Digital Sustainability

Green IT

Often, when it comes to selecting software providers, it is not considered how environmentally friendly and resource-saving information and communication technology really is. But sustainability and thus the optimization of resource consumption during production, operation and disposal play an essential role. 

Environment VS. Digitalization

Digitalization has a significant impact on our environment. In 2020, each person owned an average of 3.4 networked electronic devices, or a total of 26.3 billion worldwide.¹ All equipped with the appropriate software. Yet many people often forget how environmentally intensive and polluting the production of hardware alone is. In addition, production often takes place at locations with a high proportion of coal in the electricity mix. Due to planned obsolescence, devices often only have a very short life cycle. The hurdle to get a new device is much lower than to give the broken one in repair. At the same time, electronic devices leave behind e-waste that is difficult to recycle.

Additionally, there is a considerable consumption of electricity. The use of information and communication-based technologies and services currently accounts for around 4 to 7 percent of global electricity demand. This is expected to rise to up to 15 percent by 2030. The CO2 emissions generated in this sector amounted to 2.5 to 3 % of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 and are even expected to grow to a share of up to 8 percent by 2030. The consumption of energy and resources is therefore considerable, both for the production of ICT end devices and for the operation of devices, networks and data centers.²

What is Digital Sutainability?

Digital sustainability envisages that digital knowledge goods are produced in a resource-conserving manner, used freely, developed collaboratively and secured for long-term accessibility.³

Digital sustainability addresses the question of how to deal with digital, intangible goods in an ethically responsible manner in today’s digitized society.⁴

Digital resources are managed sustainably when their benefits to society are maximized so that the digital needs of present and future generations are met equally. Societal benefits are maximized when digital resources are accessible to the greatest number of people and reusable with a minimum of technical, legal and social restrictions. Digital resources are knowledge and cultural artifacts digitally represented as text, images, audio, video or software.⁵  

What Does Digital Sustainability Entail?

Digital sustainability includes, at the micro level, open storage formats and software systems. This enables free access to digital resources and goods for as many people as possible and ensures a form of digital justice and global participation.⁶ In addition, it must be ensured that information is safe from manipulation and that data protection is guaranteed for confidential information. Third, the sustainable development of our knowledge society requires suitable structures and rules at the macro level so that dependencies on companies and states are reduced and innovation and competition in information and communication systems are enhanced.⁷

Digital sustainability at a glance:

  • Reduction of energy and material consumption in hardware manufacturing
  • Free and open-source software: elimination of vendor-specific licenses, vendor lock-in & hardware/software coupling 
  • Green hosting: renewable energy for data center hosting 
  • Power savings through decreasing energy intensity per computing power and improved power management software
  • Encourage hardware lifecycle extension 
  • Correspondingly environmentally friendly disposal of hardware 
  • Repair culture: repair-friendly product design, easy access to spare parts, and preservation of warranty even when repaired 
  • Recyclability should already be considered in the design, for example to be able to extract metals during recycling⁸ 

Digital Sustainability without Greenwashing

For many HR departments and companies, the topic of sustainability is not yet on the agenda, or they just started to think about it. In order to be able to shine with the topics of environmental protection and sustainability, some companies engage in green washing. However, the ecological and environmentally conscious staging rarely goes undetected. This is because employees as well as customers and partners are able to see through green washing campaigns. Here, it is important to demonstrate authenticity and to convince with well thought-out measures and concepts in practice.

² Bloklima: Nachhaltige Hard- und Software – für eine bessere (IT-)Welt (heise) 
⁷ Forschungsstelle Digitale Nachhaltigkeit, 2017, aufrufbar unter: 
⁸ Bloklima: Nachhaltige Hard- und Software – für eine bessere (IT-)Welt (heise)