The digital world also needs to be developed and used in the most sustainable way possible; by 2030, digital sustainability can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 10%[1], so it is important to know the state of the art nowadays.

2022, digital pollution grows

With the post-pandemic period, digitization has gained more and more ground, speeding up business processes and making many services more accessible. This growth, however, has also inevitably caused a drastic rise in greenhouse gas emissions from digital transactions, emailing, data center enlargement, and so on, not only in Italy but around the world.

  • ICT increases emissions – Nowadays, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector covers 3.7% of total climate-changing gas emissions, even equalling pollution from air traffic. A percentage expected to increase to 8.5% in 2025[2].
  • Data Center Accumulation – The news is also not better for data centers in Europe in 2022, as they emit up to 0.6% percent of the total greenhouse gases generated on the continent[3]. On this front fortunately there are those who are moving, through methods of digital sustainability calculation such as LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), in a research study 33% of companies said they are adopting this method to make their data centers more efficient, while 36% are considering its use[4].
  • European Investment in Digital Sustainability– An important note for digital sustainability in 2022 is research conducted last June by the European Commission to identify new technologies aimed at efficient digital performance. Indeed, on the Commission’s website it is stated that “to ensure that green digital technologies have an overall positive environmental effect, research and innovation must optimize their environmental performance throughout their life cycle. In addition, regulations could support the adoption of more environmentally friendly technologies.”
  • Action Plan for Sustainable Digital Strategy – During the 2022 Stockholm conference, the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) presented its “Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age,” setting specific priorities to promote digital sustainability through strategies that have a positive impact on stakeholders.
    Among the various points in the plan, the need to ensure sustainable digitization is also specified to reduce the negative consequences of environmental and social impacts, and reduce energy consumption and related CO2 emissions.
    CODES suggests the need to implement common standards to ensure that the energy consumption and carbon output of digital platforms are calculated correctly, thus making their use more sustainable and possibly adjustable. Hence also the possibility of developing incentive policies so that some mechanisms, such as public procurement, are able to meet global sustainability standards[5].

What is CODES?

The Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability, is an international alliance created in March 2021 in response to the publication of the United Nations Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

The purpose of CODES is to promote digital sustainability understood as the design, development, implementation, and regulation of digital technologies to accelerate environmentally and socially sustainable development by mitigating risks and consequences[6].

What lies ahead in 2023?

In 2023, the use of tools to increase digital sustainability will need to be implemented more than ever before, even in anticipation of a 2.1 percent increase in investment in digital in Italy[7].

  • Sustainable digital technology – In a recent report by research and consulting firm Gartner, digital sustainability was included among the most trending innovative tools in 2023. In fact, the strong connection between corporate sustainability and digital technology is analysed in this study. According to David Groombridge, vice president analyst at Gartner, providing technology will not be enough in 2023 and any technology investment will have to be offset by its environmental impact, increasing digital sustainability. Confirming this prediction, Gartner analysed that by 2025, 50% percent of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will increase performance metrics related to the sustainability of the IT organization.

“Sustainable technology is increasingly important from an operational perspective, such as optimizing cost, energy performance and resource utilization, but it also promotes ESG outcomes such as improved well-being and the traceability needed to ensure responsible business practices,” says Gartner Principal Analyst Autumn Stanish. “Sustainable technology also facilitates new business models and technology-enabled products to better serve customers”[8].

  • Green Computing – The trend of reducing corporate carbon footprint, coupled with the global energy crisis, will lead to increased investment on cloud adoption in 2023. This is because, although the cloud is not the ultimate solution for achieving low overall emissions, it is still greener, safer, and more efficient than classical data centers. From this trend, cloud providers will continue to invest in renewable energy sources to ensure customers have a reduced environmental impact[9].
  • CODES initiatives and proposals – Within the above Action Plan, CODES also proposes a number of frameworks and planning proposals for 2023 in the world of digital sustainability. Among these, the need to commit to creating sustainable procurement and green digital infrastructure is also highlighted. The document highlights the need, starting this 2023, to plan government digital facilities with a view to sustainability and reduced environmental impacts, both in the public and private sectors. In this direction, in the current year CODES will provide an operational framework to indicate important guidelines to the acquisition of sustainable platforms[10].

This is the state of the art in digital sustainability, a world in which Karma Metrix continues to propose reducing the environmental impact of the websites of any company that aspires to promote a more sustainable business.

The Internet pollutes twice as much as air traffic.
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[1] The European House – Ambrosetti, 2021

[2] Lean ICT, 2019

[3] European Commission, 2020 Best Practice Guidelines for the EU Code of Conduct on Data Centre Energy Efficiency

[4] Agenda Digitale, L’impatto ambientale dei datacenter, 2022

[5] Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES). 2022. Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age

[6] Mondejar M.E. et al, Digitalization to achieve sustainable development goals: Steps towards a Smart Green Planet, 2021.

[7], 2023

[8] HCLTech, 2022

[9] Alludo Blog, What are the biggest trends coming in 2023?

[10] Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES). 2022. Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age