Can ecological transition and digital transformation go hand in hand? The carbon footprint of the digital sector is far from insignificant: 4 % of greenhouses gases at the beginning of 2021 and twice that by 2025 according to the ADEME, the French agency for ecological transition.
However, although digital may be a burden on the habitability of our planet, it could also be part of the solution to preserve it. This is where the French government has placed its bets in aiming to ensure the convergence of both the digital and the environmental transitions. The aim: to speed up the decarbonation of our economy, meaning to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Its roadmap, published in February 2021, plans to create a fund of 300 million euros dedicated to GreenTech startups as well as to finance projects that will mobilise 5G to serve the environment within the frame of the 4th “Investing for the future” (PIA) programme.
Indeed, digital can replace traditional carbon-generating activities by limiting business travel, among other things. The following four use cases provide examples.
Less CO2 thanks to teleworking
The current health crisis has validated the feasibility of large-scale teleworking. In France, according to the latest Malakoff Humanis yearly barometer, up to 41 % of employees teleworked during the first lockdown, thus equally reducing home-work commutes, of which a large portion relies on personal vehicle and as such is a high carbon emitter. Although this rate of teleworking dropped by ten points in December 2020, the tendency remains.
The massification of teleworking has been made possible thanks to the maturing of digital workplace solutions that bring together all remote collaboration tools into a single interface: videoconferencing, chat, shared calendars, file-sharing, etc. This new work organisation implies prior dematerialisation of company processes; a zero-paper policy constitutes another environmental advantage.
The smart data-driven city
Reducing travel is also an important issue for the “smart city”. Vehicle-flow analysis enables local decision-makers to optimise their mobility plans and reduce city-centre traffic by redeveloping urban space and fostering soft mobility.
This is, for example, the path chosen by the Toulouse metropolis with its VILAGIL plan. A MaaS (Mobility as a Service) platform enables citizens to have real-time knowledge of all available means of transport, from public transport to vehicle-sharing or electric bike and scooter sharing services… pending the arrival of the autonomous car.
This is not the only benefit of the smart city. By combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), it analyses a large amount of data coming from connected infrastructures – street furniture, public lighting, waste bins, public buildings, etc. – to improve energy efficiency.
Committed to a “smart territory” project, the Angers Loire metropolis is banking on savings of 101 million euros over twenty-five years, in particular with energy-savings of 66 % for public lighting and 25 % for public building consumption compared to the current situation.
A more energy-sober building
After the smart city, the smart building. A multitude of sensors placed on various installations (heating, pipes, electricity network, air-conditioning, etc.) of the building that has become smart, enable it to gain in operational efficiency.
This reduces its carbon footprint – according to a 2017 study by Citepa (the French Technical reference centre for air pollution and climate change), residential and office buildings account for 20 % of greenhouse gas emissions and are the second most important source of environmental nuisance after transport.
Presence indicators enable a smart building to lower room temperature and turn off lights in unoccupied offices. The building can even produce energy by hosting an urban farm or digitally driven photovoltaic panels on its roof.
The smart grid to increase energy efficiency
The final smart concept, the smart grid, also calls upon the IoT and AI. Driven by data, this smart energy distribution network uses models to anticipate the evolution of electricity and gas production and consumption.
Such real-time management makes it possible to avoid blackouts – winter power cuts – and to increase energy efficiency. The visible face of this concept, Linky and Gazpar smart meters enable access to energy consumption measurements via the grid.
Just as we have learnt to switch out lights and turn off taps, it is possible, on an individual basis, to adopt more reasonable digital usages. Connecting to Wi-Fi rather than 3G/4G when it is possible, not leaving an “empty” charger plugged in, regularly cleaning out mailboxes, extending product lifetimes, etc. The ADEME suggests a certain number of eco-gestures in its guide “La face cachée du numérique” (The hidden side of digital).