Environment and planet

Frugality: reducing our carbon footprint

Changed on 07/06/2021
With this more pressing than ever, digital is no exception to growing environmental concerns. Although the waste it generates is no longer a secret, it is important to properly explain the complex nature of the impact the sector has. This is particularly true given that solutions for reducing our footprint and our environmental impact more broadly could well come from digital itself.
Mario Ricchiuto, directeur de recherche et responsable de l’équipe-projet Inria CARDAMOM ; sur son ordinateur, une vue de la côte japonaise : simulation du mouvement des vagues lors d'un tsunami.
© Inria / Photo M. Magnin

A global approach to digital frugality

A growing presence in our lives, digital does generate waste. Romain Rouvoy, a teacher-researcher with the team Spirals (Self-adaptation for distributed services and large software systems), has been studying the issue of sustainable software for more than 10 years, seeking to optimise resources. The young researcher, who is based at the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research centre, has developed a number of devices, including a virtual, opensource wattmeter that measures the consumption of each program running on a machine in real-time, the goal being to prioritise which applications should be shut down in order to reduce its energy consumption. Another avenue he has been exploring is linked to programming languages which, for the same application, can alter how much energy a program uses by a factor of 100. What is clear from his research is that a global approach to the eco-design of software is required: from the language used and optimising the use of shared resources to reusing residual heat from processors for heating people’s homes.

Raising awareness of the environmental challenges facing the digital sector

It is difficult to quantify digital's carbon footprint: although it does have a significant societal and environmental impact, it also plays a key role when it comes to reducing consumption and waste, most notably through modelling tools. To inform and educate people about these issues, the association Class’code  , which was set up to introduce young people to computer science, turned to the Inria Learning Lab, which designs MOOCs on digital science and supports research into e-education within the institute. The aim is to create a MOOC on the environmental impact of the digital sector that is targeted at IT teachers in secondary schools but designed to be accessible to the wider public. To make sure everyone can follow it at their own pace, this roughly 4-hour course will be accessible in full on the day of its launch on 11th October 2021 on the FUN platform. There will also be a support forum where participants can communicate with the authors of the MOOC. “Concept sheets” will accompany each sub-section, giving those who wish to do so the opportunity to explore the subjects raised in greater detail. A date for your diary: registration opens on 28th August.

Preserving the environment through digital science

Modelling as a means of reducing consumption

2020 might have been a bleak one for air travel, but it wasn’t a total write-off for everyone. Modal, a team connected to the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research centre which specialises in the mathematical modelling of complex data, were able to complete Perf-AI, a project filed in response to the Clean Sky project, part of the EU’s H2020 programme. Working in partnership with the start-up Safety-Line, whose expertise lies in aeronautics, the researchers were able to create a digital model of an airliner based on analysis of flight data recorded by its black box. Their aim was to reduce the environmental impact of commercial air travel by adapting the technical choices made at different stages of the flight plan (a quicker climb to altitude, a more gradual reduction in motor power, etc.) to real-life, up-to-date performance information for each aircraft. What’s more, the system they developed uses up relatively little in the way of processing power, allowing it to be used on-board. Currently being evaluated by Thalès Avionic, the technology could be adapted for use in other sectors, including health and sailing, which have already expressed an interest. Definitely one to keep an eye on.