Ivan Mariblanca Flinch
Ivan Mariblanca Flinch is the founder of Canopé, a Swiss startup that measures the environmental footprint of organizations’ IT systems; implements sustainable IT strategies while training employees; and audits organizations to obtain the “Responsible Digital Label”. Besides his role at Canopé, Ivan is co-leader of the scientific committee of the Swiss Institute for Sustainable IT, which promotes sustainable and ethical IT throughout Switzerland. Before founding Canopé, Ivan worked in the tobacco, oil and helicopter industries. He holds engineering degrees from the École Nationale Supérieure d'Ingénieurs de Limoges and the University of Manchester.
Ivan Mariblanca Flinch, founder of Canopé, explains how digital technology contributes to companies’ economic and environmental footprint – and how he helps public and private organizations adopt good practices for a more responsible and sober IT landscape.
What first triggered your awareness of the impact of electronic equipment on the economic, environmental and social footprint of a company?
I watched a documentary two and half years ago on the conditions in which electronic equipment is manufactured, more specifically on the extraction of minerals in Africa and China. That’s when I realized the true human impact of today’s digital reality. I then became interested in the economic and environmental impacts.
What particularly struck me was that we – the “climate generation” – are the ones who paradoxically consume the most data on the internet and renew our electronic equipment the most frequently. We are both the solution and the problem. It made me think that there is some work to be done here.
What’s the biggest issue companies face with their digital footprint and how do you address it with them?
The main problem is that companies are still rarely aware of their digital footprint. Today, we talk about plastic, fossil fuels, transport, heating – and all public and private organizations are making efforts to improve in these areas. But there still is a long way to go when it comes to the footprint of information systems, the Cloud and other technologies.
When we talk about the digital footprint, we don’t mean only greenhouse gas emissions but also the natural resources used. The process of manufacturing equipment accounts for between 60% and 80% of its final environmental footprint. For example, it takes 183kg of natural resources to produce a 200g smartphone, and it’s a similar story for computers, monitors and the like. Once a product is purchased, most of its footprint has already been created.
We – “the climate generation” – are both the solution and the problem. It made me think that there is some work to be done here.
It takes 183kg of natural resources to produce a 200g smartphone.
What aspects of a company’s electronic equipment do you analyze to determine its environmental footprint?
During our audits, we review individual equipment, shared equipment, data storage and remote working practices within the company. We observe a generalized “IT obesity”. In some companies, up to a third of the IT equipment is superfluous and up to a quarter of the electricity consumption could be avoided. The potential for savings is considerable.
What steps can companies take to reduce their ICT impact, and how does this factor into their digital strategy?
There are some very simple good practices that companies can implement. We offer a catalogue of over 120 solutions. The first reflex should be to extend the equipment’s lifespan. If a new acquisition is necessary, then it’s a matter of asking the right questions: can I buy refurbished equipment, or possibly rent the equipment in question? More and more companies are opting for leasing, which has the advantage of shifting the environmental responsibility to the supplier. As far as data storage is concerned, companies should favor data centers that use renewable energy and try to limit the amount of data they generate. Another example of concrete action is reducing the weight of the company’s web page. The lighter the page is in terms of data, the faster it loads, the better it is referenced in search engines and the smaller its environmental footprint. The company has everything to gain.
There are some very simple good practices that companies can implement to reduce their ICT impact.
The idea is to put digital sobriety at the center of all digitalization decisions. This mainly involves asking a fundamental question: will the product we are going to buy, whether hardware or software, be useful, usable, used and reusable? Studies show that in Europe today, 25% of software purchased by companies is never used. Of the software that is, more than 70% is underused. The discrepancy between real need and purchases is striking.
What trends do you observe in green IT in the Swiss market?
I would say that in Switzerland we are in the earlier stages of green IT, so not yet fully mature. Compared to France, where the field is developing enormously, and where the first laws and first pledges from major groups are already appearing, Switzerland is still a little behind. But here too, the subject is gaining in importance, particularly in the French-speaking part where several cities as well as public and private organizations have committed to responsible digital technology. Canopé has also been approached by German-speaking towns and cantons, banks and major industrial players. I have no doubt that with its capacity for innovation, Switzerland will quickly catch up with its neighbors. Imagine if a Swiss startup managed to make bitcoin using 90 times less electricity, to create more ethical artificial intelligence, or to recycle electronic components more efficiently, for example to extract gold more efficiently. These are very promising avenues to explore.
Canopé measures, trains and audits organizations to achieve digital sobriety, in particular by obtaining the “Responsible Digital Label”. What does this label consist of and what do companies have to do to receive it?
To obtain the “Responsible Digital Label”, which exists in France, Switzerland and Belgium, an organization must go through several steps. First, there must be a clear commitment from the management, backed up by the implementation of a concrete action plan to reduce the economic and environmental costs of the company’s ICT system. Next, it is necessary to raise awareness and train its people on the issue and to make them aware of the fact that, within an organization, everyone can contribute to more responsible digital practices. Finally, it is about measuring the environmental footprint of its ICT system.
What is your vision for the future of Canopé?
Our goal for the next year is to remain the Swiss leader in footprint measurement, training and auditing in the field of digital sobriety. In the next three to four years, we want to contribute to the implementation of this digital sobriety ecosystem on a larger scale, and we aspire to become the European reference in this field.
If you could see the world through the eyes of a famous person, who would you choose?
Albert Einstein. Not for his scientific qualities, but for his praise of imagination, which he said was even more important than knowledge. I think we are going to need a lot of creativity and imagination to overcome the challenges ahead and I feel we are capable of that as a society, especially in a country like Switzerland which encourages innovation and startups.