A look back at the eG4U Sicoval conference in Labège (Toulouse)

On 19 March 2024, nearly a hundred local and regional development managers, elected representatives and staff in charge of digital technology, as well as equipment and service providers, took part in a conference entitled “Responsible digital technology for more sustainable regions”. The discussions were fruitful.

Conference eG4U – Sicoval, march 19th 2024_DR

The conference was organised at the Diagora conference centre in Labège by eG4U and Sicoval, a local authority grouping 36 communes in the south-east of Toulouse. The event was opened by Jacques Oberti, Chairman of Sicoval, and Victor Denouvion, Chairman of Haute Garonne numérique.

[ To download the presentations, click here ]

The pooling of resources within local authorities was one of the key topics: it is making progress for economic reasons, but also because of a growing awareness of the need to reduce greenhouse gases.

A number of participants agreed that it is preferable to start with realistic projects that are not too extensive, that are well understood and well supported by elected representatives and local residents. For example, video-protection or public lighting infrastructures, as in Bordeaux Métropole.

Christophe Colinet, in charge of the “intelligent metropolis” project (and a member of eG4U) explained that “interoperability is a factor of sovereignty and digital sobriety for local authorities”; in his view, experience shows that it is possible and appropriate to start by controlling infrastructures such as street lighting. A key objective is to make the equipment interoperable between the various technologies present, which then enables the infrastructure to be used for road, transport, security and other services.

In the European context of Eurocities (167 local authorities), it has been shown that it is illusory to want to standardise everything. “We need to build interoperability platforms realistically, with one overriding objective: to simplify the process (not build ‘gas factories’). It is crucial that political decision-makers, with a citizen-centred approach, get involved out of conviction”, Christophe Colinet summarised.

Sobriety and reuse of infrastructure

In addition to recycling, many speakers mentioned the importance of sobriety in the purchase and consumption of equipment. It was pointed out that 60 to 80% of the CO2 emissions of a piece of equipment, over its entire life cycle, are generated during its manufacture and not during its use. Hence the need to use non-new, reconditioned solutions wherever possible. As Marc Namiash, director of Codage and chairman of the Power EoC Alliance (Ethernet over coax), explained, coaxial cable infrastructures are perfectly reusable for video protection. In cooperation with the Power EoC Alliance, eG4U

has drawn up recommendations adopted by ETSI at European level for operating new-generation (IP) video cameras on old coaxial cabling, as validated by RATP in the Paris metro.

eG4U has also drawn up a set of recommendations for operating public lighting infrastructure with PLC (powerline communications) connectivity to connect video cameras, WiFi terminals, audio, LPWAN routers, etc. to manage a green space or parking area, count vehicles or regulate traffic, for example. The possibility of supporting 4G or 5G transmitters/receivers on luminaires has also been standardised.

The impact of digital technology

Angélica Calvet, General Secretary of Cinov Digital (a trade union for small and medium-sized businesses in the digital sector) asked ex-abrupto: can the much-vaunted information technologies be both eco-responsible and sustainable? Her answer: “As they are produced and used today, the answer is no! According to her, the metals needed to produce a 2kg laptop require 800kg of raw materials to be processed; and the manufacturing process itself generates 124kg of CO2 out of the 169kg emitted over the entire life cycle of the device (adding transport and distribution, use and recycling). In other words, energy consumption by the user represents only a small part of the total carbon footprint… Hence the importance of keeping your computer as long as possible.

This trade union leader also mentioned two paradoxes inherent in the development of digital technology: “The more we dematerialise, the more raw materials we use (for components, screens, etc.); the more we miniaturise and make components more complex, the greater their environmental impact”. In fact, the production of complex components requires a lot of energy, chemical treatments and rare metals, such as tantalum (smartphones) and indium (flat screens).

“Equipment manufacturers are depleting these precious minerals at an unprecedented rate”. And to quote Ademe: the number of devices will be almost 65% higher in 2030 than in 2020, particularly with the boom in connected objects. Between 2020 and 2030, the carbon footprint of the digital sector in France could increase by 45% to 25 million tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent). The consumption of metals and minerals (or abiotic resources) would increase by 14% and electricity consumption by 5% to reach 54 tera-watts/h (TWh) per year.) And if nothing is done, these figures could triple between 2030 and 2050″.

In the previous presentation, Gillo Malfrat, CEO of the research company Mavana, described the paradox of the indirect or negative rebound effects of digital technology. Certain gains in climate change mitigation can be offset or wiped out by the strong growth in demand for goods and services due to the use of certain digital devices or goods (e.g. the electric vehicle). More broadly, digital technology leads to trade-offs between several sustainable development objectives – for example, increased e-waste, negative impacts on labour markets and exacerbation of the existing digital divide.
Clearly, the deployment of digital technologies must be monitored responsibly: it will only contribute to decarbonisation if it is properly managed (with a “high degree of trust”). This brings us back to the questions posed by the IPCC (“Mitigation of climate change”). At the request of ADEME, a study by Mavana will provide a clearer picture.

Highly motivated local authorities

Alain Vincent, head of the digital project at the Haute Garonne Numérique joint association, pointed out that local authorities are faced with legal and regulatory obligations in terms of responsible digital development, in particular the AGEC and REEN laws (for which implementing decrees have been published). Since 1 January 2023, any local authority with a population of over 50,000 must have started work on a plan to put in place a responsible digital strategy by 1 January 2025. A 5-step guide has been published by the ANCT (Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires).

Competing with the departments of Manche and Yonne, Haute-Garonne was selected in July 2023 in tandem with one of its highly motivated members, the Communauté de communes Coteaux Bellevue (not subject to the REEN Act), chaired by Sabine Geil-Gomez, who is strongly committed to sustainable development. The first stage involved setting up a launch committee (8 participants) and conducting diagnostic interviews with elected representatives and various departments (finance, purchasing, HR, communications, etc.). Six areas of digital responsibility were addressed: strategy and governance, purchasing, IT transformation, recycling (WEEE) and the circular economy, and raising awareness. Two prioritisation workshops identified twelve action levers, including local digital inclusion, the choice of reference persons to coordinate the responsible digital approach, steering indicators, and so on. Today, these local authorities are already in a position to give priority to sustainable, repairable and eco-labelled purchases”; to optimise the management of their equipment up to the point of recycling (by entrusting it to an eco-organisation), and to pool computer servers and data storage units, while reducing the volume upstream. A charter of best practices for responsible digital use has been drawn up, and all employees have been made aware of this action plan, which is being promoted as a way of boosting the company’s dynamism.

“The current challenge is to maintain this momentum, by allocating sufficient resources and human resources,” observes Alain Vincent. “To guarantee the expected results, we have to admit what doesn’t work. We need to have alternative scenarios. This is part of a more global approach to ecological transition, a long and complex process, aimed at continuous improvement”. This manager also recommends “starting with a realistic pilot project that shows it can be done”.

[ To download the presentations, click here ]