Is digitization good or bad for the environment? On the one hand, it allows you to work more efficiently and helps to save energy. On the other hand, you consume valuable raw materials and produce more and more e-waste, which is difficult to recycle.
Researchers from the Institute for Public Sector Transformation at the Bern University of Applied Sciences have dealt with such questions. Commissioned by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), they examined in a study what opportunities and risks digitization entail for the environment.
Opportunities and risks digitization entails for the environment
Efficiency gain vs. energy consumption: Thanks to modern information and communication technologies, more data can be collected and systems can be controlled better. Also, new knowledge can be gained and new types of services can be provided. Depending on the method, this also results in high energy consumption.
Better ecological balance vs. increased demand: The dematerialization of value-added processes and the shift towards renewable energy sources improve the ecological balance. However, efficiency gains often lead to increased demand. The tendency of the consumer and throwaway society is reinforced. This leads to more emissions and more e-waste.
Economic development vs. scarcity of resources: Digitization or digital club management by campai leads to an acceleration of the economy. However, it leads to excessive use of natural resources. It also leads to the danger of throwing global ecosystems out of balance.
Data collection vs. data protection: In the field of environmental monitoring, digitization helps above all in relation to more efficient data collection and in improving the processing of knowledge through new data processing options. The main risk is the exacerbation of data protection issues.
Networking vs. non-participation: Social media help to network with like-minded people, for example in the field of environmental protection. But the existing opportunities for civil society to participate in environmental policy projects at the national and international levels have so far been largely insufficient.
Urgent need for action
The study also shows where there is a need for action in the areas of politics, business, administration and civil society. This is particularly the case when promoting the circular economy. Possible strategies would be, for example, the creation of incentives for more environmentally friendly consumption and simplified recycling. Furthermore, they discuss strategies for the promotion of products with a better ecological balance and the increased use of digital technologies to increase efficiency.