The benefits of local digital consumption

In 2018, digital contributed to 4% of global CO2 pollution, as much as civil aviation. This percentage will double by 2025 to 8%, as much as road transport. On the other hand, every 18 months, the amount of digital data generated is doubled. Keeping so much data implies a very important power consumption. In 2018, digital data alone consumed 10% of the world's electricity. In 2025, this percentage should, at least, double.

So, in light of increasingly complex climate, political and environmental issues, what are the benefits of local digital consumption?

Our current digital usage generates a lot of data to be stored in data centers. Choosing where to store it means choosing, in part, its environmental impact. It is in this choice that local digital consumption takes its importance. Keeping data in Swiss data centers does not have the same environmental impact as keeping it in the default data centers in the United States. By definition, a data center is already very power hungry. It is estimated that it consumes up to ten times the electricity consumption of a home or office per square meter. Producing 1 kWh of electricity in Switzerland generates 7.4 grams of CO2,eq. In the United States, it is 1093 grams of CO2,eq.[1] Let's take another example. Some large companies outsource their IT services to India. This has economic benefits, but at the expense of the environment. It has been shown that the environmental impact of equipment varies greatly depending on where it is used. A developer's laptop used in India for a year will have an environmental impact five times greater than in Europe and eleven times greater than in France. [2]

Consuming locally also has the advantage of better protecting our digital data. I'm not talking about cyber security, but rather privacy. Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the massive use of our data to influence us (even during elections!), it is important to question with whom we keep our data.

Switzerland has become the new "El Dorado" for data protection. It has gone from bank secrecy to "bunker secrecy" and is now considered the 3rd safest country to store digital data [3].

On the other hand, the circular economy also applies to digital. We talk about digital circularity. The good news is that in Switzerland there is a wide range of alternatives to the most popular digital products. For example, Infomaniak offers an eco-friendly cloud and video conferencing platform. Protonmail offers encrypted messaging as an alternative to American email boxes. The High DC data center in La Chaux-de-Fonds keeps its customers' data in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Finally, Canopé helps Swiss companies to deploy a sustainable digital strategy by connecting companies and local partners. These are four examples among many others.

The environmental impact of digital technology also depends greatly on the manufacturing stage of electronic equipment. To reduce it, we can simply extend the life of our equipment, repair it or buy reconditioned equipment. More and more stores and companies in Switzerland offer these services. Digital circularity promotes the creation of new local jobs.

From a political point of view, European states have become aware of the seriousness of digital pollution and the urgency to act. As of 2021, laws will be published to encourage digital circularity. In France, the Agec law plans to finance part of the cost of repairing electronic equipment. Then, the European Parliament has decided to display the lifespan and repairability of electronic equipment as well as the reduction of their waste. Switzerland should not delay to align itself, if it is not already the case.

Finally, digital circularity has the advantage of promoting the digital independence of companies and states. We are all aware of the major issues we will have to face in the coming years. First, climate change. This will make it increasingly difficult to extract the rare earths needed to manufacture electronic equipment. This could lead to a decrease in global electronic production, resulting in a scarcity of products and an inflation of their prices. In this context, could a computer or a smartphone, in the years to come, cost several times its current price? It is very likely. To this, let's add the numerous current geopolitical conflicts. In particular, that of China, the world's largest exporter of rare earths, and the United States, home of GAFAM*.

These two major issues are likely to make the digital market more volatile, uncertain, complex and expensive. Favouring digital circularity means gaining independence and resilience in the face of future risks.

In short, we are facing a new paradigm, not only for our food, transport and consumption habits but also for our digital habits. Digital circularity is one of the solutions to become resilient in the face of this mysterious, fragile, but full of opportunities future. However, let's not forget that local digital consumption must also go hand in hand with digital sobriety and societal responsibility to reach our environmental goals.

In the digital sector, as everywhere else, the years to come will be defined by frugality: doing as well or even better, but with fewer resources. Digital circularity will be essential to ensure the convergence of the environmental and digital transition.