When we started SDIA 3 years ago, the word 'sustainability' was not in vogue and I had to start every presentation with a definition. And today? Again, I'll start this presentation with a definition because it's used so often that it loses clarity and meaning.
It's actually not just about sustainability itself, but about the sustainable development of our society and economy - i.e. a development that balances the needs of the environment, society and economy and leaves the world for the next generation as we found it .
The English original "Sustainable Development" was defined in 1987 by the Brundlandt Commission.
This also includes the Sustainable Development Goals, which I am sure you’ve spotted already.
So, we've done it. phew!
What does this mean for the SDIA Community, the digital sector and infrastructure?
It means that we also have to deal with how we can develop our sector sustainably and jointly chart a path which enables us to "digitalize more" without negative environmental and social effects.
Who says it's not sustainable now?
Actually nobody. If you read these headlines, everything is all right! What's the problem now? And even if there is an environmental impact, digitization makes everything better overall, Max!
Maybe a short experiment: Who in this room is convinced that IT, digitization, ... is already sustainable today (because then we can all leave now)?
Great, thanks - but still - it’s difficult to gauge the size of today’s negative impact from the digital sector, so what do we do?
First measure. But how do you measure the environmental impact of digital products, of a CDN? From a website? from a google search? It’s possible.
But first, come with me on a short journey...
When I started software development 15 years ago, the IT world looked like this:
An application sitting on a server which is used by someone
The server is in a data center which I know and the network is connecting the user/application and the data center
Then every 2-3 years a new abstraction layer was introduced
And the application is moving further and further away from the actual infrastructure
and current hot shit: serverless Ironic that serverless but still runs on a server
And then came the complete abstraction of IT infrastructure: cloud infrastructure
Now I don't even know which data center I'm actually in. And the illusion is complete: I can use infinite resources for my software.
And now we're trying to measure the the environmental impact of the physical infrastructure of the application?
That’s very complex - it’s much more feasible if we simplify our model, our approach.
So what does a simplified model look like?
I know that every IT person is about to throw a beer bottle at me, but come with me for a moment.
Digital infrastructure produces resources. The next layer knows or makes these resources available to one or more applications. The application consumes these resources to provide a product or service to users.
The model can be applied to almost anything - digital infrastructure can be a smartphone or laptop, the resource allocation then makes the operating system for the application(s) currently running in parallel. But it can also be a data center with 10 servers that are virtualized.
The key in this model is the idea of the digital resource
Because software does not exist in physical space, it cannot have any environmental impact. However, the creation of the resources that the software consumes may very well have an environmental impact.
In the end, a computer does nothing other than convert raw materials and electricity into computing power, into digital resources (and generate heat in the process).
So if I can assign an environmental impact to each resource and know how many resources an application consumes
Then it suddenly becomes much easier to measure and determine how much environmental impact is hidden in a software application.
And with the idea of digital resources, transparency can be created across the entire value chain.
Ultimately we can use it to measure the environmental impact of all digital products, all applications
And the sum of all these services and products provides an idea for the overall impact of the digital economy.
OK, we can measure it, but what does the path to sustainable development of the digital sector look like now?
Let's clarify the responsibilities first. Who is actually responsible for the environmental impact?
The user is responsible for sensible use. You shouldn't drive your car in circles, even if it's running on green electricity.
The manufacturers of software and digital products are responsible for making the consumption of resources and the associated environmental impact transparent to the user and minimizing them. Digital resources should also be procured from sources with minimal or no environmental impact.
When allocating resources, waste of resources should be avoided or idle time reduced.
And digital infrastructure must generate sustainable resources and make the environmental impact of each resource transparent.
If the responsibilities are clear, we can create the tools and the transparency that enable the sustainable development of digital economy and digitization
and that's what we're working on with our SDIA community.
for example on a label for digital products and services for users
Or an label for digital resources
Or a standard for converting digital resources into environmental impact
And a lot more.
With these tools we can pave a way towards sustainable development. There is still work to be done, such as making social impact measurable, but it is a start.
And now we can ask ourselves: What role does Europe, Netherlands, or Amsterdam want to play in shaping a sustainable digital economy?
If we in Europe and in the Netherlands want to have a positive influence on the internet, digitization, the digital economy, then not with the idea of sovereignty, isolation, the idea of security.
But rather by leading the way on the sustainable development of the digital sector and embedding our values. Showing that things can be different. And that we can compete globally with transparency and sustainability.