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Why digitalization does not work without sustainability

Digital transformation offers many opportunities for new product solutions. At the same time, it poses new challenges, particularly in terms of sustainability and digital ethics: How much CO2 do cloud solutions consume? Is there a risk that my AI application's algorithms contain biases? Those who develop digital products will be confronted with questions like these more and more in the future. We explain why digitalization without sustainability does not work in the long term and how you can develop sustainable, future-proof products with Sustainable UX.

Sustainable digitalization = digital sustainability

For a long time, companies have driven forward the future topics of digitalization and sustainability separately from one another. The opportunities and challenges of digitalization and sustainability are closely linked: Digitalization contributes directly to sustainability, for example, by conserving resources or providing access to education for all. At the same time, sustainability ensures that people embrace digitalization.

Sustainability is not limited to the ecological effects on the environment. It also includes economic and social aspects. The economic perspective, for example, aims to develop efficient and future-proof products, business models or services. The social perspective considers issues such as data privacy, inclusion, or the ethical use of technology. Only if you take all three perspectives into account in digitalization will we have a future that we all want to live in.

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Climate offender digitalization

Neglecting the ecological perspective of digitalization endangers the basis of life on our planet. Because digitalization consumes a lot of energy: If the Internet were a country, for example, it would consume the third most electricity – behind China and the USA – and emit as much CO2 as Germany.* Those who disregard resource efficiency and green power sources in digitalization are thus increasing global emissions and promoting climate change.

Economic efficiency

Companies often underestimate the economic aspect of sustainability: For example, when a business model is designed for short-term profit and fails to secure jobs in the long term and strengthen customer loyalty. The result is digitalization that is not future-proof.

Social explosive power

Anyone who ignores social and societal perspectives in digitalization runs the risk of developing technical solutions that ignore people and even develop against people's values: big data and AI systems can create more inequality through algorithmic bias by excluding certain groups of users. For example, algorithms of machine application processes could discriminate against certain groups of applicants if they have learned to treat people differently based on their origin, gender, or ethnic background.

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Designing digital products sustainably

To better integrate sustainability into your business and your digital product development process, we've put together the following tips for you:

Establish mindset

  • Raise awareness and knowledge in your company about sustainability trends and the development of (digital) products and services.
  • Expand your network with sustainability experts, for example. Use it to learn or share how sustainability can strengthen your products.
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Use recommendations

  • On your way to greater sustainability, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals will serve as your guide.**
  • The "Blue Angel" environmental seal provides concrete criteria for resource-efficient software development.
  • The current Bitkom guide “Resource Efficient Programming” provides practical tips for sustainable, long-lasting and resource-saving software development.

Create & document processes

  • You can find out where you stand in terms of sustainable UX with UID's Sustainability Opportunities Canvas: This way, you identify concrete sustainability deficits and develop scenarios that can compensate for, minimize or even eliminate these deficits.
  • Design your innovation processes in such a way that you build up knowledge about sustainable product development as early as the idea generation stage. Broaden your focus to include ethical, social and environmental issues.
  • Systematically assess potential environmental and social impacts of technologies and processes and track your decisions: For this purpose, we are currently developing the EVA tool together with the Technical University of Cologne, Germany. It raises awareness among companies of the ethical implications of a product or service and establishes relationships between ethical and business KPIs.

Sustainable UX for sustainable products

You want to identify concrete approaches for the design of sustainable digital products and develop an individual roadmap on how to methodically integrate sustainability into your product development? To this end, we have defined 6 principles (6Rs). They extend the classic user experience approach to include environmental, social and ethical issues. The 6Rs create meaningful and value-added products that conserve resources and enhance the quality of life.

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