Is intelligent technological progress an adequate response to the ecological crisis?

What if the art of technological progress consisted of a delicate balance? Because it is the “right dose” of new technologies that will help us cope with the challenges of the time. Opinion by Jan Kolar of 28° Design for Et Demain Notre ADN.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the introduction of new technologies into our daily lives. Some of them, such as remote collaboration tools, have become a symbol of the resilience of the world of work, others have proven to be important tools for crisis management and forecasting.

Whether it is telemedicine and remote consultations, the BlueDot algorithm that crosses multiple data sources in the service of detecting trends in the spread of the virus and is now used by epidemiologists around the world, or the data visualization tool developed by Johns Hopkins University that provides transparent and understandable access to information related to the epidemic. – digital technologies have become a privileged ally in decision making.

In the business world, this observation is also shared. According to a consultation conducted by OCTO Technology at a USI event, 94% of executives believe that a better technology culture allows them to make better decisions, and 90% of them are convinced that technology will help companies withstand future crises.

At the same time, according to GreenIt, the ecological footprint of the global digital economy in 2019 was already 4.2% of energy consumption and 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent, according to the considered indicators, to two to five times the global footprint. France. In addition, in 5 years, the amount of e-waste in 2020 increased by 21% in 5 years according to Global e-waste monitoring 2020.

Digital pollution will increase, in particular, through the development of connected objects, which will increase 48 times between 2010 and 2025.

© Tom Fisk

This already significant digital pollution will increase in the coming years, in part due to the development of connected objects, which will be multiplied by 48 between 2010 and 2025, according to the same GreenIt study. Due to this trend, in addition to the impact of the digital sector on the environment, Frédéric Bordage, an expert on “responsible digital technologies”, became alarmed in 2019 about the lack of abiotic resources (non-renewable natural resources such as minerals), which are likely to be less than a generation . .

Despite all the undeniable advantages that we have derived from technological progress, it is the latter that has led us to the ecological crisis that we are experiencing today and which we may experience tomorrow. To what extent can we thus hope that it is technological progress that allows us to get out of it? If the solution is not viable and regression is socially unacceptable, then what are the ingredients of “smart technological progress”?

Guaranteed efficacy and traceability: the challenge is to find the balance and the “right dose” of technology

The development of connected objects and the gradual introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) in territories, in companies, even in individual homes and personal objects, is aimed at reconciling technology with the environment. Indeed, their implementation often rhymes with the search for better use of resources, reduction of waste or optimization of interventions and logistics routes. For example, connected waste bins help avoid unnecessary trips during garbage collection.

In another registry, connected meters such as Linky avoid the trips of technicians for simple readings, without compromising the personalized advice provided to the consumer through auto-loaded data. Other connected facilities help identify and isolate leaks, incidents, or specific problems before they fail, allowing resource-intensive overhauls to be replaced with preventive maintenance.

However, if the pursuit of efficiency and traceability is the goal that our society must strive for in order to create a sustainable model, IoT and technology in general should not be seen as modern panaceas. As a result, the drive for efficiency should not compete with the drive for sobriety, but rather fuel it. To do this, two principles of action emerge that allow technology players to follow the logic of creating really effective models.

© Dan Lefevre

In addition to offering equipment at technological facilities to strive for improved “environmental performance”, some actors link their own rewards to real impact. Thus, under the Total Care® offer, Rolls Royce is rewarded based on the actual flight hours of the aircraft for which it provides general maintenance. In this model, thanks to predictive maintenance made possible by on-board technology and big data analytics, it is in the aircraft manufacturer’s interest to ensure that aircraft equipment does not break down by making only necessary repairs with a high level of quality to minimize their occurrence during time.

Following the same logic, thanks to Michelin® Solutions Effifuel, the Clermont-based company guarantees its users (currently only professional fleets) a reduction in fuel consumption per kilometer. His compensation depends onabout the reality of lower fuel consumption and is carried out in exchange for feedback from driving data converted into individual recommendations for drivers and analyzed to improve the environmental performance of new products. Finally, under energy performance contracts, a significant portion of the remuneration of players such as Schneider Electric or Dalkia is based on actual energy savings.

Implementing business models based on “use efficiency” or saving natural resources and/or energy, separate from the sale of technology products per se, is one of the key challenges for sustainable stakeholder alignment and includes a technology solution provider model. in an inwardly virtuous approach.

It is about giving technology back the value it deserves by moving from technological abundance to technology scarcity.

Moreover, given the finiteness of the abiotic resources needed to run new technologies and the near exponential growth in the use of associated objects, it is not enough to be satisfied with justifying the environmental benefits that these objects bring. Indeed, it seems important to balance, despite the magnitude of the benefit provided, also the negative externalities associated with the use of resources, and always explore alternative and low-tech it would bring an equivalent benefit. In this approach, it is about giving technology back the value it deserves in the transition from technological abundance to scarcity of the corresponding technology.

Reasonable technological progress is desirable, because the urgency of environmental problems forces us to act with all the means at our disposal. However, it is extremely important treat technology as one piece of the puzzle, along with cost-effective alternatives that often exist and are overlooked. Thus, the rational nature of technological progress implies at least three components considered in this article. It is necessary both to assume the total cost of the technology, taking into account its negative externalities, and to include business models developed by technology solution providers in the logic of results and, obviously, to ensure that the latter does not lead to deviations, which, under the guise of efficiency, will increase the scale problem being solved.


About design 28°
At 28° Design, we are driven by the desire to contribute to the creation of new value. That is, to a virtuous economic reorganization of our society. At the same time, humane, environmental and economic, this can only happen through a radical rethinking of the company’s business model. At 28° Design, we help brands transition to business models based on sustainability and sustainability. With the concept of “new value”, we intend to destroy the old models for the development of business and the development of humanity.

Today we have the opportunity to lay down the cards. This crisis provides companies with an opportunity to align their economic models with the challenges of tomorrow. That is why we are excited to explore with DNA the new images that can be born and to inspire all those who doubt themselves and seek to reinvent their sector.


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