Ecodesign: hardware, software, same battle?

Resources to manufacture, energy to operate, waste to recycle and recondition

Thinking about the environmental impact of digital technology in terms of equipment is logical. However, doesn’t this equipment exist only to run software? Here’s a short lesson in eco-design of services, with Orange.

For more than a decade, Orange has been applying its eco-design approach to data centers, Liveboxes and, more generally, the brand’s products. To function, a service requires hardware, servers, networks and user terminals, to varying degrees and with varying power. The eco-design of digital services, which has been emerging and gaining momentum in recent years, aims to develop applications, programs, websites, etc. that require fewer resources and less energy throughout their life cycle. This involves optimizing not only the application code, but also the technical architecture, continuous integration processes and production deployments.

Resources and energy, the sinews of war

The eco-design of digital services is generally structured around two objectives:

  • To limit the amount of material resources needed to deliver a service, and not to induce an accelerated renewal of equipment.
  • Reducing the amount of energy required for data centers, networks and user terminals.

Among the levers for achieving these goals, we can work on:

  • The software architecture of services: for example, by giving priority to technical solutions that allow resources to be shared and ensuring that only essential functionalities are developed.
  • User interfaces: by developing lighter websites, by avoiding the use of automatically triggered videos (autoplay) or by proposing a written transcription rather than a video, which is demanding in terms of resources.

Research, actions, ecodesign at Orange

Within Orange, the subject has become a research priority. For instance, the Distiller project aims to develop recommendations for the design of sober and sustainable cloud applications. It is supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR), in partnership with Inria, OVH Cloud and Davidson Consulting.

On the operational front, a Software Ecodesign Expertise Center brings together know-how and skills in the field and works to develop and expand ecodesign approaches for digital services. The Group has also applied eco-design principles in the development of its CO2 emissions calculator for Orange products and business services.

All digital players

The entire responsible digital ecosystem is mobilizing to develop sustainable digital uses and services through eco-design. The issue is all the more critical in that it could, in the future, become a criterion of choice for consumers, following the example of the Eco Rating label for mobile terminals. The regulations themselves are evolving: the law on reducing the environmental footprint of digital products (REEN law), which will be passed at the end of 2021, gives a large place to eco-design. A general reference framework for the ecodesign of digital services has been published to guide players in their approach. Architecture, interfaces, content: reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology will be as much about hardware as software.