Summary of the Member’s Bill “Digital Footprint”

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The  bill to reduce the environmental footprint of the digital economy, sponsored by Senator Patrick Chaize (Conservatives), is the direct outcome of the report presented by the Senate’s task force on this issue in June 2020.

With the aim of providing solutions for the environmental impacts of the whole digital value chain, from devices to data centers, including networks, the bill is still under discussion but was adopted upon first reading by the Senate last January, and by the National Assembly last May. The bill was apparently endorsed by the government, since the latter agreed to put it on the Parliament’s agenda, likely because the text has been seen as an opportunity to bring forward measures from the “climate convention”[1] and to pave the way to reduce the environmental impacts of digital technology.

 

As a whole, the text intends to reduce the carbon footprint of devices but also digital infrastructures. It includes measures aimed in particular at supporting the recycling and reusage of digital devices (smartphones, computers, tablets, etc.). According to the bill’s introductory statement, the manufacture of digital equipment causes 70% of the French digital industry’s total carbon footprint. The text also seeks to push the concept of "digital sobriety", promoting data centers and networks that consume less electricity through tax measures.

 

These provisions have been positively welcomed by the tech community as many digital players are already ahead of the Senate's proposals. As an example, several players of the data centers market have chosen to use advanced and high-capacity technologies such as hyperscale cloud computing, which ensures cleaner and more energy-efficient services. Other players are also using Machine Learning to analyze and optimize the cooling systems of their data centers, or the use of batteries as an alternative to traditional generators.

 

Over the last years, market players have identified their environmental impact as a key issue at a time where public opinion is more and more sensitive to the ecology and the economic activities impact on the environment. Some of them have accelerated their strategy on the matter and have been shifting from a strategy of offsetting the environmental footprint of digital technology to one of decarbonizing tools and services.

 

Nonetheless, digital activities have increasingly been seen as a polluter in particular because there is no consensus on its carbon footprint. Methodologies to evaluate such impact is still highly disputed. In France, the administration is trying to bring the consensus but has failed so far. One of the most disputed points is the evaluation of the positive externalities.

 

However, innovation will play a key role in the energy transition. The recent report by economists Jean Tirole and Olivier Blanchard, commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron to work on the post-covid French economy, is vindictive: innovation is key to coming out on top and to decarbonize the economy.

 

Digital technology is an asset whose full dimensions are still difficult to grasp. During the discussions of this bill, the Junior Minister for Digital Transition called for "not pitting two transitions (ecological and digital) against each other but ensuring that they enrich each other". It is about more than the establishment of new constraints - the real issue of this member’s bill should be the ability to create synergies between ecology, economy and digital.

 

[1] A consultative experiment in which a group of 150 randomly picked men and women were asked to make environmental policy proposals, all but three of which were accepted, and which a group of twenty-five lawmakers in the National Assembly worked on legislating

 

 Erwan Sence and Laurent Monjole