What digital sustainability means for companies and what this has to do with social justice
Green Washing, Social Justice and Digitization as Sustainability?
The tomes burn and the ice melts. Between Green Washing, Social Justice and Digitization as a Sustainability Model?
The forests burn, the ice melts and the sea level rises. 2020 will be marked by the corona virus, but directly behind it, another topic has been increasingly dominating the media agenda for years: the climate crisis. Just like the virus, climate development does not stop at national borders, but shows that we are all interconnected and that some problems affect the entire globe. However, not everyone feels equally addressed. While the global south is most affected by the negative climate changes, countries such as Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia have to answer for their emissions as the largest CO2 consumers. However, this sense of responsibility has left a lot to be desired for some players for years.
Even though the release of carbon dioxide in Germany has been declining since the 1990s, the energy sector alone will continue to emit around 255 million tons of CO2 equivalents in 2019. The industrial economy released 188 million tons, consumption in the transport sector has been growing again since 2005, and currently consumes 163 million tons of CO2.
Digitization ergo sustainability?
One source of hope is the growing penetration of digitization into all areas of work and everyday life. And it’s true – the digitization of industries and communication channels can save resources in the long term.
But you have to differentiate – digital does not automatically mean sustainable. Although digitization offers great potential for a sustainable profile, to put it simply: servers also need electricity for data communication and air conditioning. A 2019 study by the think tank “The Shift Project” clearly states: If the Internet were a state, it would rank sixth for the highest energy consumption worldwide. Globally, the information and communications sector accounts for around 10 percent of total power consumption. That is currently less than five percent of CO2 consumption, but as we all know: the trend is rising, and exponentially!
There is no getting around it: in order to protect the environment and prevent climate collapse, digitization must be further expanded. The European Commission has formulated the ambitious goal that data centers and telecommunications must be climate-neutral by 2030, with a focus on renewable energies. The German Ministry of the Environment is also slowly picking up speed: the necessary infrastructure and electronic devices are to be checked for energy efficiency in the future, with the aim of establishing binding minimum requirements. Energy-saving and resource-saving software can already be labeled with the Blue Angel for sustainable software design. So much for the political situation.
Green Washing – the campaign strategy of the year?
As in politics, the topic of sustainability has been increasingly heard by the general public for years. That it is possible to capitalize on this is obvious. In recent years, there have been repeated campaigns by well-known companies that want to appear as ecological and green as possible, because this is the best way to sell products or services. This is exactly what the term “green washing” describes – companies that present themselves to the outside world as being environmentally conscious, but are actually not. It is the responsibility of consumers to see through these campaigns.
We advocate an open and self-critical approach to this task and the creation of greater awareness within the company.
Especially digital startups can be a key
Especially startups have many possibilities. We are of the opinion that especially as a startup you should be consistent. Of course, on the one hand you depend on investors and want to address a broad target group. On the other hand the youthfulness as a startup allows you to choose this network on the basis of internal values. This also includes not entering into cooperation and accepting funds that are related to coercion, injustice and oppression.
Interest in sustainability often plays a role as early as the founding of start-ups. There is enormous potential in this – with the consideration of ecological principles, sustainability can find a place within the start-up in every area. Whether in internal and external communication, conscious business travel, the selection of office space or the value chain of the product to be sold – sustainability is taken into consideration.
In a survey conducted by the 7th German Startup Monitor in 2019, around two thirds of the founders stated that they sell a digital business model. Especially key technologies such as AI, VR and Blockchain are used innovatively.
Back to the potential of start-ups: You can also get a lot out of everyday office life. The following questions, for example, must stand up to their own standards: Where do we get our electricity from? How is the coffee produced, because we drink en masse? Such questions were probably less important in the past – but in companies that now see themselves as modern, the question has become an integral part of the office. But sustainability in the sense of a resource-conserving approach to the environment can still be extended. Digital sustainability also has a social component.
What does digital sustainability have to do with social justice?
The vision of digital sustainability involves making digital goods freely available to as many people as possible and as barrier-free as possible. This is because digital has a decisive advantage over analog means: it can be shared without consuming large amounts of resources. Never before have so many people had access to international intellectual and intangible capital as today. Sustainability in the digital context is therefore also the prerequisite for social justice.
In concrete terms, this means that digital information must be financially, organizationally and technically modifiable and available to everyone. Open formats, open standards and free licenses guarantee exchange and safekeeping for future generations. In addition, knowledge must be reproducible and regenerable. This requires a legally bound and technically feasible openness regarding the transfer, reuse and modification of digital goods.
The goal is therefore to further expand digitization, distribute and enable access to digital goods fairly and not to lose sight of environmental aspects. Digitization and sustainability can therefore go hand in hand, but digital sustainability must be given equal status with global environmental protection. This means that sustainability aspects, together with the digitization movement, can have an equal impact on the economy. In order to take the social component of digital sustainability into account, it is necessary to ensure equally distributed access at the usage level on the one hand, and dignified working conditions at the production level on the other.
Author: Elisabeth Kropp, memoresa GmbH