Is an electric car manufactured in the same way as a fossil fuel-powered car? Clearly not for everyone: simply putting electricity in the tank of a diesel engine won’t make it run. Therefore, the energy transition requires us to rethink the design of our vehicles, especially the engines. The same principle applies in the realm of digital technology. This may be less evident: devices already run on electricity, and we haven’t yet figured out how to make electronic devices out of wood. Nevertheless, the design of both physical and digital tools in the digital realm must also undergo a transformation. Embracing this responsibility in the digital field is broadly known as ‘Responsible Digital’. This encompasses not only environmental issues but also concerns related to accessibility, values, and ethics, as exemplified by the Responsible Digital Charter from the Institute of Responsible Digital.
An exemplary job already done in responsible digital practices.
Where to begin? This is the question answered by the guide to best practices for responsible digital use for organizations, developed by a primarily ministerial collectiv including MiNumEco, DINUM and INR, , along with partners from other institutions, particularly in research. It is currently in beta version, with a public consultation held to further refine it in an iterative process. The target audience for this document is the public service (central administration and local authorities), but it provides valuable insights for private sector considerations as well. If you wish to stop reading here and explore it for yourself on the institutional page, you can do so here.
Is it possible to adapt and adopt responsible digital practices within our organization?
The missions of the public service and our private organization may differ. However, they converge in that they operate within the same ecosystem: a society in transition towards a conscious exercise of responsibility towards the limited resources of our planet, facing significant climate disruptions, pollution, and overall environmental challenges. Current indicators predict a decrease in energy and resources available for the design of our information technology solutions, regardless of the sector, public or private. Incorporating this consideration into our offerings now is to provide concrete responses to this growing demand.
In broad strokes, this involves, for example, ‘considering the entire life cycle of digital equipment and services’, as well as ‘social aspects’, ‘adopting a logic of moderation’, ‘being wary of rebound effects’, and also ‘prioritizing best practices’. Notice the use of the term ‘moderation’, which is widely debated and even contested today. Integrated into an overall dynamic that aims to be progressive and mindful of all goals, it is not a strictly imposed and transcendent mantra, but a tool in service of this common objective and a better design of information technology solutions.
Designing a digital tool analytically, by simply developing each requested functionality cumulatively, is easy (although it can already be a challenge for some companies). However, planning from the outset to choose, streamline, pool resources, make them resilient, and thereby simplify these same functionalities, is a much more demanding task. In software development, achieving completeness is straightforward, but simplicity is hard to attain and requires a strong consideration right from the design phase.
A few examples:
In practice, this guide compiles proposals in a fairly straightforward manner, presenting them in sheets with an assessment of the priority and effort required for each. They are grouped under broad themes, such as ‘Sustainable Procurement’, ‘Digital Services’, and ‘Server Room and Data Center’.
“For instance, under ‘Digital Services’, it is proposed to ‘design a digital service compatible with the oldest possible equipment’. What would you say if we suggested prolonging the lifespan of your IT infrastructure for as long as possible, starting from the design of your solutions? The same applies to the IT equipment used by consumers of your digital services, who are becoming increasingly mindful of the cost of hardware and its environmental impact. Combating software obsolescence (i.e., having to change hardware due to software no longer functioning) is even a focal point for the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty. In response, some have transitioned to static websites, as demonstrated in this example: the loading times are indeed greatly reduced! And more broadly, the performance seems to be much better than with a CMS like WordPress. However, be cautious of trends: it’s essential to ensure that this solution aligns with the actual need… Hence the necessity of critically considering it from the outset.
In ‘Server Room and Data Center’, the suggestion is to ‘group together and streamline servers’. Upon reading this, you may find yourself torn between the positive perspective of reducing the number of servers and their energy consumption, and the complexity of implementation, as it is often easier to make a server for a specific use than vice versa. However, the sheet emphasizes that the use of virtual machines makes this feasible. We could even complement this with current containerization tools , which make this process more flexible, scalable, and allow for seamless service deployments. Many companies have already taken this step, and others subscribe to the European Data Centre Code of Conduct, which originated this best practice, in order to continue their efforts in this direction.
These sheets do not provide a multitude of details regarding the implementation of the suggestions, but rather offer effective and prioritized guidelines that make it easy to question our practices, with the aim of improving them and offering genuinely eco-responsible solutions.
A helpful tip for those interested in responsible digital practices: this guide compiles French and European regulations on the subject, as well as a large number of consultable authorities in this field.