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Sustainability in the Digital World:

Trends & Challenges 2023

As every year, digital pioneer Janus Boye answers our questions at the turn of the year 2022: What can we learn from the year and what trends await us in 2023?

As the year draws to a close, one date is firmly on the calendar: the traditional interview with Danish digital pioneer Janus Boye. Since 2017, he has commented annually on current trends and challenges in the digital world for our blog. Looking ahead to 2023, his focus is on sustainability and recruiting.


We look back on an exciting and very eventful year 2022. 2021 was your prediction, a polarisation of society and that companies have to take a stand here. To what extent did your predictions from last year come true?

I think it's definitely still relevant. Today, purpose is a topic in many conversations, not only in German-speaking countries. "We're not just doing this to make money, we're doing this for a purpose." For example, to connect people. Like Nokia back in the day. Every now and then people talk about it so much that it sounds like companies had no purpose before except to make money.

In my opinion, we've come a bit further this year. This whole discussion about the World Cup in Qatar, for example, is louder compared to the one about Russia a few years ago. The same goes for issues like diversity and inclusion. We feel that many companies have to take a stand. But it is not just about talking about these issues, it is also about doing something. We still have a journey ahead of us.


Speaking of taking a stand: In November, the Boye Aahus Conference took place with a focus on climate and sustainability. What lessons did you learn for companies in the digital sector?

Around this time last year, I realised that when we talk to each other on teams or I store something on Amazon or the Google Cloud, it costs electricity somewhere else. Or that the data centre in Ireland, for example, uses water. But is that an individual responsibility or could something be changed structurally? Just as a simple example: How can I make decisions on my website to make it sustainable? Do I necessarily need a huge hero image in high resolution??

Fortunately, it's like this: If a website is faster, it is more sustainable. If there are only four steps in the buying process instead of eight, then it is more sustainable and often also a better user experience. This is also the case with accessibility. If you do it right from the beginning, it's easier, it's better and it's more sustainable.

What was one of the highlights at the conference was a presentation by the Danish city of Herning. If you go to their website, you can switch on or off climate-friendly. That means very simplified: with or without pictures. But come on, this is an authority! Why do you need pictures of what it looks like in Herning? Maybe you just want to know when the rubbish will be collected or how to enrol your child in school. But this awareness that I can control it individually, that makes a difference. If a larger authority or a larger company does something like that on their website and you extrapolate that to the monthly users, it makes a big difference.

Nobody talked about that last year. This awareness that our constant surfing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or team calls with video also cost something. This is very exciting in the digital world at the moment, because people are still discussing what possibilities there are and how much CO2 can be saved. With plastic bags and straws, for example, the problems have all become very individual. One should not fly. You should take the train and not use plastic bags. I think that's actually the very wrong way to go. Because I think it's human nature to travel the world, meet people from other cultures and share experiences. But maybe we don't necessarily need websites with pointless videos. Technically, we only did it because we can. The most sustainable website would actually be a slow, user-unfriendly website. No one would use it. But that's not possible either: How can I solve this, for example, as Zalando? I want sales. I want customers to shop with me and not somewhere else. But maybe I can also encourage the customer to make the whole thing climate-friendly. Not only climate-friendly clothing, but also climate-friendly digital shopping experiences.

The whole thing reminded me a bit of the time twelve years ago when iPads came along and within a year everyone had an iPad or everyone knew someone who had one or wanted one for Christmas. So the next step was: how do we get our websites responsive? Six months later, all websites have more or less successfully started with responsive design. It would be a great thing if we could make our websites climate-friendly in 2023.

Imagine Microsoft decides, after five minutes of video call, you get a little friendly reminder: do you still want to continue with video? It could be that 10% of all team users then say: "Now we've seen each other, now we'll turn off the video." And then you might get a little email at the end of the month that you've used one less hour of video in 80 hours of calls. That seems very little, but if you extrapolate that to all Teams users in the world. Insane! And if Microsoft does that, I'm pretty sure Zoom and Google will follow suit. The same goes for Netflix. It would be great if Netflix would develop a Green Mode. When I think about what I want to watch on Netflix, I could save a lot of Co2 by browsing and watching teasers - maybe even on my phone - with less resolution. I think and hope that's coming soon. If you extrapolate that - that was the eye-opener at the conference last month - to everything about the internet, that's more than the whole airline industry. I know in Germany, similar to Denmark, people say, "Ah, flying. That's bad. You're not allowed to fly. But using websites, that's good!" Strange.


Can you identify trends from this that are promising for you in the future?

As with responsive design, we need role models. In Denmark there is a clothing company - Organic Basics - they have developed a low-impact website, without pictures. For this browsing - similar to Zalando - you don't necessarily need thousands of pictures of trousers or whatever. That's where we need these pioneers, these examples. But I think that's coming. That's also what I hear from other experts. In England, for example, the issue of sustainability is now being integrated into the purchasing processes. If you as byte5 want to send out an offer for a new website, there are requirements for climate friendliness. And if that is already built in, then it will come.


What topics will be the focus in 2023 and what challenges will we face?

I think the topic of sustainability will become even bigger. These are still the early days. As another issue, I hear from big companies like Deutsche Post, DHL, but also smaller companies like byte5 for example: We can't find people. Companies need to differentiate themselves, not just make money. If I have a lot of opportunities as a young professional or with 10 years or 20 years of experience, can now work from home for this company or that company, for a good, decent salary, then the company has to differentiate itself even more. Similar to what byte5 has done. And this now also affects companies that might have been convincing so far because of their cool brand.

Even the companies that are really great employers tell me at group meetings that it is difficult to find people. Where are the people? Restaurants and cafés are maybe even harder hit, but people are gone. How do we solve this? Crash courses, coding camps? As a company, you can send 60 people on a programming course for six weeks. Sure, they won't be experts. But they can already start, if I as a company can't wait for someone with three, four or five years of experience in computer science. But companies also have to do a lot more for people who have done something else up to now and now want to enter our beautiful, strange, crazy digital world. Long story short: recruiting is going to be a huge problem.

Maybe to sum up: what we have done on sustainability by 2050 is too slow, we can't wait for that. What we have done in the area of recruiting - we put out a job ad, then 1,000 applications came in, we took 10 of the best - will not be enough. And that means everyone is called upon to try out new solutions, new ideas, experiments. I find that super exciting! And I believe that this will also lead to good solutions that are sustainable, hopefully more diverse and inclusive.


Dear Janus, thank you once again for the insights into your year 2022 and our beautiful, strange and crazy digital world! byte5 wishes all readers a good start into a healthy and successful new year 2023.

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