Towards eco-responsible communication and digital sobriety.

I’ve been working at Pocheco for seven months and I can see that everyone here is working to minimise their environmental impact as much as possible. To preserve the ecology, the company’s global strategy takes into account the entire life cycle of its products: source of raw materials, manufacturing process, energy, distribution method, etc. Everything is thought out, controlled and considered. Everything is thought out, controlled and considered to be consistent with the company’s values. But what about digital, the sector that has been the cause of the collapse of the envelope market, which has been singled out for its extreme pollution, but without which we cannot do anything? How do we at Pocheco remain consistent with our values, continue to assume them, without ignoring digital?

Summary

The added value of digital

Choosing our values over digital

What is the impact of digital on the environment?

Our dilemma

A different kind of communication, more sober, greener

Eco-ICT, responsible communication, eco-content

Alternatives to traditional communication and digital

Digital communication in search of sobriety

Targeting as a means of action

An eloquent example

Digital minimalism

What we have already done

Our reflection

Pocheco and its communication

The added value of digital

There are dozens of advantages to using digital technology for a company. Being present on social networks means being on platforms that people around the world use every day. The company can manage its e-reputation, it can give more visibility to its products and events. It can keep its customers better informed by communicating quickly on its news. It shows its expertise and values on the subjects that concern it. It shows what makes it different.

The choice of our values rather than the digital one

Being present on social networks also means falling into a virtual relationship with a community. But Pocheco has always preferred local values: localism, exchanges, real meetings, “presence”. This is how we have gained the trust of our customers. Since our operations are based on our ecological and human values, we want our communication to do the same. This is a difficult task on virtual platforms that are often polarised or polarising. Posting on social networks means running the risk of receiving negative comments, “thumbs down”, from anonymous people smearing the work of women and men who have worked for some 35 years at Pocheco. It is the risk of no longer controlling our image and seeing our credibility called into question. Multiplying content on social networks also increases the risk of greenwashing, which we obviously avoid. Pocheco is a company that is almost a century old, that was able to forge a name for itself when social networks did not exist, that was able to differentiate itself when this virtual world was only an idea.

So how, in the digital age, can you optimise sales without social networks or a high-performance website? These means allow us to identify future customers looking for our products, to respond to their needs and to promote our brand.  It is particularly the smaller customers or individuals who can benefit from these digital improvements. They will not necessarily be canvassed by the company’s sales staff.

What is the impact of digital on the environment?

It cannot be said that digital is ecological, it even undermines our method of ecolonomy (“it is more economical to work in an ecological way”): if the presence on social networks and the existence of this blog are almost free, the presence of a company in digital is not at all ecological. The digital path is not a clear green path: the sector is estimated to account for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions (according to the Shift Project). And this figure is likely to double by 2025.

Our dilemma

The question arose for Pocheco: submitting to this (almost) mandatory online presence would mean breaking with the ecological consistency advocated for 25 years. However, we cannot do without it, at the risk of being forgotten in favour of other more “modern”, more connected companies.

What common ground can Pocheco find with the digital world, which is imposing itself massively? Haven’t our values become an obstacle to our reputation? Can we afford to give up on social networks? This question remains unanswered because no answer fully suits us. But at Pocheco we are looking, we are trying and we are proposing.

A different kind of communication, more sober, greener

The web team has been thinking about a different kind of communication, one that is adapted to Pocheco, to its desire for sobriety and especially to its desire not to popularise important subjects in order to “reach as many people as possible”.  We don’t want to give in to the demands of social networks: to be everywhere, all the time, even if it means drowning those who follow us in tons of surface information. We will not share a smooth, uniform image when the reality is nuanced. We will not participate in the endless race for “likes” and “followers”. What really counts for Pocheco is creating a human, sincere contact, meeting women and men from the business world, research, associations and academia. Rather than polluting the virtual space of the people we meet. What Pocheco will try to do is to offer moments of imagination and discovery that encourage reflection and knowledge. It will reach out to those who believe that a better world is still possible, to those who want things to change, to those who want to get involved and think with others. Pocheco wants to be an aggregator of ideas, knowledge, and goodwill.

We believe that a compromise is possible, between ultra-connectivity, reaction to everything and nothing, and the sharing of moderately interesting information, and on the other hand, a non-existent presence on these platforms, which are omnipresent among users and therefore among our customers. It would be a mistake not to force ourselves to do so, even if it means not creating unnecessary needs.

The different movements that exist in more “responsible” communication

Eco-ICT, responsible communication, eco-content

If digital communication pollutes, there are still movements that propose a different approach to digital. Eco-ICT, for example, advocates responsible communication and eco-content (to follow up on eco-design, for example). It was the General Commission on Terminology and Neology of Computer Science and Electronic Components that created the term eco-ICT in 2009. Its definition is as follows: “information and communication techniques whose design or use make it possible to reduce the negative effects of human activities on the environment”. This movement, as innovative as it is, has difficulty making itself heard in an industry where the traditional circuit is in the majority and the place for alternatives is almost annihilated. This movement proposes to question our purchasing and consumption decisions by adopting a more responsible behaviour. It also points to the issue of computer waste which, according to the eco-ICT, should be included in the legislative discussion, but progress is also slow.

Alternatives to traditional communication and digital technology

Small technical details on website creation or social network publications sometimes change the game. By changing colours, fonts and the use of videos, we can move towards what is known as “digital sobriety”, an approach aimed at reducing the environmental impact of digital technology.

Moreover, it has been observed that these modifications of form often serve the accuracy and coherence of the discourse. Indeed, by questioning “technical” practices, we also question the customer journey, the themes addressed and the relevance of our content. Technical sobriety is accompanied by content sobriety.

Indeed, when it comes to content, the public is against artificial and misleading discourse.

 “It is by positioning itself on a communication of proof and demonstration, transparent and sincere, that the company will be able to develop a discourse that mobilises and inspires both other companies and citizens.”   Ferréole Lespinasse

The Ademe (Agency for Ecological Transition) informs us that 61% of French people consider that “responsible consumption means above all eliminating the superfluous or reducing consumption in general”. This can be applied to communication. Infobesity has no place in the new discourse. People do not want to be visually polluted and want clear and precise information. Eco-content could be a solution if its method becomes more democratic. It is intended to be more useful, i.e. responding to real needs, in a personalised way, effectively reaching the target audience, and bringing words and deeds more into line. Customers expect sincere communication that meets CSR (corporate social responsibility) expectations without lies. Eco-content would be more cost-effective: indeed, the aim is to produce less but better by deploying only the necessary and controlled energy for an established objective. Following this logic, the content is more sober, and the communication media and devices are measured, clear and less energy-consuming. The user experience is worked on more. For content to be considered “eco”, it must be committed, i.e. inspiring and respectful. The sustainability of communication media and devices must be ensured. The objective is to reexamine one’s communication and creation habits, by asking oneself if one’s content is really useful, if it brings something new, if it reaches the desired target and if the carbon footprint is at its minimum.

Digital communication in search of sobriety

Note that high quality videos (HD = high definition) are very energy consuming compared to simple photographs for example. It is conceivable to use only bitmap images (for raster images), i.e. dotted, one pixel in two or three is white or grey. For energy reasons, responsible communication suggests switching to dark mode (as opposed to white, which consumes a lot of energy) or choosing less energy-consuming colours (black, green, red) and using fonts that are naturally available (calibri, times new roman), without asking internet browsers to load others unnecessarily.

There is an indicator: the Eco Index assesses the performance of the website and its carbon footprint. These two elements – performance and carbon footprint – are closely linked: the performance of the website depends on the way it is built. The complexity of the construction of the site affects its carbon footprint. The heavier or more complex a site is, the longer it takes to load. Its carbon footprint then increases at the same time as the user becomes impatient: the website will be less efficient because visitors will leave before the site is properly visible. It is also possible to imagine that content has a distribution deadline, i.e. that it has a life span beyond which it will be deleted because it is less relevant or even obsolete.

Targeting as a means of action

Ultra-targeting is an important key to responsible communication: the better known the target, the more restricted the scope of distribution of the content and the associated means are controlled. Advertising on television that targets all those (cold audience) who watch television will be costly, polluting and will obtain very few results, unlike retargeting (or remarketing) advertising that targets, for example, an individual who has already visited the website or who is geographically close to your site and is looking for the product you are presenting.

A good example

The newspaper Le Monde changed its strategy, which proved to be a winning one. The newspaper produced fewer articles (25% fewer articles published in two years), so less content but better quality. It has increased its number of journalists to produce longer exclusive investigations. It has prioritised ultra-targeted formats such as “young people”, even deciding to make them free on TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat. The result is convincing: the newspaper has gained 1 million subscribers on Snapchat and YouTube and 25% of digital subscribers in 1 year.  This example shows that choosing targeting and quality can be like eco-content and is a winning strategy. 

Digital minimalism

More generally, choosing to make your communication more responsible means having transparent, coherent messages: the customer understands the specificity of the company, its “why”, and choosing media and formats that consume as little energy as possible, a user path that is as simple and short as possible and increased accessibility. Google’s natural referencing will congratulate this clarity, i.e. the SEO (search engine optimisation) will be relevant with a thoughtful and premeditated path. Communicating while limiting one’s ecological footprint also means reducing the number of prints with responsible materials and designs. Finally, we can mention a general habit to be applied by users but especially by those who design our websites: minimalism. We should try to work on a website with the least amount of network time and the fewest number of servers with the smallest possible configuration. “Ecodesigning a website consists of reducing the amount of IT and telecoms resources required, i.e. its material footprint, while maintaining the same level of quality and service” (Ecodesign Web: 115 good practices to boost your site). Each stage of the design process (mock-up, graphic design, production, development, hosting, maintenance) must adopt a minimalist approach.

Our experience in responsible communication.

What we have already done

Our website aims to be sober (no redundancy of information, concise information, etc.), responsive (adaptable to all media – tablets, phones, computers) and to meet our clients’ demands. We undertook a complete overhaul of the websites by improving the user experience, ensuring responsive design, working on the sales strategy (e.g. re-launching abandoned shopping carts) and improving the product page. We also asked ourselves this question: is it really relevant to use the different social networks in the same way? We have a very differentiated strategy between the different channels: we focus most on the professional network LinkedIn which allows us to talk to our main contacts: professionals (B2B). By opening up to the general public (B2C), to individuals, we have intensified our presence on other networks such as Facebook and Instagram, so the audience is not the same. Our presence on social networks is controlled because we always ask ourselves the question of our added value. For example, before sending a newsletter to our customers, we ask ourselves: is this really useful, does this presence serve the brand and will it not create a feeling of redundancy among our recipients? We have chosen to send out newsletters in a measured way: on average we send 6 newsletters per year. We speak when we feel it is important: we want to generate quality traffic. We want to generate quality traffic, so everyone subscribes to the network that interests them and is most relevant to them. Our publications highlight our concrete commitments, not promises. They invite people to take collective action and to follow other associations or companies that make ethical and responsible choices. Finally, we always advocate quality over quantity.

For the computer equipment itself, we chose a few years ago to abandon tower computers in favour of computers with cases. Some have laptops that have a lower carbon footprint and lower energy consumption. Also, we have selected a more responsible hosting provider for some of our websites (namely O2switch). This is a French hosting company that recycles and recovers its old equipment, buys from French suppliers and uses mostly carbon-free energy. We do not impose a particular search engine, but we advise employees to use the Lilo search engine, which is French and supportive. It allows us to finance projects (such as our association Canopée Reforestation) through internet searches.

Our thoughts in a few sentences

In short, even if digital is the main cause of the collapse of the paper market (and the envelope) and it is not ecological, we cannot sweep it under the carpet. We have to work with this giant used by everyone: our partners, our customers, our competitors… However, we must remain consistent; our values at Pocheco are strong and they are our raison d’être, they make up our identity. Our customers are demanding and expect us to respect our ecological values even in areas where it is difficult to honour them (notably digital). The communication sector, especially the tools used (computers, software), the channels and formats used (social networks, videos), represent a real challenge for a company committed to the ecological transition. Indeed, there are very few viable and truly 100% satisfactory alternatives. By searching, by trying, by changing even the smallest elements, we can consider that we have a more responsible communication than before, even if the road is not finished.

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