France stands out for its commitment to digital sustainability
The harmful impact of digital technology on the environment and on society is no longer a matter of dispute in France: the data that proves it are regularly communicated by study centers with a well-established legitimacy, such as ADEME (French Agency for Ecological Transition), Arcep or CNIL. Media specializing in digital responsibility are appearing, as are start-ups dedicated to** improving the digital footprint of companies**.
In short, the subject is gaining ground, raising questions and uniting all those concerned, and not just in the service industry. What's more, France applies a number of established regulations and laws. The framework is well defined: in terms of data protection, greenhouse gas emissions from data centers and IT equipment, inclusion and accessibility... the subject is new and there's still a lot to be done (why and how digital sustainability is important is still largely unknown to the general public). France nevertheless stands out as one of the most active European countries in this field.
What initiatives are currently underway in France to promote a more sustainable digital economy ? And how are other world powers appropriating the subject?
Regulations in favor of planet and people-friendly digital in France
In addition to corporate awareness, it's the implementation of concrete actions that makes the difference. In France, both the European Union and the French government (through the Ministry of Ecological Transition) have adopted laws and regulations aimed at framing and regulating digital uses. The first to be affected by these measures are companies, primarily large corporations, but also SMEs, ETIs and public sector players.
To start with, the carbon footprint (today the gateway for many economic powers on the subject of digital sustainability), the BEGES decree of the French Ministry of Ecological Transition has made it mandatory since 2022 to give precise results of their greenhouse gas emissions and set up a transition plan. Given that digital is now an inseparable part of business activity, this measure is of paramount importance.
Other French and European legislation concerns digital technology and the issues surrounding it:
- The REEN law imposes obligations to reduce the environmental footprint of companies offering digital services in France.
- The RGPD (General Data Protection Guidelines) governs the processing of personal data within the European Union.
- The** DSA and DMA regulations** aim to protect the fundamental rights of Europeans in terms of personal data, inclusion and accessibility.
- The RGAA (Référentiel Général d'Amélioration d'Accessibilité) has been set up to help companies and public bodies meet their obligations in terms of accessibility for all publics.
- The CSRD directive, which requires companies to implement extra-financial reporting. Although not specific to the digital sector, this data concerns the impact of their activities on the environment and individuals.
These regulations show how Europe has gradually imposed its own model in terms of responsibility and digital sovereignty. What sets France apart is the fact that these regulations are accompanied by guidelines, resources and recommendations (such as the RGESN) provided by the public services to help companies. ADEME, in partnership with the Institut du Numérique Responsable, has made a MOOC available to all to help understand the importance of implementing a Digital Sustainability Strategy.
The American continent still lagging behind
Like many countries, the United States often limits itself to data protection, cybersecurity and the emergence of AI when it comes to digital regulation. The big absentee? The environmental footprint of digital technology, in terms of both hardware and software.
However, the United States has been a pioneer on the issue of digital equipment since the 1990s, with government programs such as Energy Star. Within large companies, there are "Sustainability Officers", however, they deal with global sustainability issues rather than with specific aspects related to digital. In short, there is no country-wide regulation or legislation in terms of digital responsibility, which is regrettable given its consequent weight in terms of environmental impact.
However, it is important to note that while action is lacking, the topic is very much on the table. As IMB's CIO pointed out in an August 2022 publication:
"The IT sector contributes to carbon emissions, but it can also help solve environmental problems. Given the increased demands of both external and internal stakeholders, CIOs cannot ignore climate and environmental issues."
"Kathryn Guarini, IBM CIO.
A little further north, in Canada, the Digital Charter Implementation Act has been implemented: this charter aims to guarantee the protection of personal data and privacy, and to ensure that data-driven innovation is people-centered. It echoes the Artificial Intelligence Act currently being examined by the European Union, and responds to current issues in digital ethics. Our French-speaking friends in Quebec deplore the lack of a "sustainable digital" strategy :
"We don't really measure the ecological footprint of our digital use in Quebec. There's still a lot of awareness-raising to be done on the part of businesses, government and the public", Nicole Martel, CEO of the Quebec Technology Association.
If we look beyond the American continent, it's the digital economy on a global scale that lacks regulation, notably due to the hegemony of the GAFAMs.
Digital sustainability : a challenge that concerns all major economies
In France today, corporate digital responsibility is more of an obligation than an opportunity. We have entered an era in which taking ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) criteria into account in the decision-making of economic players is inseparable from a strategy of sustainable performance. Extra-financial information is no longer an accessory or a mere communication tool. Companies' social, environmental and societal commitments must now be translated into concrete, measurable action. In France, as in other countries, corporate digital responsibility is a new and essential aspect of CSR. It is based on the same principles of sustainability and ethics, but focused specifically on the impact of digital technology.
The governments of the world's major powers must, if they have not already done so, put in place a strict regulatory framework governing the use of digital technologies. The major economic players, for their part, must comply, and urgently take ownership of the subject. Indeed, the current year has brought alarming forecasts of the growing impact of digital technology, via the 2023 report by ADEME and Arcep. This acceleration in digitalization raises issues such as illiteracy, the digital divide, the biases of artificial intelligence and the growing carbon footprint of digital equipment and data. Beyond regulatory obligations, it has become clear that these challenges will inevitably impose themselves on companies. Faced with this reality, it is imperative to find sustainable solutions to reconcile digital progress with sustainable practices that respect the environment and our societies.