Highlights from the Next Generation Internet Technologies for Green Digital Transformation webinar

As part of the NGI Forum, on the 18th of May 2021, Digital4Planet (D4P) organized the Next Generation Internet Technologies for Green Digital Transformation webinar, which attracted nearly 70 attendees. The event gathered experts from the European Commission (EC), industry, and academia whose work focuses on the transition toward a green and sustainable internet. The webinar gave the speakers a chance to voice some of the most significant efforts, which are paving the way to a greener internet, advocate for an increased focus on studying and understanding the environmental footprint of internet technologies, as well as growing the public’s awareness of environmental issues.

Dr. Monique Calisti, the CEO of Martel Innovate and Director of NGI Outreach Office opened the webinar with a brief presentation, in which she stressed out that without greening technologies, the digital transformation will not help us to grow the society and economy in the right direction to preserve our planet. At the same time, Dr. Calisti acknowledged the great efforts of numerous innovators, researchers, and organizations in the public and private sectors that are investing in greener technologies and then presented the speakers – Dr. Loretta Anania, Prof. Adrian Perrig, Mr. Chris Adams, and Dr. Giovanni Rimassa.

The floor was then opened to Dr. Loretta Anania, the EC Program Officer with the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, who shared interesting insights on the internet’s environmental impact and introduced various European initiatives related to digital sustainability.

The main question Dr. Anania’s presentation entitled “The internet of waste” aimed to address was “how to deliver on the twin transition?” In her interactive and inspiring talk, Dr. Anania introduced the statistics on the internet’s environmental impact and asked the webinar participants to verify the footprint of their own smartphones. She used the Greenpeace report to present the consumption of energy, resources, and chemicals various smartphone brands are responsible for. She pointed out that 27% of the waste is created by the production of handset devices, which is highly worrying considering the fact that their production continues to grow. Dr. Anania terminated her presentation by introducing the various EU recommendations, which aim to combat the problem, such as maintaining our devices for longer periods. She then gave the floor to Prof. Adrian Perrig, an NGI Innovator and researcher at the Network Security Group at ETH Zurich.

Prof. Perrig presented SCION, a clean-slate internet architecture designed by a group of researchers at ETH Zurich to provide route control, failure isolation, and explicit trust information for end-to-end communication. This next generation internet architecture offers highly available communication for everyone. Prof. Perrig emphasized that SCION is a native connectivity, which does not depend on today’s internet and not an overlay network. He then moved to discuss the three levels of energy reduction offered by the solution, namely lowering power consumption for communication, enabling green routing through path selection, and virtuous feedback, which encourages global adoption of green energy.

The presentation round continued and gave Chris Adams, one of the directors of the Green Web Foundation, a chance to present their work on tracking and accelerating the transition of the web to green energy and away from fossil fuels. Similar to Dr. Anania, Mr. Adams introduced the statistics on the environmental impact of the internet as well as the value it has brought to society, focusing mostly on the past decade. He presented the significant changes that occurred during that time, which resulted in doubling the overall energy usage of data centers and a 12x increase in traffic. He also touched on the fact that 80% of the carbon footprint of the internet comes from electricity consumption and stressed the importance of moving away from burning fossil fuels.

The floor has then been given to Dr. Giovanni Rimassa, Vice President of Digital for Planet and NGI Ambassador, who introduced the D4P association and its Sustainable Next Generation Internet Working Group‘s main goals. As NGI Ambassador, Dr. Rimassa also drew attention to the output created by the NGI Forward project and presented its 2030 vision focused around five pillars, among which are resilience and sustainability.

After the introductions, Dr. Calisti moderated the panel discussion and asked insightful questions on topics like funding opportunities for green technologies, the steps that need to be taken to stimulate and grow awareness among the general public, and the criteria that are used to define green providers, green routes, etc. When panelists were sharing their perspectives on the topic, one could note a very clear alignment among them. The key points mentioned by the speakers were: all individuals are responsible for the choices they make, at several levels; growing awareness is one of the major steps towards a conscious data consumption and data behavior; engagement and commitment will not suffice – we must act with a complex mindset and above all – execute what we preach.