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Published on 12 April 2022 In this section Digital sustainability

Ademe and Arcep study: new data on the environmental impact of digital technology

In August 2020, the French government commissioned Ademe and Arcep to carry out a study to measure the environmental footprint of the digital sector in France and identify action levers and best practices to reduce it.

The study was entrusted to a consortium comprising Deloitte, NegaOctet and Idate, and was critically reviewed by a panel of independent experts led by Evea. The scope of the study covers the environmental impact of digital equipment and infrastructure used in France, including terminals, communicating objects, telecoms networks and data centers.

Life cycle assessment: measuring the overall environmental impact

The consortium conducted the study using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method, which enables a global assessment of the environmental impacts of digital technology. The LCA characteristics are intended to be:

  • Multi-criteria: the environmental impact of digital technology is not limited to greenhouse gas emissions alone. It is based on 11 environmental indicators in addition to the carbon footprint;
  • Multi-stage: it measures the impacts generated at all stages of the equipment life cycle (manufacture, distribution, use and end-of-life);
  • Multi-component: digital services are made up of a multitude of devices, each with its own life cycle. The LCA allows us to break them down into three main components: terminals, networks and data centers.

Key findings of the study

The study shows that the digital sector is responsible for almost 17 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, or 2.5% of France’s carbon footprint, and 10% of its electricity consumption, or 48 TWh. It shows that terminals (in particular monitors and televisions) generate most of the environmental impact (from 65% to 92%), followed by data centers (from 4% to 20%) and networks (from 4% to 13%).

According to the study, the manufacturing phase is the main source of impact, followed by the use phase. This confirms the importance of strengthening measures aimed at extending the useful life of digital equipment (extending product durability, reconditioning, repair, etc.).

Focus on the environmental impact of data centers

As far as data centers in particular are concerned, the study indicates that the environmental impacts are mainly due to the number of m² of computer rooms, the number of servers and the amount of storage, and power consumption. In terms of equipment, it is mainly servers and, to a lesser extent, storage that generate the greatest impact.

The study also measured the impact according to data center type:

  • Colocation data centers: between 35% and 50% of the impact;
  • Corporate data centers: 30% to 45% of the impact;
  • National and local public data centers: 5% to 15% of the impact;
  • HPC data centers: between 0.1 and 5% of the impact.

The environmental footprint of digital technology in France

Ademe and Arcep submit their first report to the French government

Read the press release (in French)

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