Connecting digital sustainability with digital transformation

Phone in nature

Written by Charlotte Walsh , Co-Founder of Digital Detox

I hope you were able to join my session during Digital Leaders Week 2021, where I talked about how digital transformation will create a more sustainable world, and why you should care. This blog aims to look at the environmental impact to consider when undergoing a digital transformation, and how to make yours more sustainable. 

Businesses who were set up digitally to work remotely during the pandemic, or had already enabled remote working, were able to operate (almost) as normal throughout the lockdowns and office closures of 2020. Similarly, those who were able to replace their physical product offerings with digital counterparts were able to stay afloat, and in some cases, even flourish.

If this sounds like your business, and you’ve already undergone a successful ‘digital transformation’, don’t feel too smug just yet as there may be an environmental cost to your transformation process that you might not have considered. 

If you’re still working out how/when/why to undergo a digital transformation, this is a great time to factor sustainability into your plans. Digital technologies have the power to transform your business, and in turn, protect the planet.

 

The environmental impact of digital transformation

Digital transformation can improve efficiency, reduce risk and even help companies save money and resources. 

For example, imagine you’re a large legal firm housing rows and rows of filing cabinets. If you were able to migrate all your files into the digital cloud, just think of the physical space you’d save in the office! You could password protect your digital files so they’d be safe, update them whenever necessary and access them in seconds. This particular example shows the power of digital transformation to make processes and practices simpler, better, faster and more effective. 

What does this have to do with the environment? Well, consider the process needed to access and amend one of your digitised files at a client’s request:

Step 1. Switch on laptop – if it’s plugged in, you’re using power already.

Step 2. Connect to the Wifi – this requires a router, which is plugged into your electricity mains (more power) and a signal linked to a broadband supplier. Does your broadband supplier use renewable energy sources?

Step 3. Sign in to your Cloud provider to retrieve the files you need (more power and Wifi signal needed to access the files – also, does your Cloud provider use sustainable hosting services?)

Step 4. Save the file you need, or you might even download it and save it to your laptop

Step 5. Set up a video call with your client to let them know you’ve made the changes (video calls require a stronger internet connection than audio-only calls, you’ll use more power and need a Wifi signal to enable the call. Which video calling service do you use? Are they an ethical provider? Are they aware of their digital carbon footprint?

Even the simplest of actions, online and offline, inevitably contribute to your carbon footprint. The big question is, what can you do about it?

 

Digital transformation and your carbon footprint

The good news is that there are simple actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint and make ethical, sustainable decisions.

When looking at ways to undergo a sustainable digital transformation, you’ll need to consider how you:

  • create products and services that don’t harm the planet
  • design and develop products that users love
  • choose ethical suppliers to work with if necessary
  • deliver your products and services to customers in efficient ways
  • measure the environmental impact of your products, services and company as a whole

 

Tangible changes you can make now

There are a few quick wins you can implement right now to make your digital transformation process more sustainable:

 

  • Think light: a lighter, quicker website/app/process is more energy efficient
  • Design for mobile-first: consider connectivity issues and data constraints when designing for mobile
  • Prioritise efficiency of design: help users find what they need, quickly and easily
  • Reuse technology where possible; for example in component libraries
  • Start sharing information about digital sustainability across the business
  • Digitise your team’s processes in addition to customer-facing assets; Slack, Trello, Jira
  • Review your KPIs and add sustainability as key success metrics

There are multiple facets to sustainable digital transformation, but in short, it’s about making a series of small, conscious changes. When combined, these small changes have a BIG impact. If everyone in the business uses digital tools and online platforms in an environmentally conscious way, you can reduce your carbon footprint significantly.


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