limit the impact of the movement and remote storage of digital data.

7. Use email wisely

Email is often singled out as responsible for a significant environmental impact, but its storage in data centers represents only 0.5% of its total impact. The biggest impact still comes from the production of the device that is used to write, send and read it.When it comes to digital sobriety, it is best to place yourself upstream of use: instead of spending time deleting emails from your inbox, it is better to rethink your communication. The least polluting email is the one you don't send! Here are some best practices that can be adopted:

  • Change your means of communication as soon as possible, prioritizing live chats, instant messaging, voice calls, etc.
  • Target the right recipients: send emails only to the relevant recipients, avoid the “Reply all” function when it is not useful;
  • Avoid sending attachments or compress them, otherwise send a link to a shared document.
  • Regularly delete spam and unsubscribe from newsletters that are no longer of interest.
  • Clean up your contact lists to gain clarity and more targeted distribution, and improve the deliverability of your emails (duplicates, errors, contacts who are obsolete or no longer interested), etc.
People computers

8. Be mindful when you browse the web

Web requests also have an environmental impact. It is advisable to avoid the use of search engines, whenever you can, by adopting best practices, such as:

  • directly entering the address of the website you wish to consult;
  • using bookmarks to directly access the desired site, which uses up to four times less energy than going through a search engine;
  • closing unnecessary tabs: they consume energy by sending requests to constantly refresh themselves.

9. Managing data storage

Regularly updating your corporate drive helps you be more resource efficient, while lowering the costs associated with IT storage and backups. Consider organizing a regular cleanup of storage areas (cloud, home directories, email, etc.) to delete unused, duplicate or useless data after a certain time.If you use a DAM solution to store, organize and share your marketing content, you will benefit from analytical and efficiency features to optimize your use with ease.

10. Reduce energy consumption

Reducing energy consumption is a sensible decision that allows you to reduce both your electricity bills and the environmental footprint of your digital use. While solving this issue naturally begins with the purchase of energy-efficient equipment, some simple and straightforward practices can also be adopted:

  • Prioritize WiFi over the mobile network: 4G consumes at least twice as much as WiFi (source: BBC). If possible, use an Ethernet cable to connect your devices to the internet
  • Turn off devices: even in standby, your devices consume electricity, the screen too! A computer consumes up to 40% of its electricity in standby mode (source: ADEME). For example, if you know you won't be using it for more than an hour, switch off your computer, and always at the end of your working day. A power adapter with a switch can be a helpful way to disconnect your devices from any power source!
  • Optimize your settings: To save kilowatt-hours (kWh), very simple adjustments can be made, such as:
  • Setting screen timeout after 10 minutes of inactivity
  • Avoiding screen savers
  • Adjusting screen brightness to the working environment
  • Setting the power saving mode to activate when the computer battery has nearly run out or during a period of inactivity

Stakeholder awareness and training

To make sure your entire company is on board with the initiative, information and training is required, as well as in-depth work on the culture of the company as a whole.

11. Inform your employees

You can appoint a sustainable digital manager to encourage and coordinate this initiative in your company, and ensure that all the company's stakeholders are on board. This involves a variety of communication channels focused on digital sobriety, for example:

  • Disseminate best practices in the work environment
  • Gamify the approach by organizing competitions or challenges on digital sobriety
  • Provide information on the impacts of digital tech by profession
  • Offer training on responsible tech, green energy, etc.
  • Organize an internal repairs café
  • Offer awareness workshops, such as INR modules or the Fresque du Numérique, to understand the environmental challenges of digital technology and think about solutions as a team.

12. Train operational teams

Be sure to train your employees and communicate on the challenges of sustainable digital technology to incorporate this into the roadmaps of your various departments and teams.This concerns digital product design activities in particular: offer them training in eco-design to create more responsible digital services. This is not only done from a technical point of view, but also an operational one: simplifying services to offer only what the customer needs, and to optimize the user journey, without superfluous information or features.To find out more, the best practices applied to sustainable marketing can be consulted in our article.

Learn more: sustainable digital strategy and action plan

The best practices presented above are important, but far from exhaustive. The idea is to tackle this issue by defining a strategy and then an action plan and by involving the management team and all areas of the company to ensure its success.The integration of a global digital sobriety initiative at a company requires time and the willingness to make improvements to all daily activities and practices. To be effective and beneficial, this must be considered as a long-term investment, and not be overlooked in favor of other activities deemed more profitable.You can find out more from experts in the field and see key resources on the subject, such as:

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