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The Importance of Labeling Sustainable Digital Resources

Over the last year, we have been grappling with the question of who is responsible for ensuring the sustainability of digital products. The public believes that it should fall to data centers, but we believe it is much more complex than that.

We have created a simplified responsibility model that maps the roles and responsibilities from the user through to digital infrastructure, as highlighted below:

SDIA Simplified responsibility model, 2022 SDIA Simplified responsibility model, 2022

One key concept we have introduced is  ‘digital resource primitives’.  Digital infrastructure produces a resource,  which software then uses to provide users with a digital product or service. This approach acknowledges that computation, storage, and networks all have their own environmental impact and that the responsibility of sustainability should be divided amongst them accordingly.

Digital Resource Primitives, SDIA 2022

The SDIA has multiple ongoing initiatives to address the use of resources within the software: to measure them, attribute environmental impacts, and devise the tools and methodology to quantify, report, and improve performance. Also, to address the ‘hidden’ impact of many software libraries.

What about digital resources themselves?

While software applications can minimize their use of digital resources and increase efficiency, even minimal resource consumption has an environmental impact. In order to get closer to truly sustainable software, we need digital resources that are developed sustainably from the source.

At present, producers attempt to minimize their environmental impact by using certified green energy, based on the assumption that it is the only energy source that data centers, servers, and networks use. However, the use of certified green energy represents only a small fraction of digital infrastructure’s energy use, which is beyond their control unless they can generate their own renewable energy.

We believe this does not go far enough. The SDIA Roadmap for sustainable digital infrastructure that we released in 2020 clearly outlines the necessary actions for the sector to produce sustainable resources. Across Europe, organizations are now implementing that roadmap. 

Lack of adoption and  differentiation

As yet, implementation has not translated into significant product differentiation for operators and owners, and neither has the widespread adoption in making digital infrastructure more sustainable. On the contrary, current plans for new data center capacity still follow the ‘the old-fashioned’ model.

At the same time, many operators use the GHG Protocol to make bold claims about being carbon-neutral or carbon-free,  without accounting for the embodied carbon or other environmental impacts resulting from their infrastructure. This makes it even more difficult for innovative operators to stand out and show IT application developers or software vendors that they are making different, sustainable digital resources.

A label for sustainable digital resources

In partnership with the organizations in our community, we aim to address this gap by creating a clearly defined label for sustainable digital resources, catered toward cloud infrastructure companies and traditional web hosters (e.g. virtual machines, cloud storage, virtualized networks) who are producing digital resources. 

This label builds upon existing frameworks and criteria. For example, the data center in which the servers are located must meet BREEM Gold criteria, EU Code of Conduct, Blue Angel, CEEDA, etcetera. Many of the SDIA’s members are already involved in creating those criteria.

What is lacking, however, is gathering the various components under one umbrella: the data center facility, the electrical and mechanical equipment used, the network equipment, the server itself, and energy All of which collectively create the infrastructure for digital resource production. 

Community development of the criteria, the first draft

In collaboration with our members, we have already created the first set of criteria, We are setting the bar high in keeping with our partners, in order to drive real change and challenge the market to boost its efforts in generating sustainable digital resources.

Are you curious about learning more, or would like to contribute your ideas? Join our: Criteria for Sustainable Cloud (CSC) Steering Group to collaborate and engage. Participation is open to everyone committed to transparency and sustainability. 


 Join the CSC Community 


Max Schulze
Max Schulze
Founder of the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance. Expert on Software Architecture, Technology & Cloud Infrastructure.

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