Among all the technological innovations that are transforming our world, digitalization is one of the most important to environmental efficiency and sustainability: it is estimated that digital technologies can help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
On the other hand, the manufacture of computing devices, the raw materials used and the energy consumed also entail an environmental impact: this is the so-called Digital Carbon Footprint, which corresponded to 2% of total global emissions in 2015 and 4% in 2020. These figures are undoubtedly smaller than the amount of emissions saved through digitalization, but they’re still increasing: at the current rate, the percentage could rise to 8.5% by 2025 and 14% by 2040.
Limiting our digital carbon footprint is possible using electricity generated from renewable sources, but also with solutions from information technology itself – for example, companies that move to the cloud significantly reduce their emissions.
Our sustainable digitization
Enel, which has made digitalization one of the cornerstones of its innovation strategy, is also at the forefront of efforts to make it increasingly sustainable: we were among the first to opt for a full transition to the cloud, we favor product circularity right from the purchasing stage, and we incentivize the responsible use of software and hardware by our people, including through the adoption of a digital code of conduct (including turning off devices when they’re not in use, limiting streaming, limiting the number of emails and attachments, and closing web pages visited).
In this way, between 2018 and 2022, we were able to reduce emissions related to digital technologies by 26%, despite a 107% increase in data storage and a 200% increase in machine processing capacity.
For the environment and the economy
Our most recent digital carbon footprint initiative is the Enel Digital Carbon Footprint project: an innovative method for calculating and reducing emissions generated by the use of digital technologies.
The project is divided into four areas, in each of which the aim is to measure – and then reduce – our carbon footprint. For infrastructure related to the cloud, the environmental impact depends mainly on the consumption of electricity and the water needed to cool the servers, but also on the purchase of machines to replace those that have reached the end of their useful life.
In the case of digital devices (e.g., smartphones, personal computers, printers), the carbon footprint depends on the type of technology and its use, while for software applications it’s a matter of considering energy consumption related both to their use and to the way they were designed and developed. Finally, in terms of the workforce, we consider all the emissions produced by people, mainly related to travel and transportation (commuting to work, business trips, etc.).
Launched in 2022, the project anticipates total savings estimated at €1.6 million through the adoption of solutions that will enable us to achieve a dual goal: to reduce emissions generated by digital technologies and to contain costs, creating economic value. This is an example of how sustainability and digitalization can coexist harmoniously and generate economic, social and environmental benefits to build a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive future.
Strengthened by this commitment and thanks to an extensive international network of collaborations and alliances, today we find ourselves playing a pioneering role and leading the debate on digital sustainability. Among the networks we’re part of, we collaborate with the Digital Climate Alliance, the World Economic Forum's Digital for Climate Network, and Fondazione per la Sostenibilità Digitale (Foundation for Digital Sustainability), the first research organization in Italy on this topic.