In France, the accessibility of digital services has had a legislative framework for several years now (initiated by article 47 of the 2005-102 law of 11 February 2005 [FR] and specified in decree no. 2019-768 of 24 July 2019 [FR]). This is based primarily on the RGAA [FR] (Référentiel Général d’Amélioration de l’Accessibilité – General Accessibility Improvement Reference Framework). The eco-design of digital services, which has been discussed in France for over 15 years, has gained considerable momentum in recent years. However, the subject is still struggling to establish itself, or even to take precise shape within organisations. The legislative framework has been taking shape since 2021 and should enable the eco-design of digital services to take hold over the next few years. The aim of this article is to shed some light on the subject.
A quick reminder
ADEME (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie) and ARCEP (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques, des postes et de la distribution de la presse) are working together on the environmental impact of digital technology. Their work covers, in particular, the estimation of these impacts on a French scale, as well as best practices and prospects. This information can be found here: https://www.arcep.fr/nos-sujets/numerique-et-environnement.html [FR]
Ecodesign [FR] can be defined as an approach that integrates the reduction of environmental impacts right from the design stage of a digital service, with a global vision of the entire life cycle, via continuous improvement.
A digital service [FR] is a set of human, software and hardware resources needed to provide a service.
Consequently (but we’ll come back to this in a later article), talking about an eco-designed website can be perceived as a misuse of language. As part of an eco-design approach, we need to take an interest in all the site’s digital services (or at least a representative sample), through continuous improvement and by covering all the stages in the project’s lifecycle. All this goes much further than simply measuring a sample of pages on a site that is already online.
In France, there are currently 2 main laws: the AGEC law (Anti-Gaspillage pour une Économie Circulaire) and the REEN law (Réduction de l’Empreinte Environnementale du Numérique).
The AGEC law [FR] briefly addresses the subject, but this requirement does not yet seem to have been dealt with exhaustively. On this subject, see the Guide pratique pour des achats numériques écoresponsables from the Mission interministérielle Numérique Écoresponsable [FR].
Even if certain elements still need to be clarified, the REEN law [FR] goes further by mentioning (among other things) :
- The need to train engineering students in digital-related courses in the eco-design of digital services. But there is also a need to raise awareness of digital sobriety from an early age.
- The creation of an observatory on the environmental impact of digital technology, via ADEME (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Énergie) and ARCEP (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques, des postes et de la distribution de la presse).
- A general reference framework for the eco-design of digital services to set criteria for the sustainable design of websites, to be implemented from 2024. ARCEP has since confirmed that this benchmark will be based on the RGESN (Référentiel général d’écoconception de services numériques [FR]): https://www.arcep.fr/actualites/actualites-et-communiques/detail/n/environnement-091023.html [FR] A public consultation, launched in October 2023, aims to consolidate this benchmark and practices around it, with a view to wider adoption from early 2024.
- The fight against the various forms of obsolescence, as well as actions to promote re-use and recycling.
- Reduce the impact of data centres (in particular by monitoring the efficiency of energy and water consumption) and networks. The decree is currently being published [FR].
- Require municipalities and groups of municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to draw up and implement a Responsible Digital Strategy by 2025. This strategy must include elements relating to the eco-design of digital services. A number of guides have been published to help establish this strategy, including this one: https://www.interconnectes.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/web-Guide-methodologique_V8.pdf [FR]
All of this is accompanied by the establishment of the HCNE (High Committee for Eco-responsible Digitisation), various roadmaps and an eco-responsible digital acceleration strategy. All this is detailed on this page: https://www.ecologie.gouv.fr/numerique-responsable [FR]
Once all these elements have been defined, the question arises of what remains to be done.
In 2024, the REEN law will require public websites to be designed in a sustainable way. By 2025, local authorities with more than 50,000 inhabitants will have to have integrated this dimension into their Responsible Digital Strategy.
Greenspector has been involved in the eco-design of digital services for several years. This evolution in the legislative framework coincides with our involvement in projects at an increasingly early stage, sometimes even from the expression of need. This inevitably requires changes in practices, including the introduction of ideation workshops that take into account the environmental footprint of a service. More and more often, the RGESN is used as a reference to guide the approach throughout the project. This reference framework is ideal for this type of support, but it also provides a basis for managing eco-design as a continuous improvement process.
This way of rethinking support for the eco-design of digital services also makes it possible to move towards greater impact reduction levers and to involve more types of profiles in the projects supported.
As the process begins with public institutions, it is to be hoped that companies will follow suit. In fact, some have already begun the process of complying with the RGESN. Not just in anticipation of a possible change in the legislative framework affecting them, but also because these standards provide a long-awaited framework for the eco-design approach.
On all the issues raised here, France has made great strides. Now it’s up to other countries to follow suit. In September, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) published its WSG [FR] (Web Sustainability Guidelines). They are now out for public consultation with a view to making further progress on the subject and perhaps eventually establishing web standards. They are also accompanied by discussions on the best way to introduce levers directly at institutional level. In Europe, some countries, notably Belgium and Switzerland, are federating around structures similar to the INR. It is to be hoped that the RGESN and other elements currently in place in France can be adapted to other countries.
After working for more than 15 years in web development, Laurent Devernay became a technical consultant in responsible digital technology at Greenspector. When he is not coaching organizations on the eco-design of their digital services, he teaches courses on digital sobriety technologies.