While still far from behaving in an exemplary fashion, French companies seem to be receptive to the idea of environmentally-friendly IT systems. It remains to be seen however whether standards will have to be imposed, or whether incentives will suffice to make progress in this area.

AFNOR, the French standards setting body, recently published a white paper on the incentives for companies to install environmentally-responsible information systems. According to AFNOR, there are many ways of encouraging companies to apply such solutions. We take a look at these recommendations with Frédéric Bordage, Head of GreenIT.fr and co-author of the book Systèmes d'information et développement durable - Green IT (‘IT Systems and Sustainable Development – Green IT’)

L’Atelier: Is France a model pupil when it comes to environmentally responsible IT?

Frédéric Bordage:As you may have noticed, a number of players from industry have helped to write this book. In France we have a lot of highly qualified specialists who have taken part in various discussions - the energy footprint of some industry sectors being a key topic. We know these experts here in France, but they are also well-known on the European stage and indeed worldwide. They bring real credibility to the performance and quality indicators which we have used, and these types of indicators usually develop into eco-labels. Once an eco-label exists, companies are more inclined to take notice of the standards and apply them.

How can these recommendations develop into binding standards for companies?

I don’t think that the purpose of this kind of book should be to try to impose standards. However, I must say that most companies we’re in contact with do take a favourable view of this sort of effort. The indicators we put forward are all very relevant, so companies in many different sectors can measure their performance as regards sustainable development and their energy footprint. Actually they don’t have any other way to do this. From a commercial point of view, measuring yourself means comparing yourself to the competition. Although regulatory and legal requirements aren’t really there at the moment, companies are now making an effort to work on these areas.

Do you think that your list of proposals will help our politicians to get a better grasp of environmentally responsible IT?

Well, there isn’t very much enthusiasm for passing legislation on the subject. However, the state requires all its own institutions to lead by example on sustainable energy issues, as we see in the government memo dated 3 December 2008.  But at the end of the day, this isn’t a subject that tops the list of government priorities, or indeed of any other political grouping. The reason is simple; the lack of understanding of the subject matter means that constructive, mature legislation cannot easily be drafted. Those frequent Grenelles round table events which bring together government, local authorities, trade unions, business and the voluntary sectors sometimes lead to useful lines of thought, but they don’t result in any concrete action. I would also say that it’s a difficult, even embarrassing subject for the industry lobby, which is very powerful in France. The expression ‘Green IT’ is therefore not a particularly welcome topic of discussion in French parliamentary circles.