83% of French people expect businesses to take action to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology

Nearly 9 out of 10 French people expect businesses to take action to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology according to the results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for SQLI Digital Experience group.

With support from Harris Interactive, SQLI asked a representative sample of the French population about the connection between the growth of digital technology and protecting the environment. The results demonstrate that French people have an ambivalent attitude towards digital technology.

Though the French attribute quite a positive impact to digital technology in terms of economic development (66%), employment (59%) and even everyday quality of life (63%), only 39% of them think that digital technology has a positive impact on protecting the environment. Though more under-35s than their elders think that digital technology has a positive impact on protecting the environment (53% compared to 32% for over-50s), they all agree that reducing the environmental impact of digital technology is a key issue for them (85% of French people say so).

These results reveal a paradox: in an increasingly digital society where 72% of French people think it’s important to have access to the internet at all times, they are still aware of the environmental impact of digital technology. Accordingly, the power consumption of digital devices (65%), the production of new digital devices (63%) and the construction of relay antennas (60%) were identified as having a negative impact on the environment.

Everybody needs to take action, and businesses are top of the list

To reduce the environmental impact of digital technology, more than 8 out of 10 French people think that businesses (83%) but also public authorities (81%) and citizens (80%) need to play a key role.The survey highlights that 74% of French employees think that their employers should reduce the environmental impact of their digital activities. This trend has very certainly been accelerated by remote working and ever-increasing use of digital tools.

Stephen Demange, Head of Consulting, SQLI Digital Experience:As a business whose main activity is based on digital technology, SQLI is fully committed to creating new, more sustainable digital services. This aim reflects the expectations of those surveyed, who believe that all economic stakeholders (citizens, businesses, public authorities) should reduce the environmental footprint of digital technology but also use digital technology to globally accelerate the ecological transition. Digital services can actually play a fundamental role in the adoption of more virtuous behaviors by consumers. This provides businesses with great opportunities for digital innovation, but also enables them to make their economic models more sustainable. 

A clear generational split

Though the population as a whole is aware of the environmental impact of digital technology, our digital practices now demonstrate a form of dependency. This is particularly clear for under-35s: for 71% of them, it is becoming hard to do without a digital tool once they’ve started using it (compared to 63% of the total French population). Likewise, nearly 57% of them said that it’s important for them to have the very latest digital devices (compared to only 16% of over-50s).

This split is also seen in their expectations regarding the development of digital tools and services. Asked about the criteria that are important for them when choosing digital tools and services, 81% of French people placed significant importance on the image quality on their television set and 80% on their landline internet bandwidth. They also remain attached to the performance of mobile digital services: mobile download speed (73% of French people), the quality of photos they take (70%) and videos they watch (66%) on smartphones are important factors for more than two-thirds of French people.

The generational split remains nonetheless significant: expectations regarding mobile services are higher for under-35s. 80% of them see mobile download speed as an important issue (compared to 67% of over-50s) and 78% say that the quality of videos they watch on smartphones is equally important (compared to 55% of over-50s).

A “historic switch” to increased digital sobriety

When asked to make a binary choice between accelerating digital development to the detriment of the environment and reducing the environmental impact of digital technology even if this means slowing its development, French people opt for the environmentally-friendly option irrespective of the issue they’re being asked about and regardless of the level of importance that this issue has in their eyes. Accordingly, 65% of them would rather reduce environmental impact than have better smartphone image quality. The same is true for cloud storage capacity (67%) and even mobile network download speed (59%).

Overall, 86% of French people are willing to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology in at least one field even if this means disrupting its development.But, once again, young people adopt a paradoxical position: they say they are less willing to make individual efforts. Irrespective of the effort required, only 1 out of 2 young people is willing to consider it.

French people think that virtuous digital practices will become increasingly frequent in the future, and this is particularly the case for second-hand digital device sites (66%) and recycling digital devices (65%).In addition to the development of virtuous digital practices, 91% of French people think it is key to increase the lifespan of digital devices.

Jean Daniel Lévy, Deputy Manager, Harris Interactive France: The environmental impact of digital behaviors is a real debate in our society and these results show it. Indeed, though the principle of citizens’ individual responsibility is mainly supported, we are a long way from everybody considering making individual efforts (particularly among young people). On the contrary, a consensus appears to have been reached on the need for governments and businesses to take action. Employees are even asking their employers to take direct action on this issue in their working environment. ”

Methodological details

  • Survey conducted online from 11 to 13 May 2021.
  • Sample of 1,047 people representative of the French population aged 18 years old and over.
  • Quota and adjustment methods applied to the following variables: respondent gender, age, socio-professional category and region.