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How digital can pave the way to a greener future

20 May 2021Viewpoint

The climate crisis affects every person in every country on every continent, and we all need to do our bit to stop it from getting worse. At Vodafone, we have set our own targets on renewable energy and carbon emissions as we look to play our part. However, this is just one step in the journey towards being carbon neutral: we know that we can – and must – help our customers dothe same thing, so that business success does not come at a cost to the environment. As a technology company, we know that we can find the digital innovations that can help support sustainability.

We are, of course, also dealing with another global crisis right now. But as we start to look to our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we have an opportunity to place green and digital priorities at the heart of society. We can unleash the full power of digital technology to create a more sustainable society.

There are already encouraging signs of progress. The European Commission’s Digital Decade plan and the EU recovery funds – particularly the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) –aim to speed up the twin digital and green transitions. The assessment of national plans – including their commitment to 37% of funds for climate investment – has already started. But these plans will only be able to support the EU’s Green Deal objectives if they take an accountable and inclusive approach.

Together We Can Man Green Field Tablet

Accountability

When we talk about accountability, it is true that that what is measured gets done.  Fortunately, when it comes to the twin digital and green transition, we already have the right tools to hand. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe's digital performance, could be adapted to include sustainability criteria. By benchmarking 'digital for green' in the DESI framework, we would incentivise the digital sector to improve its environmental credentials. It would also show how digital is an enabling force for every other sector of the economy to become environmentally sustainable.

As our recent Deloitte report showed, if the EU recovery package focuses on digital and green investments - and if all member states reached 90 on the DESI by 2027 - it could raise EU GDP by 7.2%. This shows that a green transition does not need to come at an economic cost to society.

How can we monitor progress? By charting the EU’s recovery funds against the DESI, along with policy reforms. This would check to see that EU member states deliver on the RRF commitment to direct at least 37% of expenditure from their national plans into green projects.

An enhanced DESI covering the critical green agenda is just one example of how we can deliver ‘digital for green’ . It should be developed further and brought into mainstream policy, such as the ongoing work on the EU taxonomy regulation. If we are to make a greener, more digital Europe a reality, we need to build synergies and alliances across different industries, and between the public and private sector – after all, we all share this same objective.

We are already building on this with our Connected Europe initiative with Friends of Europe, which gathers viewpoints from citizens, industry and policymakers. It explores how the EU’s taxonomy principles can reflect not just a product’s environmental impact, but also its digital credentials. Using processes that are already underway, like the work to build the taxonomy for sustainable activities, the EU could build a ‘digital opportunity assessment’. If digital tools and solutions were included in every environmental impact review of a project or investment, this would go a long way to driving the dual digital and green transition.

Working together to enable change

How can we ensure that we don’t leave anyone behind during the digital and green transitions? Inclusivity means bringing citizens, businesses, institutions, governments and NGOs on board. We need to work with industry sectors – transport, energy, agriculture – to explore how connectivity and digital solutions can help them reduce their environmental footprint. From smart agriculture to smart logistics, smart cities to smart energy, the opportunities are already here for a greener future. As founding members of the European Green Digital Coalition, we are ready to harness them to help drive action against climate change.

As we shape new technologies, we must keep watching their potential climate impact. We must lead by example. That’s why, at Vodafone, we are committed to use renewable electricity and help our customers cut their carbon emissions. We know that digital technologies can contribute to the European Green Deal.

The green and digital transitions are not mutually exclusive: they can complement and reinforce one another. With accountability and a partnership approach, Europe can lead the way so that our future is more connected and more sustainable.

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