From Green IT to Corporate Digital Responsibility

May 2024

To designate their strategy in terms of digital responsibility, companies tend to use a lot of different words. Noconsensus exists for the moment on a specific term. Let's try to understand how the expression Corporate Digital Responsibility differs differs from the other terms and why it might be the most suitable in the corporate environment.

“When you use very general terms like digital sustainability‘ or ‘sustainable IT‘, it's very difficult to know what the company is putting behind them”. For Aiste Rugeviciute, researcher at La Rochelle University and within Square Research Center that belongs to the consultancy firm Square Management, the lack of consensus on a specific term to designate the responsibility of companies on the strategy dedicated to digital activities is a potential risk of greenwashing. She explains that behind some fuzzy words, it’s possible for organisations to interpret good practices and trajectories in any way they want.

In order to avoid any discrepancy with society’s expectations, it is essential that companies explicitly define what 'responsible digital’ practices mean for them and communicate it unambiguously. Aiste Rugeviciute believes it is important for companies to adopt the right terms and CDR might be fit for this purpose. For the time being, the lack of consensus prevents the widespread adoption of one term over another. Christophe Debuysscher, ICT Sustainability Manager in a major European organisation and member of the European GreenTech Forum Brussels program committee reports, on his side, that he has identified more than 80 terms used to talk about responsible digital issues.

Sustainable IT, unperfect word

Generally speaking, Christophe Debuysscher believes that the choice of term to designate the role within companies is important: “it shows that someone has taken the subject in hand, and that is what is ultimately key”. In his opinion, the term ICT Sustainability would be preferable to Sustainable IT, because the acronym ICT contains the indispensable 'C' for communication in today's IT world, “bearing in mind that the field that generated the most patent applications in Europe in 2023 is #DigitalCommunication”, he points out.

And in the same vein, Sustainable IT is preferable to Green IT in Christophe Debuysscher's eyes. “Green IT has, unfortunately, a bit too much of a 1990s dimension, meaning that for some people it is still associated with a very ‘energy measurement/data centre energy consumption‘ connotation”, he explains, “it was initially very Energy Management oriented”.

Aiste Rugeviciute shares the same observation: when academics talk about environmental aspects, for 20 years, they used Green IT or Green IS (Green Information System). But to describe wider implications (social impact, ethics, etc.), there are a myriad of terms. Like Christophe Debuysscher, she thinks that ICT Sustainability is more appropriate because it embeds every dimension. Academics regularly use this term as well (or its slight variations, like ICT for Sustainability), because it includes environmental and social aspects.

But many different terms co-exist. She quotes for example : digital sustainability, responsible digital technologies, responsible digital services, responsible digital transformation... “We can also find ethical technologies, ethical digitalisations, Sustainable IT” she continues, “but Sustainable IT is huge, it’s really large!”. To her, companies often do a mixture of different words. “Companies tend to use whatever they want !”, she completes, “but what actually hides behind the terms they use?”.

Corporate Digital Responsibility

According to Aiste Rugeviciute, Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) is a new term, but  a pretty good one to speak about company strategies. “In terms of choice of terms, it depends where I communicate” explains the researcher, “but for companies, CDR is precise, it can target specific goals.”

CDR might therefore be the most appropriate term, as it refers to the company's responsibility. In this configuration, explains Aiste Rugeviciute, “the company must be responsible to all its stakeholders on the digital spectrum”. This reversal of ‘digital responsibility’ vs. ‘responsible digital technologies’ is forcing the company to act.

The origin of the term can be traced back to an Accenture report published in 2015. It introduces this concept of company responsibilities on digital activities towards the stakeholders. « Afterwards, CDR increasingly gained attention, especially from german academics ».

To help the adoption and comprehension of CDR, an international collective composed of academics, corporate practitioners and published authors created a manifesto in 2021. The manifesto is freely available on a website. The collective aggregated their existing body of work into a single, international definition of CDR. They proposed seven principles to guide companies on their ‘Digital Responsibility journey’.

For the researcher, CDR refers to the responsibility of companies toward the stakeholders, meeting their expectations and prioritising digital issues . With CDR it becomes more clear what the strategy of a company is.

“With CDR, you can start identifying where you operate and what your responsibility is to your clients, indirect clients, society, prospective clients, etc. You can be really precise.” adds Aiste Rugeviciute, “You can prioritise your actions, as well”. Do companies tend to adopt this term? She can’t really tell, “but when companies know what CSR is, it becomes really clear for them what CDR is.”

CDR Maturity Matrice

In order to help to define standards and norms in this field, Aiste Rugeviciute, as a researcher, has been working for two years on a model to estimate the maturity of companies on CDR. She has just published this month, in collaboration with Vincent Courboulay, who is also a program committee member of the GreenTech Forum Brussels, the Corporate Digital Responsibility Maturity Model Approach, “a tool for organisations to help and understand ‘Where are we now?‘ with respect to their CDR strategies”, she points out.

The observation that led Aiste Rugeviciute in this research is the scarcity of established guidelines and frameworks given the nascent nature of this field. In response, the Corporate Digital Responsibility Maturity Model (CDR MM) offers a structured method for organisations to evaluate and enhance their capacity to embed digital responsibility within their operations. Developed using design research methodology, the CDR MM consists of five dimensions and 18 focal points, representing a pioneering initiative within the realm of Corporate Digital Responsibility.

Notably, it addresses both the social and environmental dimensions of digitalization. The study extends beyond borders by conducting research within the French context, thereby enriching the global comprehension of Corporate Digital Responsibility. For decision-makers, the CDR MM functions as an evaluative instrument, pinpointing areas of concern and guiding organisational endeavours to harmonise digitalization with sustainable development goals.

Furthermore, the proposed model lays a foundation for prospective research endeavours, potentially culminating in the formulation of prescriptive maturity models. “New versions of the model should be deemed not only desired but also necessary to stay relevant for practitioners and to advance the academic discourse around CDR and responsible digital transformations” explains Aiste Rugeviciute.

For the researcher, this maturity model is a further contribution to the adoption and understanding of CDR. Talking about CDR means bringing responsible digital practices into line with the other fields of application of Corporate Responsibility, and making them a fully-fledged branch of CSR.

The adoption of the term CDR is certainly a good way, at least, to get the whole company on board for a more sustainable digital policy in terms of the decarbonisation that needs to be implemented in this sector: -45% by 2030 compared with 2020 at global level in order to comply with the Paris Agreement, in line with the SBTI (Science Based Target Initiative) trajectory.


Aiste Rugeviciute is speaker at GreenTech Forum Brussels 18 June 2024, Researcher working on a thesis on CDR (La Rochelle University / Square Management) and co-author of the book B.A.-BA du Numérique Responsable (Eyrolles, 2023)

Christophe Debuysscher is member of the Program committee of GreenTech Forum Brussels 2024, and ICT Sustainability Manager in a major European organisation based in the Netherlands.

Article written by Rémy Marrone for GreenTech Forum Brussels

GreenTech Forum Brussels is the new Tech and Sustainability event.
Co-organised by the Belgian Institute for Sustainable IT, Numeum and SustAIn.brussels, it will take place the 18 et 19 of June 2024 at La Maison de la Poste in Brussels.
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