No digital society without sustainable information technology

Fetch 2019 (January 2018)
T. Ernst and J-P. Raskin



The 21st century is the age of mobile communications and the conscious use of natural resources. Communication contributes to reduce distance between people. Smart objects communicate to each other to deploy an interactive environment (Internet of Things, IoT). People talk about the digital society. Everything seems to be fast, clean, reconfigurable, etc. but behind our screens there is an industry which requires, more than ever, space, energy and matter. Since tens of billions electronics objects are being disseminated all over the word in homes, buildings, cars, roads, etc., there is an urgent need to revisit the economic, technological, and societal models to develop a sustainable electronic industry that will care about its impact right from the design of these objects. Some key elements considered today in the emerging devices for IoT are rare or classified critical raw materials, they must be substituted or saved by orders of decade. In order to come up with efficient and sustainable solutions, scientists and engineers must embrace the complexity of the problems and adopt a systemic approach which favors an interdependent vision of the components of a problem.No clear methodology exists today to design, manufacture and deploy the IoT in a “sustainable way” that preserves enough resources to avoid political, economic, and environmental tensions in the next twenty years. European microelectronics industry depends on rare-earth materials and noble metals, so called blood metals in Africa. European technology supplies are very fragile, and economy, strategic independence, ethical and environmental considerations are converging into a common requirement: design differently our technologies at the early stage of the research process.Only a few initiatives have been launched in Europe and around the world to address the sustainable use of critical raw materials and none for developing sustainable wireless electronics devices which are going to be massively deployed within the digital society.At the beginning of 2017, the European Nanoelectronics consortium on sustainability named ENCOS was established. The members of the consortium are today the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble (France), Cambridge University (UK), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland), Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium), Atomic Energy Research Centre (CEA, France), Fraunhofer-Institut für Zuverlässigkeit und Mikrointegration (Germany), and PuzzlePhone (Finland).The consortium aims to develop methodologies applied to advanced research integrating the economic analysis, the geopolitics issues, the acceptability and the durability of new technological solutions.


Published on February 18, 2019