How to reconcile digital innovation strategies and ecological transition

Tue 09 Feb 2021

Digital uses have become essential to our professional and societal lives and are expected to grow exponentially. To reconcile digital innovation with the environmental and societal challenges inherent in the ecological transition, operators benefit, like Orange, from various levers for action.

Committed to significantly reducing1 a carbon footprint that is already low, telecom operators will have to contain the expected steep rise in their electricity consumption if they are to manage an otherwise contradictory injunction.

Meeting a twofold environmental and social challenge

During the health crisis, digital technology became increasingly essential in our personal and professional lives. 5G will no doubt further intensify the development of certain energy-consuming innovations (teleworking, telemedicine, smart logistics, etc.), even if these contribute to reducing the footprint of other economic sectors. Some think tanks predict an exponential growth in digital emissions of 6%2 per year.

Conversely, half of humanity still lives on the fringes of digital technology, due to lack of network access, financial resources, training in uses, or gender issues. The digital inclusion of new consumers therefore remains a steep challenge.

This paradox prompts a debate about the acceptability of digital technology. To ensure that it remains a solution within a rapidly changing regulatory framework, it is up to its players to objectively inform “consumers”, educate their customers, develop cost-effective solutions, as well as methods and tools for measuring the ecological impact.

Making the digital transition a growth driver

Reconciling the digital transition with environmental protection and digital inclusion lies at the core of Orange's Engage 2025 mission and strategic plan. At a time when we are investing heavily in the deployment of fiber and 5G, innovating to help our customers minimize their carbon footprint represents a growth driver in a highly competitive and regulatory-constrained European market. The environmental efficiency of our products and services is also becoming an increasingly decisive selection criterion in calls for tender from the companies with which we are jointly engaged. Our commitment is based on various major operational levers.

The Green ITN program (for IT and Networks)

We have significantly reinforced our Green ITN program, launched more than 10 years ago to improve the energy and environmental efficiency of our networks and IS. In order to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040:

  • Orange has played a key role in standardizing the energy efficiency of 5G by pioneering an innovative standard: "deep standby modes" that allow deep sections of the network without traffic to be switched off.
  • In our reflections on the launch of 6G by 2030, we invite our partners to shift paradigms: place environmental protection AND societal needs at the heart of the new network instead of seeking ever more speed and throughput.
  • We thus propose 50 energy optimization levers, identified by our work on modeling traffic and emissions trends, for deployment in our countries.
  • To increase our supply of renewable energy, we plan to power mobile radio sites with solar energy, and sign long-term Power Purchase Agreements.
  • We will carefully measure consumption levels across all our sites and optimize the electricity consumption of our data centers, with the support of start-ups.

On the IT side, we will measure the consumption of applications deployed in data centers; this represents a challenge in cloud architectures where applications run on multiple servers.

The circular economy lever

In terms of the circular economy, we have made several ambitious commitments to reduce the carbon footprint of our products, services and equipment:

  • Eco-design of all Orange products sold in stores in 2025 and, starting in 2024, of all the services that we will provide to the Paris Olympics.
  • Recycling and reconditioning of 30% of used telephones and 90% of used fixed terminals.
  • Use of reconditioned network infrastructures and IT equipment.
  • Reuse of up to 70% of furniture whenever we relocate.

An Orange Digital Center and social offers in all our regions

In order to promote digital inclusion and employability, we have launched an Orange Digital Center in 4 countries where our audiences can come along to receive training, test new technologies and learn the code free of charge. We plan to open a center in each of our 7 operational departments in France and our 26 countries, and deploy a social Internet access offer similar to the “coup de pouce Livebox” in France.

A strategic commitment

To expand these various programs and engage the 8,000 employees involved in Innovation, Orange Innovation has created a CSR department. Its missions are to define a shared vision, prioritize projects, instill a “CSR by design” culture in all projects, disseminate good practices, and help countries to appropriate and implement them.

The company has also approved a long-term line of research on “responsible digital technology” that incorporates all aspects of digital's societal impacts: what motivates trust in the digital world? Can it be modeled and quantified? How can we ensure ethical, responsible and trustworthy AI? What are the human factors in security solutions? In our globalized world, what does it mean to lay the foundations for the challenges of digital sovereignty?

Human support

The commitment of both employees and the supplier chain is a key factor in the success of this ecological transition. For example, integrating eco-design into daily practices represents a major cultural change for companies and projects. This requires:

  • A review of the design processes for all our products and services, the implementation of an eco-design framework and tools for modeling carbon emissions induced but also avoided, the launch of pilot projects, etc.
  • Raising the awareness of management and teams of an approach that requires systematically measuring impacts, working with environmental experts, innovating for and with the customer to create value, and defining appropriate communication strategies.
  • Support to develop these technical topics and help countries use the new tools.
  • Close collaboration with all players in the value chain.

To ensure sustainable development, our only choice is to make digital technology – now essential – usable, used and responsible. By committing to digital inclusion and limiting consumptions responsible for global warming, Orange is fulfilling this ambition. The challenge is to make it ever more operational and measurable through decisive actions.

1 Orange is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050

2 Translator : % added (no % in the French)

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