Green IO
#14 Digital Cleanup Day with Ingrid Nielsen and Olivier Vergeynst
March 7, 2023
In this episode, we went across the world for Digital Cleanup Day. Our first guest, Ingrid Nielsen is based in Tallinn, Estonia and she has been working with Let's Do It World NGO for the last years in different capacities, as the head of Global marketing and communication, running initiatives regarding digital waste and other projects. “Let’s do it world” is the mother NGO of both World Cleanup Day - 50 millions participants worldwide and counting- and its digital offspring which is the Digital Cleanup day. Our second guest, Oliver Vergeynst is based in Brussels, Belgium and he is the Director of the Belgian Institute for Sustainable IT since 2020. Together with the French and the Swiss institutes, they spearhead a lot of the research on Digital Sustainability while grouping both academics and professionals. We dive deep into the thought process behind digital cleanup day, how to get buy-in for digital cleanup, how best to do digital cleanup, and who are the targets of this ambitious project. ❤️ Subscribe, follow, like, ... stay connected the way you want to never miss an episode!
In this episode, we went across the world for Digital Cleanup Day. Our first guest, Ingrid Nielsen is based in Tallinn, Estonia and she has been working with Let's Do It World NGO for the last years in different capacities, as the head of Global marketing and communication, running initiatives regarding digital waste and other projects.  “Let’s do it world” is the mother NGO of both World Cleanup Day - 50 millions participants worldwide and counting- and its digital offspring which is the Digital Cleanup day. 

Our second guest, Oliver Vergeynst is based in Brussels, Belgium and he is the Director of the Belgian Institute for Sustainable IT since 2020. Together with the French and the Swiss institutes, they spearhead a lot of the research on Digital Sustainability while grouping both academics and professionals. 

We dive deep into the thought process behind digital cleanup day, how to get buy-in for digital cleanup, how best to do digital cleanup, and who are the targets of this ambitious project. 

❤️ Subscribe, follow, like, ... stay connected the way you want to never miss an episode!

Learn more about our guest and connect: 
📧 You can also send us an email at to share your feedback and suggest future guests or topics.   

Ingrid and Olivier’s sources and other references mentioned in this episode:

Transcript (AI generated)

Gael: Hello everyone. Welcome to Green I/O, the podcast for doers making our digital world greener one bite at a time. I'm your host, Gael Duez, and I invite you to meet a wide range of guests working in the tech industry to help you better understand and make sense of its sustainability issues, and find inspiration to positively impact your digital world.

If you like the podcast, please rate it on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite platform to spread the word to more responsible technologists, like you. And now, enjoy the show.

Hello everyone for this episode. I have the pleasure to welcome Ingrid Nielsen and VA to talk about the digital cleanup day, which will happen next week, March 18th. Ingrid is based in Tallin, Estonia, and she has been working with Let's do it world, NGO for the last years in different capacities as the head of global marketing and communication running initiatives regarding digital waste and other projects.

Let's do it world is the mother NGO of both word cleanup day, 50 millions participants worldwide and counting as well as its digital offspring, which is a digital cleanup day, which we will talk a lot about today. Saying she's an avid learner would be an understatement. Her studies and training covers sociology, English composition, anthropology, and social entrepreneurship just to name a few.

Experiences go from journalism to running a pizzeria among other activities in Abu Dhabi. Since January last year, she has become an advocacy expert for Renewable Energy at the Estonian Farm for nature, aligning even further her commitment to a sustainable world with a career.

Olivier is based in Brussel Belgium. He is the director of the Belgium Institute for Sustainable IT since 2020, together with the French and Swiss Institutes, the spare had a lot of research on digital sustainability while grouping both academics and professionals. Fun fact, we both have worked in the payment industry for several years.

I used to pay fat bills to Ingenico where he was director of Research and Development and this was actually the last position he held before shifting to the sustainability area and funding, doing good consulting and then Green IT Belgium, welcome Ingrid and Olivier. Thanks a lot for joining Green IO today.

Olivier: Good morning.

Ingrid: Thank you very much for having us.

Gael: It's a pleasure. So I'd like to start with my usual two questions. The first one being, what did I miss in your bio, and the second one being, how did you become interested in the sustainability of our digital sector in the first place?

Ingrid: I don't list things in my bio that I actually do, but it's as varied as, as my official bio is. So one of the things that I've gotten into in the last couple of years is beekeeping. Though I live in the city, I am an avid urban beekeeper since 2021. Definitely brought on a little bit by the covid pandemics that we had.

And besides rolling for every possible course, every September coming, I also love to dance tango, and I'm an avid hiker as well.

Gael: So tango dancer and avid hiker. Well, that's, that's quite a mix. And what did you bring to the sustainability area?

Ingrid: Well, I first started looking into sustainability completely from a different angle, or at least that's what I thought. I started working with Let's do it world, already back in 2018 in different volunteering positions initially, and then slowly getting more and more involved and, and, Moving to the world of waste, let's say.

And well actually pandemics was, was the turning point for us as well because during those difficult times when everyone was locked up, we couldn't continue our regular activities of organizing world cleanup day. And there was an actual fear that we had that, that maybe this would be such a long term situation that we wouldn't be able to run world cleanup day that year.

And then we started looking into different topics that we could metal in, so to say. And one of them was digital waste. It had been brought to our attention already earlier, but we never had had found time to actually work on it. One day in March, we decided it's time to tackle it, and we did a, the very first time that we ran digital cleanup day it was really put together right there on the spot.

And, and we didn't have too much time to prepare for it, but we had great people filling us in on, on the basics, on what are the issues with our digital world today and how does it connect to the wider world of waste and then even wider planetary issues that it brings. So I guess that's, it was sort of like brought on by the situation of that time.

Gael: And what about you, Olivier?

Olivier: So what was not in my bio that there's, there's quite a few experiences, but I would say the most important one is not a professional one. It's the fact that I became a father 17 years ago already. And that's probably what brought me to thinking about sustainability more than anything else.

Actually, I was, I've been working in IT forever. My father used to work at IBM, so I've been with a computer under my hands since I was something like five years old. So 50, 45 years ago, I started playing with computers. And for me, there was never a question about footprint or anything like that related to computers, but still through my work I started looking at what can I do on a daily basis?

You know, traveling less especially by plane, taking motor train instead of the car, going to shop locally, these kind of things. And then at some stage I started asking myself, what more can I do than just my own footprint? Because I really thought about the world that we're leaving to our children.

And so kind of by chance, I found out suddenly that there was a massive footprint in IT I knew about data centers, but that was it. And actually I discovered that it was much, much larger than that. So I decided to let aside my career in very large companies, international companies and got to train myself in green IT first and then more broadly than that, sustainable IT, numérique responsable, as we call it in French, which is like responsible IT if you want.

So it's also looking at everything about accessibility, inclusion, all the social aspects, not only the environmental aspects. And yeah, as I said, it was kind of by chance that I discovered all that and that I decided to change completely my course of career. And that's how we launched in Belgium, the first green IT Belgium, and then now the Belgium Institute for Sustainable IT.

Gael: You're not the first one I've met in this podcast. Telling this kind of story that you try to be super sustainable at home and being an IT professional, actually this is not something that we've challenged that much, the IT footprint and that suddenly you say, boom, you realize like, boom, oh, but actually that's pretty significant.

And what can I do about it? So it's interesting actually, it's very close to my own personal story on this one. Shifting when you realize that it, yeah, it's just too big and we cannot act at work in a very inconsistent way compared to how we want to work in our personal life.

Olivier: And actually the thing is that through your job, you have a much bigger lever than what you can do alone. You can really influence a lot of people. You can change companies, you can change organizations. In the organizations, you can help individuals who change. So that's really the difference between kind of being alone trying to reduce your own footprint, which everyone of course can do, and then using your job, which I think everyone can do as well, you can be in marketing and change the way that you are doing marketing. You can be doing communication, human resources, et cetera, in every type of job. Actually, I believe that we have a role to play through our organization to have a bigger impact.

Gael: Yeah, absolutely true. For instance, in France, Ademe just recently launched a Guide for Responsible Communication and it really aims to every, I would say, responsible marketers and responsible spin doctors to change the narrative around how we, we run the economies and, and how we market our product, et cetera.

So you absolutely right, everyone can and should be involved.

Ingrid: You have hit the nail on its head. Actually, this, one of the things that environmental movements know already for pretty much a couple of decades at least, is that this attention to individual footprint is quite insignificant if we want to bring about systemic change. And I think digital cleanup or digital waste issue is something that goes completely unnoticed on the individual level because people hardly ever have the awareness of what does it mean that I have a phone in my hand that is connect ed 24/7 and that is connected even when I'm not connected, when people are sleeping, the phones sort of like continue to live their own lives as well as computers do. So we are in this world where we hardly ever manage to connect this very abstract idea of internet to the real time actions. And that's why it's really difficult to sort of bring about change by asking individuals to change.

Rather it's about organizations that you really have the leverage to change the way that you operate and therefore actually change the environment where those individuals also sort of operate and do their everyday things. And by that, you are able to bring about change and significant change.

Gael: Don't you believe that some individual changes when they are, when they reach, I would say a certain magnitude. For instance, the way we purchase or equipments, or the way we invest or money will not some, I would say milestones when it comes to going towards a more sustainable word.

Ingrid: Social Science has been looking into this for decades, and it does show that it's great to have individuals with certain awareness, but the systemic change rarely ever happens due to cumulative changes in individual actions. What is required, of course, is that awareness, but the actions that follow the framework that surrounds the actions, this is something that an individual action doesn't really change that much.

Therefore, there's this strong correlation between actually when we look at people embarking on this Sustainability road, so to say. They start using less single use plastic for instance. Then they maybe switch off all the lights, but very quickly they reach the tipping point where they realize that actually doesn't make any difference in the world.

And it's very disempowering feeling when you come to realize that, wow, the fact that I'm changing doesn't really change the world . So when people reach this tipping point they really feel that they only have two options to do. A large part of people say, okay, my individual actions don't really change the world.

I'm not seeing any, any of this happening. Maybe I've even gotten into a lot of trouble with my family who doesn't understand me throughout this journey to sustainability. And they just stop doing it and they go back to the way they were before. And then there's that other part of people who say, okay, individual action didn't work.

I will continue doing it, but I need to move on to something else, something bigger, a movement some sort of a local group where I can really see change happening when I do those sustainability driven things, and I guess that's one of the things that actually got me into environmental organizations as well.

Personally, I felt that no matter how much organic food I consume, how small I try to keep my environmental footprint, it's really not working. But this empowerment feeling is slow to come and unfortunately to many people, it never arrives because it's too difficult to figure out how to change the world.

Gael: I was playing a bit the devil advocate here because I strongly believe infrastructure is everything and you're rightfully said. How you raise awareness to reach a critical size of people being ready to support, even if they don't act, but at least support the change in the infrastructure, whether it's more bikes in the city or more vegetarian food in some places, et cetera.

I believe it's also critical, but you're absolutely right. At some point, I mean, we, I'm pretty sure that around this stable, all the three of us, we've faced it at some point that you start acting on your own and at some point you want to be part of something bigger to manage, to leverage more.

I mean, from obviously your NGO, Ingrid or the Institute for sustainable IT in Belgium, I think we are all, me launching the podcast. I believe it's really the same framework or pattern, I would say that we went through all the three of us. Am I right, Olivia?

Olivier: Yeah, for sure. Let's not forget also that sustainability a big chunk of the society at large is, is something of a Most people are, are struggling for just for food, for energy, for heating the house et cetera. And so the question of can we reduce our footprint, Is really put aside for, for many people on the planet.

We are, we are quite lucky to be able to try and do something together with our associations or the companies that are working with us, et cetera. I take that as a pleasure, daily pleasure to work in more sustainability. It's not yet sustainability as such, but it's trying to go towards more sustainability.

But yeah, it's a long journey because of all the other problems that we face in society and the planet at large.

Gael: You're so right. And every week I listen to Outrage Optimism to make sure that Christina Figueres will remind me that, the planet has global North, but also global South. And the way we present the sustainably issues is very different when you still need to feed and to cover basic needs for a large part of your population.

And still, you know, when I discuss in France which last time in I checked is still part of Global Norths with activist. I love to share this report about the Web French people consume and it's it has been released, I think one or two years ago by the French Institute for political Studies.

And it really highlighted a big fracture within the French society in the way people consume. And that was very enlightening when it comes to secondhand equipment because if you are surrounded by people who are, I would say, environmentally aware, if not like activists, secondhand is seen a blessing is seen as something you should achieve to reduce your, you know, material footprint in the world, et cetera.

And we tend to push secondhand, buying secondhand, repairing things as something that people should be very proud of like a positive social marker. And but the truth is like for a lot of the French population, actually secondhand is something that they have to do. They have to shop on Leboncoin for many, many stuff because they cannot afford to buy new stuff.

And this is not a positive marker at all. It is actually a stigma. And buying, being able to buy the latest shinier smartphone, et cetera, is a way to prove that they are not people with social disabilities as we say now. So that's very interesting and thanks for reminding it Olivier that it's not black and white in the entire world, and the way we see things and the way we embrace sustainability can differ widely, even among a single country.

So thanks a lot for this. Maybe Ingrid, could you, I mean, you already started to explain how the digital cleanup day started and all this genesis, but could you broadly explain what are its goals and how you manage to create a different event? I would say an offspring of the world cleanup day.

Ingrid: So, World Cleanup Day actually runs on quite similar pillars as the digital cleanup day does. We found that there's really not much difference in the, and the main goal of this event of both of the events is creating awareness, but not creating this broad awareness, but bringing people to the actions so that they themselves realize, oh, I didn't know about this.

Wow, it's such a huge problem, what can I do about it. So that's pretty much the very core of the digital cleanup day. We're not trying to solve the issue of digital waste of this growing footprint of all our internet systems, but we're rather trying to make people realize that there is an issue.

One of the very strong aspects of digital cleanup day is it is mainly aimed or not mainly aimed, but it is still in, in a strong focus is on corporations. On larger companies, the ones who actually either own infrastructure, internet infrastructure, or they rented out to store their data or run their operations on.

That's the difference between those two cleanup days, so to say. But not to say that one is more important than the other. Absolutely not. What we're trying to also create with Let's do it World is the understanding for all the habitants of this planet is that is that it's a lot of the waste that we have is actually invisible. It's either invisible because it's digital, but also our regular waste is invisible. And we're trying to sort of connect the planet and, and show these movements of our waste around it. Because what we've really realized is that people have this idea that when I throw things away, there's this magical place called away , but it doesn't exist.

The same thing happens in our phones. We think that we delete things and they go away, but nothing disappears. So the core issue of all wastes regarding whether it's real or digital is the fact that we created and we are trying to aim with both these initiatives to arrive to that point where people say, we create too many things, we create too much stuff, and we need to stop doing this.

It's a very long and largest process, though. World Cleanup Day is now five years old. Digital Cleanup day is three years old, and whereas we see the increasing awareness it's still uphill struggle. But one of the great things about Digital Cleanup day though is, and I, and I think this is something that you mentioned already, is that if something is trendy, it really catches on and it has a huge sort of like push to actually start the change.

And even though for majority of our citizens of this planet, this is not an option to think about such things. The trends are really the ones that need to move through our global north and, and change the way that the global North thinks. And that's what we see in our everyday work with country leaders from Africa, from Asia, et cetera, because our network consists of more than 150 countries.

And that means that we really have this good, complex picture of how things and problems are perceived all around the world.

Gael: And Olivier not embracing the entire planet, but maybe zooming in a little in Belgium. Could you tell us how concretely it works in a country like Belgium?

Olivier: Maybe some story about how it started in Belgium for our association. So the French Institute existed already since 2019. They launched in 2020 what was then called in front of the cyber world cleanup day. I think it was not directly related to the world cleanup day at that time.

And then it's also in 2020 that we launched the Belgium institute for Sustainable IT. So we started very small. There was already a big ecosystem about green IT, generally speaking in France at the time. But in Belgium it was really kind of siloed type of initiatives. But there was nothing trying to look over all the types of problems and problematics that we can face with with it negative impacts potentially.

And so in 2021, we were too young to launch out the first the first cleanup day digital cleanup day in Belgium. Yet there were some companies taking some actions, but through the French one for us at the time. And then in 2022, we started having an action through our association to also push for this digital cleanup day. It was still pretty small. I would say something like 30 plus organizations, fairly big organizations generally speaking taking action. But it's still very small compared to what was done in France and around the world. And then this year it's it's growing further and we took more initiatives through the institute itself because we've got a bit more resources to work on that.

And so we can use now the, the digital cleanup day as a better tool for awareness creation in Belgium around different types of organizations. So we are investing more time and effort in the digital cleanup day now in Belgium than before. So it's, it's growing. It's growing slowly but surely.

And I'm really happy to see that it's also picking up in the world through the cleanup day organization, I would say.

Gael: Which kind of organizations set up cleanups in Belgium, for instance?

Olivier: So for what we see in Belgium, the ones that report, because that's also something important to notice. You can do a digital cleanup day without having to report the information about what you've been cleaning. So we don't know in this case. So I think that quite some, quite a few smaller organizations are also implementing a digital cleanup day.

But the ones that are reporting on it through the structure that we've put in place are mainly large organizations. Sometimes it can be medium ones but it's all types of organizations. They can be public services or administration. They can be universities. They can be hospitals. We've got farmers, we've got really all types of organizations. But what we see from our perspective is mainly large ones. That's more noticeable. And I think it is linked to the fact that when you have a big organization starting to implement a sustainable IT strategy, they see the digital cleanup day as a good tool actually to communicate with their employees.

Also with the, sometimes their external stakeholders can be with their clients, but not so much through the digital cleanup day. So yeah, they've got more resources to communicate around it and therefore also to gather the information back and to report on it. And one of the things that large organizations tend to do sometimes is, for example, to use the digital cleanup day as kind of a team building or team challenge or something like that.

They challenge each other. So each team will try to do it, the best cleaning they can, and they can then kind of order themselves among the other teams in the company. And that seems to create a very positive awareness and movement. But again, it's much easier to do in a in a larger organization to create that kind of gamification than in a smaller one.

Gael: So mostly large organizations, but with a wider variety of sectors. Being used used as a competition team building tool. That's a funny one. And actually, what kind of actions they can take, I believe there are three types of actions that you can do when you do a digital cleanup events?

Ingrid: So one of the things that immediately companies tackle is the way that they operate on emails. It's one of the things that everyone notices. It's the closest to your, it's, it's like a wallet. It sits right there. As soon as you open your computer, you always go and check in your emails. And I'm pretty sure everyone of us has side at the site that we have more than 7,000 emails in our inbox sitting there.

Not many of us are very savvy in organizing our life in a way that that our inboxes are empty. So I think that's the first And that's what experience shows. It's the first thing that companies tackle. And very often what we've seen is that they not just clean up their inboxes, but they set in policies actually that you gotta clean it up.

They set up time that, you know, every Friday what we do is we clean our inboxes. We don't just keep stuff sitting there. And they really try and maybe find alternatives also to internal communications. Not using emails as much, but rather moving to a channel that is more live and creating teams there, which is a positive thing.

But I'd like to hear from Olivier, what's your experience in that?

Olivier: So, yeah, the originally started only about cleaning data. The first cyber world cleanup day in France at least, which I took part was related only to data. And one of the things that was very quickly highlighted even during the cleanup day was the fact that actually the biggest problem is not so much about data first, but it's about equipment.

That's, I think, why it's evolved towards what it is now, which is about three things. We've got the cleaning up of data itself. And then there's two things related to equipment. The one is about giving a second life to digital equipment, and the second one is about recycling unused equipment when it's not possible to reuse it at all.

I think that's one of the key elements to mention the digital cleanup. There is a tool as mentioned already to raise awareness about the problem, but the biggest problem that we have is about the manufacturing of end user equipment that has the largest footprint of everything. Once you know that you start by, of course trying to buy less, and then if you need to buy something, you will try to buy reconditioned equipment or you will try to give a second life to your, or third life even to your own equipment.

And then only at the latest the last resort try to get them recycled properly and responsibly. These are the three pillars that we have this year in the digital cleanup day. It's about cleaning data, offering a second life to digital equipment and recycling what is not possible to repair anymore.

Gael: Big kudo to the digital cleanup day, the NGO, et cetera. Because if you look at digital sustainability compared to other sustainability areas like, I don't know, waste management, regenerative agriculture, for instance, it's still in its infancy phase. We don't have that many studies. We don't have that much news coverage as Ingrid said at the beginning.

And it is true that sometimes we lack data. And it is also true that a few years ago the focus was a lot on data and a lot on email. And that now the shifted as the focus story has shifted a bit towards equipments because the more we study the overall environmental footprint of our digital world, the more we realize that equipments and especially end user equipments are the biggest part of the problem.

Which is not saying that data growth is something sustainable on its own end, but we might come back to this point later. My question to both of you will be how did you manage to adjust? I think it's very agile the way you manage to say, okay, one year we're gonna focus on this, and then oh, oops, we realize that actually there are other area of focus.

How did you manage here to make in three years time, the digital cleanup deck covering a more consistent and wider scope of the environmental footprint of our digital word.

Olivier: I think we've got to adapt very quickly to any kind of change. Now it's a changing world. But this one was very easy, at least for us, because we knew from the start when we started with the first digital cleanup day, which was only on data, as I said. We knew from the start that it was not the biggest item I would say to manage.

But we thought it was a nice way to start something which was easy to communicate, that did not a lot of organization because you only gather some data about what has been cleaned up, but you don't need to organize something about gathering equipment which is a logistic nightmare of course. So, that was easy to launch, and at the same time we knew that we would have a pushback from the ecosystem already saying that we would not be focusing on the right things.

So it was really easy to adapt from there. The biggest challenge was how to do it from a logistics point of view, I would say. Otherwise we would've started probably by equipment.

Ingrid: Yes. I agree. I mean when we look at any kind of human systems, let's just say, where production and consumption is involved, we always run into this issue that it's complex, it's difficult to solve, and therefore you can't just sit back. And wait for it to solve itself, to find its natural course.

And of course with more knowledge, we become more aware. So we do encourage people to look into different aspects, the physical side of it, the virtual side of it. But one of the things that we still haven't reached, this is actually what you already sort of briefly mentioned, is the fact that our data also grows exponentially each year.

Each day actually. So, so that's one of those core issues that we are still working on, on how to bring this awareness out there because when we see this technological push to move over, to change our vapor based economies into virtual economies or this kind of like technology digitalization.

Then we also see the exponential growth of data, it's a slowly creeping up on us. People are starting to become aware of this and I guess next year we will be talking about a different aspect of the digital waste or our digital world again, because there's a big variety of different topics that are very strongly connected.

Gael: On the data side Ingrid, you might be actually super right, but I had this very interesting discussion with Florence cause she's really focused on data and I came more from the hardware part of, okay, data is important, but really, you know, mining, et cetera, et cetera, the manufacturing, it creates a lot of environmental impacts, et cetera.

And she told me that some studies now are raising the alarm that we might face in 2025, which is tomorrow, a potential cloud saturation, the so-called data storage crunch. And regarding this risk, you've got two kind of answers. So an unsustainable data growth grows because of more video, more photo.

That's not really email here, but quite a lot of IoT logs as well. Creating too much tension on our capacity to store data. And you've got kind of two answers. You've got people believing in working very hard on new solutions, like a storage solution based on DNA or advanced polymer chemistry and helping that it'll solve the problem.

And you've got a second approach, which is maybe we should challenge our relationship to data and embrace a bit more sobriety or even just maybe rationality. Ingrid, how do you believe the digital cleanup day next year and in 2025 will position itself regarding this topic of data growth. That I know is very keen to your heart. 

Ingrid: Yeah. We are moving towards getting into the core issue. The fact that we produce a lot of single use data. We actually produce a lot of zero use data. We just collect data without any scrutiny to its content. We never use it again. It's all done in good faith, but it's all done also by delaying the real decisions of how do we actually consume, we're a planet of consumers.

This, this is what shows from, from everywhere. And I think this is one of the major issues to tackle is how do we actually, as a movement. As someone who has the knowledge, as someone who studies it, how do we actually push towards people to sit down and say"Hmm, we've screwed it up". We need actual solutions.

We need to change it and sobriety's not a concept that people come easily into. They don't like it. They feel like it's something that is taken away from them. So it's a tricky topic to introduce and to continue rolling with it. And that's why maybe what these kinds of large movements, environmental movements often cannot afford is to create this sense that it's a radical thing to do.

It's a wise thing to do, but at the same time, it can feel like, oh my God, but this would mean a total collapse of our economy. As a social scientist background, I say that, well, that's not gonna happen. Rather, it's more likely that if we continue delaying these deep value-based decisions, that's when we'll actually arrive to the collapse because it's a finite planet, it's a closed system, and we just cannot expect any infinite.

Solutions to be out there. So when you are mentioning this DNA based or polymer based recording, it's a technological solution. But if it's not applied correctly, if it's not applied with the scrutiny to why we need it and do we actually need it, then it just becomes another tool that sort of like puts on more fire to the burning planet.

I really hate to use these kinds of terms because then people think, ah, another loony bin from an environmental organization. But that's when we look at the history of technology and how people have used it and how it's created itself with every technological advancement, a myriad of new problems is created that for some weird reason, humans do not want to talk about.

They just wanna put another technology on top of it and, and hope it solves the issue. So, I guess this is the core challenge of these digital cleanup days, or these awareness programs or even media attention that we need to arrive to this point and, and start asking the real question.

Gael: That's a very interesting point because from the very beginning of the interview, you really, both of you, you really made it super clear that the digital cleanup day is about awareness and Ingrid, you just mentioned awareness to even the broader issue of the limits that our closed system called the planet Earth is facing, I mean, that we actually, we are facing within the system.

And I'd like to zoom in a little on this awareness topic with a first question to both of you. If I want to leverage the tools provided by the digital cleanup day, and you know, I'm a worker, I'm an employee in whatever kind of company, maybe a tech company. Most of my audience are tech workers, but that could be any kind of company.

What are the pushback that I could face from my colleagues or from my management, and how should I deal with it? Because it's all about raising awareness. So how do you equip people wanting to raise awareness in regards of these pushbacks?

Olivier: So what we do, we provide quite a few guides communication sets, et cetera, that people can use for organizing digital cleanup day so that they are already equipped with the basic information. Also, we try to explain how it works and what is important in doing data cleanup so that it does not become something negative if you start asking people to spend hours opening and closing each email to see if they can delete them or not, et cetera.

First of all, it's really boring and it's annoying everyone, so people are pushing back. Secondly, you are having a larger impact, environmental impact by doing it that way than if you were not cleaning the data. So it's about explaining that if you want to clean up data, the best way is to do it in bulk.

For example, erase all your emails that are older than since 2021 or 2020 or something like that. If you do it in bulk, that's much better if you delete large applications in bulk. The key elements on which we are communicating is why and how to organize your cleanup and also to make it, as I was explaining first a few minutes ago about gamification, that it becomes something fun because otherwise you are just punishing people into having to clean things because they've not been good during the year or something like that.

Organizations are using that fairly adequately. I think that they realize that sustainability must become something positive in the way that we are organizing it, in the way that we are communicating around it. It used to be very much kind of a punishment or negative message. And they are now more and more trying to turn that into something positive in which people want to take part almost by reflex because they say, yeah, it's good common sense, so we should do it.

Of course,

Gael: And Ingrid, is gamification and making more appealing, something more positive an angle of attack that you've got as well?

Ingrid: Gamification, yes, is the first step. It's not a necessity. A lot of the times it's enough just to encourage people that really, honestly, if you haven't accessed your email from three years ago and you haven't once looked at it, you haven't felt the need to do it, then you really don't need it. You can safely delete it.

People are slightly hesitant for a second, like, oh, maybe there's an important email there that I will need later on. But generally, even in organizations, this, move of delete it in bulk, is empowering. So that's also part of this gamification. You give people permission to get rid of their junk.

Personally, I really love this movement of Marie Kondo that if you don't love it, if a thing doesn't bring you joy, then you don't need it. You either pass it on to someone else or you, you simply just delete it. And I think this is a good approach to have also when we work on our machines or on our devices as well.

And one of the things that you did mention earlier is a huge part of our data is just recreational data, like videos and photographs, and all of us are guilty of snapping too many photos of the same event or of the same situation. And that's actually a quick thing to do. And when people realize that they're running out of data on smartphones or companies realize that we are putting way too much money into paying to store this data that people have created, that they keep around just in case, then maybe it is much better if we do this awareness thing. And then we have either a person or a couple of people trying to look at the how process is run in our company in order to avoid coming back to the same situation the year after by changing the way that they communicate, for instance, or also by looking at, okay, what is the actual crucial data that we need to collect and store?

Maybe, you know, legal purposes require certain things to be stored and what are the things that we can give up on that we don't need to do this in bulk? That shows that the company or the organization is doing progress in it. And that means that people don't feel that it's only up to me to make sure that my company is, you know, digitally sustainable.

And I think this is the driving force behind actually getting digital cleanup day to start an internal change. And I think this is, and I believe Oliver, you agree from your long experience that that's the way that people stay committed to it as well.

Olivier: Yeah, sure. If you look at a few years ago, not so long ago, actually, there were limits to the size of mailboxes in companies. Simply because the cost of storage was so high, but it was seen as kind of punitive. You, if you were higher up in the organization, you had a the right to have a larger mailbox, and if you were at the bottom, you had to clean very regularly.

So it was really kind of negative approach, I would say. And then it became so cheap to store more data that everyone got huge Gmail box suddenly. So now it has become kind of the norm to have something where everyone can store as much as you want. Of course much better if people are encouraged to reduce the size of their mailbox.

And if there are incentives to do so. Now what we don't, what we cannot forget is the size of videos much more than mailboxes. You mentioned it in the introduction. The biggest impact in terms of data comes from video and then pictures, and then only stuff like emails, et cetera.

And we see already that videos are already, today 80% of the internet bandwidth is taken by different types of videos. There's like 60%, which are video on demand of all sorts, or Netflix, pornography, et cetera. There's 20% which are like zoom calls, security cameras, television streaming, not the the video on demand, but streaming.

So that's 20%. And then only the rest is about the other types of data. But the video is increasing much faster than all the rest. And one positive thing, for example, is that if you look at, very large size of the world, if you look at something much larger than just US, Europe as I've read that recently, I need to see the legal paper, but apparently Europe will not authorize 8K videos, 8K televisions to be sold in Europe. So that will make a difference because then there's no reason to download an 8K video. And an 8K video takes much, much more data than a 4k, which takes much more data than a hd.

And most of the time we don't even need hd. If you're looking at the video on the, I don't know, on the smartphone, tablet, or even a laptop, the fact that you're taking a 4K does not make sense. The eye does not see it. So the question is how can we reduce these very large amounts of data? And that comes back to corporations.

But once you have large organizations with many employees that are aware of the impact of data, there can be a pushback on the providers. And then it's only when there's a pushback from the clients that the providers will start reducing their own impact, and that we may have a positive positive aspect in terms of positive impact on all the providers.

Wether, video on demand all the types of games, et cetera, that are taking a lot of bandwidth and creating, you know, full lot of data, that's for sure an important step. Sending data. So the transmission itself consumes roughly the equivalent of one to two years of storage. So the first thing that you need to do is not so much to clean up the data, it's to avoid creating data and avoid sending that data to the cloud, for example.

If you can avoid creating the data in the first place, that's much better than creating, transmitting it and then deleting it later. So, it starts by creating less data and then of course, if you already created it, it's much better to reduce and delete what you can, but in bulk has already mentioned.

Gael: I was laughing because the 80% bandwidth of the internet being taken by video is kind of one of the top cards in the digital collage workshop. You know, when I facilitate this workshop, it's the moment where people got this haha moment, the same with the law recycling rate, et cetera, et cetera.

But it's like, what? 80% just video. And because video is mostly associated with leisure activities it's even more powerful. But that's absolutely true. That video is a big issue. And that creating them in the first place is a massive issue.

Ingrid: Yeah, but try to say that to a teenager ,now.

Gael: Well, actually a teenager who would have done the digital collage workshop or any kind of similar workshops raising awareness. I believe will have already noticed a very different approach to his or her use of his digital devices than before.

I mean, it's just the information is simply not there. And the importance of raising awareness and what the two of you are doing with the digital cleanup day, obviously, because honestly, once a teenager understand the massive impact of the use phase and the manufacturing phase and the e-waste phase of our digital equipments that most often there are quite a lot of things who change. But yes, that's still an uphill battle, but it's doable.

Ingrid: No, no, no. What what meant is that teenagers, yeah, they, in my experience as well, they are usually the most receptive. They're the quickest to say:"this is wrong, and they should change". But a lot of the times also their life is dictated by it. Their social relationships are online, majority of them.

So again, we can't just leave it to teenagers saying, change yourself and the world will change. We need to help them in this by creating a safer and more just internet space for them to operate in. Yeah.

Gael: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. You know, absolutely. I agree with you that we cannot rely only on them to change, and we need a change in the infrastructure as well. I wasn't aware Olivier, about this potential ban of 8K, which seems perfectly consistent because that doesn't make any difference between 4K and 8K for any human eye.

Except when you've got like super large squeeze that will not fit in anyone's room except like in big commercial center or that kind of stuff. But yeah, if you can share with us the paper that will be awesome.

Olivier: Yeah, I would love to find the original law or project or something. I just read in the newspaper a couple of days ago that it was being projected to be avoided or, but anyway. Yeah, we'll see what comes out of it. That there's always so much of pushback from the providers.

All the lobbying that can be made around the manufacturing is amazing. So we'll see if it goes through or not.

Gael: Yeah, well, having meant, you know, that, and I know that because we've both worked in the payment service industry and you know, that the payment service industry when it comes to equipment is all based about renting and not selling anything. And I can tell that it has been a very, and it is still a very profitable industry.

So it's really a question of being aware that you can change your business model and offering something different than just selling. And then I don't care. And I hope that the machine will broke as soon as possible so that I can sell. Another one is just one way, one business model that is obviously thriving around the world at the moment, but, I think, work for banks, like very big banks, non-profit at all.

Yeah, other business models are very profitable as well, and much more aligned with the planet. But anyway I'm rambling again. Being mindful of time, if you don't mind, I have a question for you, maybe more for Olivier, because you told me that the Institute for Sustainable, it works primarily with large companies rather than, you know, startup, they can definitely benefit from all the open source materials you provide.

I have kind of a challenging question on greenwashing, because I've been noticing with many other people involved in the digital sustainability field, inconsistency from, and you mentioned several times providers, big providers. So let's for instance, take some telco companies for instance.

Very recently I've noticed a network operator that I will not name here, which on one hand will advise their clients on using wifi instead of 4g. And that's a very interesting communication because that's not something that was said just two years before and the very same week, the very same network operator will send a promotional email to replace its client's smartphones with the latest shiny one.

So do you believe it is intentional or not and how you deal with this in the institute? Between, you know, people truly willing to green the internet and the digital sector, but also still pushing very unsustainable commercial practices.

Olivier: It's a very good question. It's much broader than just telcos. I'll come back to telcos in a second, but it's a general question. How do you try to avoid as much possible as much greenwashing as possible? We are very lucky in one sense is that most of our members are users of IT to deliver their eco business.

They are not IT providers as such I mentioned hospitals, administrations banks, et cetera. They are, they are big users of it. But, so it's not their core focus and therefore they don't communicate so much around what they are doing to reduce their footprint. So that's one good way that we have already to avoid too much greenwashing.

It's not something which is key in their communication when they're doing sustainable it. Now, if we move to providers and especially to telco of course there, it can be a struggle for them internally as well in how they do it. I think that it's a bit the same as in every organization. And even at society at large.

There's challenges when you are, when you're trying to reduce the footprint, your own footprint, or the one of your clients, et cetera, it's not yet structured. So some departments, some people are really convinced and they will start using the communication to encourage some reduction of the footprint, but then some part of the business is still running on, I would say, on all the type of business model.

As you, as you just mentioned, it is about selling more equipment. It is about selling top potentially more data, et cetera. So as long as the business model of the company has not changed, there will still be communication that goes just against what has been said just before. And that's fairly logical, but I think it's an evolution.

The fact that if you look at equipment, for example, again, for telcos, there's more and more communication about buy a refurbished phone or bring back your phone and you will get a reduction on the next one, et cetera. Of course, bringing back does not solve all the issue. You're not sure that it'll be refurbished and reused, but the fact that it has become mainstream now to talk about secondhand or thirdhand smartphones, and that you can get a warranty on that for one year or two years, makes a hell of a difference.

More and more people are, are considering buying refurbished equipment, which was completely no go a few years ago. You only did it because you could not afford a new one. Now even companies are buying refurbished equipment because there's an offering which starts to exist where you can buy very large amounts, like 100 or 200 laptops that are refurbished because companies need to have that large numbers of exactly the same equipment.

Otherwise it's not manageable. So there's a shift which is taking place. And I think that part of it will bring companies like the telcos to, in a fairly short period of time, I believe that they will go away from that idea of take a new data package, and you can buy a smartphone for one euro or something like that.

And I would say there's something else next to the goodwill and the evolution of the business. I think there's also regulations, and I would not be surprised if in a couple of years from now, it'll be banned to sell for one Euro or for nine Euro, whatever, a smartphone with your data. How do you call that?

Gael: Bundle subscription. 

Olivier: Yeah. I think that will disappear at some stage because you're pushing for over-consuming equipment, which goes completely against all the objectives of sustainability, at least in it.

Gael: Yeah. I will not be surprised at all if in less than two or three years time, obviously, honestly I think it is less than two years time, the European communion will impose way higher warranty period. Something like five years for a smartphone or something like that. But anyway, the regulation is key, as you say.

And Ingrid, is the shift, that Olivier described, something you've noticed also, is it something more European based or something that you've noticed worldwide?

Ingrid: Well, we can never just expand our European experience to the other world. We're still talking about, if we look at how, how do people on the African continent consume internet and digital services and also the devices. It's completely different from how we do it. We definitely live here in some sort of magical land of abundance where nothing really matters and a lot of these costs we just transfer them to the global south.

And this is something that the awareness has been rising and, and this is definitely on the institutional level, and therefore you see these bans and measures put in place in the European Union that would limit our limitless consumption. But it is, it is very difficult.

But in terms of greenwashing, the fact that it's been brought out that companies, people, entities are being called out upon it is, I think the major driving force in actually changing it. That you don't just do cosmetic changes. You don't just participate in the digital cleanup day, but then you actually need to look at your business model, how you operate.

And as an entrepreneur, I understand the difficulty but I would like to encourage our enterprises to, and by reminding them that businesses forever changing. And it is difficult to change your business model, especially when it's well established, but it is beneficial to you personally and as an organization as well.

And what I've seen throughout my studies in social entrepreneurship is that this kind of awareness is on the rise from the organization side ,that some of them are actually committing to change. We need to change the way that we operate. Yeah, we are going against the market, but that's the only way to survive.

And I think this is a good beginning of the movement and I do hope that it picks up quicker that companies are not afraid to change themselves. Maybe completely change because I think the worst is to just say, no, I want to continue as always, because this is, this is the way that I know business.

Then it's pretty sure that you're not a sustainable entity.

Gael: Absolutely. We've already noticed it with the Covid 19 crisis where suddenly, you know, you are a startup, you are a scale up. You want to buy 100 computers for your employees, and they're not there. That's it, period. Or you want to rent some kind of taxi business, taxi related business and you cannot have a car for four or six months.

So I truly agree with you. The sustainable business of the future will be business, truly embracing sustainability, environmental and social sustainable approaches. Okay. Thanks a lot, both of you. I've got one final question, which is a standard one in this podcast, and that will be what are your recommendations to learn more about these topics?

What are the books, the podcasts, the conferences, the articles, the thought leaders that you'd like to mention to help people raising awareness around them or deep diving into these topics?

Olivier: What I would say is if you're based in Belgium or in France or in Switzerland, of course feel free to contact the Institute for Sustainable It and to get in the community and get information from there. Otherwise if you want to have a good book in English about how to manage differently, your IT in a company, there's a book by Niklas Sundberg: Sustainable IT Playbook for Technology Leaders.

And that's kind of a bible that I can recommend to anyone managing an IT organisation.

Ingrid: And from my side, maybe from a general perspective of how large is the problem, maybe I could suggest Gerry McGovern's Worldwide Waste, which is quite known already among people who are interested in it. But it's a good read for even people who don't really understand what internet is and how does it work and what's data and everything.

And then of course, if you really wanna suggest it to your family and friends, then The Carbon footprint of everything by Mike Burners Lee is a great place to get started on understanding what are the implications of everything that we have come used to. So I guess these would be the two first things that pop into my mind to suggest.

Gael: Thanks a lot, both of you. I think Gary McGovern has the clear lead, when it comes to a book being mentioned in the show, but I really thank you for mentioning Mike Burners Lee books as well because I think it has not been that often mentioned. And that's a great book, as you say, to start having a full understanding a bird eye view on carbon footprint.

So thanks a lot. And I think we had a very good, and once again, pretty long episode, but that was great to have both of you in the show. So thanks a lot for joining. I wish that this digital cleanup day, next week will be highly successful for the planet and also for thanking you for all the efforts you put in organizing it. Whether it's in Belgium or in the entire world. So, thanks a lot to both of you for joining the show.

Ingrid: Thank you very much for having us.

Olivier: Thank you.

Gael: And one final word about Green IO: Happy Birthday ! Last year on March's third, the very first episode of Green IO was released with Fershad Irani talking on the website sustainability. One year later, here we are with this fourteenth episode. Almost 5,000 downloads in total with listeners across more than 30 countries and 19 guests who made us the honor to join the Green IO podcast with gender parity have been been reached.

A big thanks to all of you listening and supporting the show. 2023 will be a super exciting year with great episodes to come with a wide range of topics being covered, like carbon accounting for IT departments, E-waste, sustainable digital marketing, and also our usual focus on sustainable design, cloud sustainability, and green software.

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