How to make the necessary digital transition a sustainable transition?
How to reduce the environmental footprint of a sector today responsible for 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in France, and maybe more than triple by 2040 if our public policies do nothing ?
This issue is at the core of the reflections of institutional players in the digital sector : Avicca, an association of elected officials who work on all digital issues, the State and its regulator, Arcep, and of course parliamentarians. It was in the Senate roadmap and a bill was drawn up to reduce the digital environmental footprint. Approved by the parliamentary assemblies, the text is built around four priorities :
Make digital users aware of its environmental impact.
Schools have a role to play in training in the responsible use of digital tools, young people being particularly digital consumers. At the other end of the training chain, the training of future engineers must include skills in software eco-design.
It is also important to develop tools of measuring by creating a research observatory of the environmental impacts of digital technology within ADEME (French ecological transition agency) or by including the environmental impact of digital technology in the Corporate Social Responsibility report.
The Senate is also putting forward the idea of a tax credit for the sustainable digitization of small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular to push to get refurbished terminals.
Limit the replacement of digital terminals, the manufacture of which represents 70% of the digital carbon footprint in France.
This aspect of the environmental impact of digital technology affects user behaviors, so it is often overlooked or intentionally ignored. It must become the subject of increasing attention.
The first attention is to strengthen the fight against planned obsolescence and improve the fight against software obsolescence by integrating in the French Consumer Code the definition of programmed obsolescence.
On the supplier side, the aim is to force the seller of products with digital elements to separate security updates from other updates. The intention is also to increase from two to five years the length of time during which consumers can receive the updates to maintain the conformity of their goods.
The user who has installed an update should always be able to revert to previous versions of the software provided when purchasing the product. Finally, the warranty period of conformity for digital equipment should be increased from two to five years.
Senate also aims to take into account product sustainability criteria in the public purchases of certain digital products. This would be based first on the reparability index, compulsory since January 1, 2021, then on the Sustainability Index from January 1, 2024.
Finally, even if some resistance has recently been expressed against tax reductions (exemption from double taxation that can affect recycled terminals, reduction of the VAT rate on the repair of terminals and the acquisition of reconditioned electronic objects), tax incentives that will limit new purchases should be found.
Promote ecologically virtuous digital uses.
This involves thinking about the eco-design of websites and public online services and those of companies whose turnover exceeds a threshold to be defined by decree of the Council of State.
This can be the obligation for on-demand audiovisual media services to adapt the quality of the downloaded video to the maximum resolution of the terminal, the prohibition of the automatic launch of videos or the practice of infinite scroll.
Require network and data center operators to subscribe to legally binding commitments in order to prevent the increase in consumption and emissions, particularly with the roll-out of 5G:
This criticism we have heard a lot with the arrival of 5G, must find a first solution by forcing data centers to reduce their environmental impact through a multiannual commitment.
The tax advantage for data centers on final electricity consumption (TICFE) could also be conditional on performance criteria.
Binding multiannual commitments are also expected from network operators to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.
Arcep is a key player in raising awareness in the digital sector regarding the environmental issues associated with it.
Arcep’s authority needs to be increased with environmental regulatory powers. As example, the Authority could add the preservation of the environment among the conditions for radio frequency allocation.