We know that energy consumption linked to digital technology is increasing and with the growing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, the environmental impact is significant.
How then can organisations work to combat an expanding carbon footprint, by putting in place an approach which favours digital sobriety?
We have already spoken in previous articles about a corporate strategy, marketing strategy and best practices in business, but what role do employees have in defining such an approach? And why are they such an important component to consider?
Organisations of all types use and manage information systems to carry out their day-to-day activities, communicate with clients/customers and develop solutions for them. Employees are as such in constant contact with different types of digital technologies, all of which generate their own carbon footprint.
Add to this the hardware that employees are using (computers, charging stations, professional mobile phones etc.) and the impact that each employee has can be sizeable.
Companies therefore have a responsibility to work, across their entire organisation, to think about the choices that are made for digital technology and hardware, putting in place a strategy that favours digital sobriety.
Here we share five tips for getting employees on board with a digital sobriety approach.
Different teams across an organisation may be using a variety of different digital tools, or even similar tools which could be optimised to allow for multiple users to access them.
Auditing the software, hardware and storage needs of your organisation is an important step in understanding how emissions linked to these can be reduced. Speaking to all teams is essential, which then allows you to prioritise what can be kept, changed or removed.
In this way, companies must decide on tools or software which can optimise collaboration between teams and act as a central hub for many different processes. A tool such as a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system for example, allows for assets to be stored (including images, videos, legal documentation) and for workflows to be established, allowing teams from across the business to work together on projects. Such tools also contribute to lowering emissions by allowing employees to communicate and share files within the platform, rather than transferring them through email or file sharing sites.
Hardware makes up a significant part of any company’s digital footprint, when you consider the materials used, the transportation required and the need to charge said hardware. In many companies, hardware can be given to employees without individual consideration for what exactly they need.
For example, does every employee need a computer and mobile phone? Are such devices recycled or restored when needed? By understanding each situation, carbon emissions and cost can be reduced. Additionally, by having conversations with each employee about their needs, they can also be educated on the environmental impact of the IT cycle and their equipment, allowing them to understand how to take care of it to reduce replacement costs and emissions.
What’s more, the way the office is setup can contribute to rising emissions. Instinctively, employees will plug in their laptops/computers throughout the day but could collaborative workspaces with limited charging points encourage them to only do so when needed?
Along with educating employees, understanding hardware and office configuration can be important steps in helping to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
Digital sobriety must be part of a company-wide approach to a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) strategy. In order to make it a success, employees must be aware of the roadmap that is being set out by a company, the reasons behind it and how success will be measured.
In this way, if you’re looking to make changes, involve employees in the process, ask their opinion and see what their ideas are in order to make savings to your carbon footprint.
Communicating with employees is essential. Furthermore, employees are now increasingly concerned by the sustainable actions being carried out by their employer and as such actively seek out companies that are making steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Keeping employees informed about the decisions your company is making not only increases their loyalty and trust in your company but gives them the tools available to help reduce emissions.
Empowering employees with information like this also encourages them to be more conscious of their own actions and in their day-to-day activities. Can they for example take on the task of looking at the suppliers they work with and assess if their actions are also considered sustainable? Dell for example provides public information on the carbon footprint of its devices, can the IT team as such be inspired to look at the carbon footprint of the technical equipment?
In order to reduce the carbon footprint generated by digital solutions and technologies, it may be necessary to invest in new tools. For example, a DAM system brings together a range of capabilities into one consolidated platform but putting such a tool in place must come with training for employees, so it can be optimised.
By effectively showing staff how to use new solutions, which work to reduce a company’s digital footprint, your company invests in a forward-thinking strategy focused on reducing emissions. It also empowers employees to get the most out of their ways of working, helping to streamline processes and save time and costs.
The success of a digital sobriety strategy, depends largely on the implication of all teams. Digital sobriety concerns marketing, IT, accounting, HR and many other teams, so working together is crucial to being able to make a real difference.
All digital services and technology must be assessed, and this means having conversations between teams. This also allows for thought-out choices to be made concerning the changes that may need to happen.
For example, changes to hardware must be discussed and actions like shared workstations, which reduce charging points and power supply, must be considered depending on how it works for each individual team (legal teams may for example needs closed-off offices for confidentiality reasons).
In a report from Cigref, in partnership with The Shift Project, the Michelin group was cited as putting in place an approach focused on digital sobriety, across the entire organisation and implicating multiple teams:
“A “Sustainable Digital Technology” working group was created in mid-2019. Each month, it brings together representatives from the Purchasing, Administration, Communication, Sustainable Development and Mobility, Digital, IT, Industry, R&D, and the Services & Solution divisions. The essentially bottom-up approach to the drafting of the 2019 baseline allowed us to estimate the energy and carbon footprints of our digital activities on a global scale, over their entire lifecycle, both internally and externally.”
Taking on a digital sobriety approach as part of a wider CSR strategy is a way of attracting talent and reassuring existing employees. With social pressure for the environment becoming part of our everyday lives, employees want to see that actions they might be taking outside of work (recycling, reducing meat, using public transportation, etc.) are also feeding into their professional lives and in turn that their company is conscious of the importance of sustainable practices.
Indeed, students from France’s HEC Paris school drafted a manifesto entitled “Wake up Call on the environment: A Student Manifesto”, where they said, “We want to use the leverage we have as students by turning ourselves towards the employers we deem to be in agreement with the grievances we claim in this Manifesto.” This only serves to highlight the need by companies to consider all part of their business and look at how they can be made more sustainable.
Employees are an important part of any CSR strategy and this extends to digital sobriety which touches all teams and their ways of working. By reconsidering the tools you are using, how they are being used and how employees are taught how to use them, you are actively engaging in a roadmap that favours the environment.