My interview with Genie.ch
This is the long version of my interview conducted by Sébastien Bourqui for Genie.ch, the Canton of Geneva’s industrial ecology network.
Eco-design of digital solutions: from website to ERP, for the better…
Developing more sustainable digital solutions that simultaneously benefit both the company and the end user? Welcome to the world of digital eco-design. Based on quantitative data, but above all on user journey analysis, it brings added value in many ways (including financial ones!). Did you know that search engines favor eco-designed sites? To be continued…
As a consultant, you distinguish yourself by digital eco-design. What does this mean?
Digital eco-design is a continuous improvement approach that enables us to design relevant, easy-to-use and sober services in order to reduce their environmental impact. Today’s digital services and websites are too heavy: the weight of a web page has multiplied by 155 in 25 years, while 45% of a site’s functionalities are never used! This is what we call obese. In eco-design, the earlier we intervene in the project, when defining the need and considering the entire product life-cycle, the greater the leverage effect will be.
When we think of the carbon footprint of digital technology, we think first and foremost of data centers. To what extent can eco-design have a significant impact?
There’s nothing virtual about the environmental footprint of the digital age: it accounts for 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and is growing exponentially. Digital technology brings together a wide range of materials - user equipment, networks (fiber, wifi, 4G) and datacenters - that need to be considered over their entire lifecycle in terms of resource consumption, such as metals and rare earths, some of which are approaching scarcity, as well as water and, of course, energy. In 2021, there will be around 5,000 datacenters worldwide. Their use could be mutualized, since several solutions and several users can be found on the same server. This is rarely the case for connected objects, of which there were more than 34 billion that same year! Because of their sheer number, users’ equipment has a greater impact on the environment - remember that 62% of the world’s population is connected.
Figures that encourage the extension of equipment lifetimes….
What are the key points you analyze during an audit?
There are three axes of analysis. Firstly, the quantitative study examines the solution’s performance and analytical results, i.e. pure data analysis. This is complemented by a qualitative study which assesses the usability of the service and the level of user satisfaction, which I determine through interviews, tests, heuristic evaluations and by analyzing user paths. Finally, the environmental study will estimate the impact of the digital solution using a carefully selected tool. With my methodology, all aspects of the digital service are explored, revealing all the areas for improvement and defining a truly responsible digital strategy to enter serenely into digital eco-design.
On a corporate scale, you aim to achieve the same objectives by optimizing ERP…
It’s a digital solution like any other: it can be eco-designed. Unfortunately, current solutions from major software publishers don’t take this dimension into account, but open source solutions do exist, enabling you to design eco-responsible ERPs. By choosing an open-source ERP, I can design a tailor-made, sustainable ERP that precisely meets companies’ business needs while respecting their environmental and social values. To achieve this, I support my customers right from the start of the design phase, exploring in depth their business expectations and environmental objectives. Together, we define the solution best suited to their context. Ideally, I create a prototype of the solution to test and validate it before developing it with my trusted partners, while ensuring its follow-up.
How can we quantify the impact of a digital solution and the effect induced by eco-design?
We can only compare comparable services, i.e. with an identical user path or the same service. Each solution is unique, so we can’t compare a showcase site with an e-commerce site. But we can estimate the environmental impact of a digital service thanks to online tools like GreenIT Analysis, developed by the GreenIT association, of which I’m a member. This tool can be used to estimate the performance and environmental footprint of a given page, based on its complexity, weight, number of server requests, etc. It provides the developer with a reference and an indication of the environmental impact. It provides the developer with a reference and avenues for improvement. But it remains an order of magnitude that does not dispense with in-depth analysis. The eco-designer needs to consider the average user’s journey rather than the individual pages, draw on eco-design and accessibility guidelines and, above all, consider the project’s entire lifecycle. As far as labels are concerned, I’d mention the NR label from the Institut du Numérique Responsable. Its highly demanding process guarantees the credibility of its sustainable and socially responsible approach to digital technology.
Beyond ecological performance alone, eco-design brings other benefits…
The strength of digital eco-design lies in its multiple benefits: for the environment, with a reduced footprint; for users, with a more pleasant experience (ease of use, speed, accessibility); and, of course, for businesses. Eco-design enables them to reach more users, achieve better visibility thanks to optimized referencing (search engines favor eco-designed sites), save on development and maintenance costs - the technical debt of a project can be as high as 70%! - but also in terms of infrastructure (a green hosting provider isn’t necessarily more expensive), enhance their image by displaying their values - if there is indeed a global approach to sustainability, otherwise beware of greenwashing! - and to prepare for future European regulations: while eco-design of digital services is not an obligation, numerous draft laws and publications show that it could become one.