23 / 06 / 2023

Opinion: The connection between Digitization, Its Climate Impacts, and the Green Transition

By Ralf Lodberg, CCO & Partner

Few people are aware their digital behavior affects others and the planet. There is a need for political ownership in addressing this issue.

Sustainability is a topic that fills the media, conversations among Danes, and consumer choices. However, few people know the extent their digital behavior impacts others and the planet, and very few discuss how digitization can bring benefits. This is revealed by the Advice Sustainability Barometer, which in 2022 gauged the Danish perspective on sustainability and digitization.

Advice and Dansk Erhverv view digitization as one of the keys to addressing significant societal challenges, including demographic changes, a new world order, our strained welfare system, and, not least, the climate and biodiversity crises.

Therefore, it is surprising that digitization was largely absent as a theme in the Danish election campaign. Politicians must work towards solving big societal challenges, and digital technologies can be an essential tool in this regard. Therefore, politicians should be more concerned with how digital potential can contribute to a more sustainable society.

51% of Danes are convinced their use of digital technologies affects society, but they need help to fully grasp how and to what extent their choices impact society.

The numbers emphasize the need for Danish politicians to take ownership of the digital agenda, and a need to strengthen the technology debate across the population. Therefore, we encourage more citizens and businesses to engage in the technology debate. At the same time, we have high expectations for the Minister of Digitization and the new committee for digitization, as they have a unique opportunity to strengthen responsible digitization.

Sustainable and Digital

There was once talk of digital technologies being "weightless." This is true in the sense that a person with a good idea and a laptop can reach a large part of the world with a message or a solution. But digital technologies are not weightless in an environmental sense because the internet runs on electricity, which comes with its own impact. 69% of Danes agree that technological innovation is essential for the green transition, but an eye-opening 83% have difficulty understanding the precise connection.

It's not surprising, even for professionals, how difficult it is to calculate the CO2 impact of watching an episode of our favourite series because it depends on factors such as the location of the data center, the time of day, and whether the wind is blowing. Danish companies are demanding more transparency regarding the carbon footprint of their cloud providers, so they can make informed decisions in a competitive market, and the cloud providers must provide this information. We need to understand the connection between digitization, its climate impacts, and the green transition. Public-private partnerships are needed to ensure greater transparency about our consumption.

"We can only succeed with a sustainable transition if we accept the impact digitization has on its development."

Streaming is an example where we require a better overview of CO2 consumption and underlying cloud services. Therefore, Dansk Erhverv has initiated a series of workshops with digital media companies, TDC NET (which handles a large part of the distribution infrastructure), and tech companies, such as Microsoft, AWS, and Google, who provide cloud services.

More clarity and standard measurement methods are needed, and soon, common EU standards for calculating emissions from data centers will be established. This will make it easier for companies to develop climate accounts and make their purchases of cloud and network services sustainable.

Several companies are, for example, working on using artificial intelligence to use resources more intelligently and thus reduce society's carbon footprint. This includes road traffic management and intelligent control of electricity consumption when charging electric cars or keeping the refrigeration aisle cold in supermarkets. These are all significant steps in the green transition, and digitization is crucial for taking these steps.

Society taking charge

Half of Danes believe that digital development benefits society's growth and working conditions, but at the same time, 62% express concerns about their privacy, which they think worsens due to digitization.

These 62% should draw the attention of leaders because our society relies heavily on trust between citizens, businesses, and authorities. We must protect and strengthen that trust, ensuring that citizens are included in the digitization process. Denmark's new Minister for Digitization and Gender Equality, Marie Bjerre (V), has also expressed her agreement on this matter. Important collaborations lie ahead in the coming years, aimed at ensuring citizens' digital knowledge and skills, as well as equal access to public services.

We can only succeed with a sustainable transition if we accept the impact digitization has on development. It is essential to demand long-term responsibility. We believe that we should turn major challenges into huge advantages, thereby making Denmark a pioneer in responsible digitization. This entails prioritizing safe and responsible use of data and ensuring that the ambition for digitization does not stop at efficiency and cost savings but also encompasses innovation and the creation of quality and new value for the benefit of citizens, society, and the planet.

Together, this can create a prosperous, fair, secure, and environmentally sustainable society. It can establish a position that is beneficial for the economy, the planet, and democracy.

This article was originally published at Børsen.dk.