20 terms for understanding the environmental impact of digital technology

While digital technology plays an essential role in our daily lives, it also a big consumer of resources. To explore the compatibility between the digital and environmental transitions, Institut Mines-Télécom and Fondation Mines-Télécom are publishing their 12th annual brochure entitled Numérique : Enjeux industriels et impératifs écologiques (Digital Technology: Industrial Challenges and Environmental Imperatives). This glossary of 20 terms taken from the brochure provides an overview of some important notions for understanding the environmental impact of digital technology.  


  1. CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility — A voluntary process whereby companies take social and environmental concerns into account in their business activities and relationships with partners.
  2. Data centers — Infrastructure bringing together the equipment required to operate an information system, such as equipment for data storage and processing.
  3. Eco-design — A way to design products or services by limiting their environmental impact as much as possible, and using as few non-renewable resources as possible.
  4. Eco-modulation — Principle of a financial bonus/penalty applied to companies based on their compliance with good environmental practices. Primarily used in the waste collection and management sector to reward companies that are concerned about the recyclability of their products.
  5. Energy mix — All energy sources used in a geographic area, combining renewable and non-renewable sources.
  6. Environmental responsibility — Behavior of a person, group or company who seeks to act in accordance with sustainable development principles.
  7. Green IT — IT practices that help reduce the environmental footprint of an organization’s operations.
  8. LCA: Lifecycle Analysis — Tool used to assess the overall environmental impacts of a product or service, throughout its phases of existence, by taking into consideration a maximum of incoming and outgoing flows of resources and energy over this period.
  9. Mine tailings — The part of the rock that is left over during mining operations since it does not have enough of the target material to be used by industry.
  10. Mining code — Legal code regulating the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in France, dated from 2011, based on the fundamental principles of Napoleonic law of 1810.
  11. Paris Climate Agreement — International climate agreement established in 2015 following negotiations held during the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Among other things, it sets the objective to limit global warming to 2 degrees by 2100, in comparison to preindustrial levels.
  12. PUE: Power Usage Effectiveness — Ratio between the total energy consumed by a data center to the total energy consumed by its servers alone.
  13. Rare earths— Group of 17 metals, many of which have unique properties that make them widely used in the digital sector.
  14. Rebound effect — Increased use following improvements in environmental performance (reduced energy consumption or use of resources).
  15. Responsible innovation — Way of thinking about innovation with the purpose of addressing environmental or social challenges, while considering the way the innovation itself is sought or created.
  16. RFID: Radio-frequency identification — Very short distance communication method based on micro-antennas in the form of tags.
  17. Salt flat — High salt desert, sometimes submerged in a thin layer of water, containing lithium which is highly sought after to make batteries for electronic equipment.
  18. Virtualization — The act of creating a virtual an IT action, usually through a service provider, in order to save on IT equipment costs.
  19. WEEE: Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment — All waste from products operated using electrical current and therefore containing electric or electronic components.
  20. 5G Networks — 5th generation mobile networks, following 4G, will make it possible to improve mobile data speed and present new possibilities for using mobile networks in new sectors.

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