Digitalisation and sustainability – summary of the Commission’s 2021 DESI survey and its accompanying research

Digitalisation and sustainability – summary of the Commission’s 2021 DESI survey and its accompanying research


The European Commission published mid-November its 2021 DESI report, summarizing economic and societal development levels of EU member states focusing on digitalization related aspects. First ever, another report has been released with the 2021 DESI commentary: a joint product of Ipsos and iCite assessing the environment/sustainability actions of EU businesses. In other words, the survey introduced how twin transformation – digital and sustainability – takes place in the everyday operation of businesses throughout Europe.

There is little news in when it comes to the connection between digitalization and sustainability: environmental information technology and digitalization-introduced sustainably are regarded as interdisciplinary fields in the jargon. The starting hypothesis of the Ipsos and iCite report was that “green-thinking” impacts businesses decisions regarding technological or digital transformation, presuming that such decisions influence directly sustainable operation. The survey suggests that the greater the level of digitalization of a firm is, the more environment-friendly its operation becomes, or it may be able to make the desired transformation speedier.

The survey was conducted using the Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) method in every EU member state; thus, the Hungarian digital situation was evaluated. Similar to the statements of the 2021 DESI report and ranking earned there, Hungary did not perform well here, either. Hungarian businesses both in terms of environmental-friendly operation and the corresponding digitalization are lagging the European average, or even compared to the Central-European region.

EU-wide conclusions

97% of the surveyed companies stated that they have already introduced some measures to decrease their eco-footprint and 30% reported that substantial measures have been taken. Only one-third, however, monitor the actual accomplishments in this area. The research has indicated that the introduction of environmental-friendly operations is significantly more common among large companies than SMEs. Two-third stated that digital solutions (e.g., IoT, Cloud, ERP, AI, Smart robotics, Transaction Platforms, etc.) have strengthened the company’s environmental awareness, and a similar proportion of the interviewees claimed that environment-focused operation has an impact on digital solutions chosen.

The majority of businesses regard digital solutions as more important than environmental-friendly operations. Companies that employ a greater number of people decide to introduce digital solutions due to sustainability reasons to a greater extent. Nonetheless, firms aiming at greener operation methods consider decreasing raw material usage, optimizing production, or introducing in-house policies than the introduction of digital solutions when it comes to achieving these objectives. When asked about the usefulness of digital solutions, the most cited aspects were lessening GHG emission and decreasing other pollution.

The survey showed, 80% of the companies think ICT solutions can lead to a more sustainable business without special “green” considerations, such as fewer business trips, or the introduction of teleworking or home-office. A similar percentage believed, that utilizing certain digital solutions leads to less pollution, optimizes raw material use, or increases energy efficiency.

The Hungarian landscape

Although the Hungarian results are close to the EU average regarding various aspects of the survey, the overall picture of Hungarian firms indicates that domestic businesses are half as environmentally aware as the rest of the EU. Firms in Hungary tend to believe less in the introduction of digital solutions and the effect of that on sustainability than companies elsewhere in the EU; sustainability concerns do not help the spread of ICT solutions, nor digitalization helps to meet sustainability goals. The research also concludes that the Covid-19 pandemic did not have such an impact in Hungary on business digitalization as in the rest of the EU.

Hungarian firms have taken steps to align their production to sustainability goals to a much smaller extent (43% [EU] vs. 30%). Furthermore, they have also introduced changes in their business model to adapt to environmental-aware or relating goals in smaller numbers (21% [EU] vs. 15%). The proportion of companies, however, who have in-house policies to increase environmental awareness is greater than the EU average (59% [EU] vs. 87%), and the number of those firms who have an employee dedicated to meeting sustainability goals is also higher (10% [EU] vs. 19%).

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