What makes a digital transformation project ethical?

Donovan Justice, CEO and founder of Digital Detox, explores what it means for a digital transformation project to be truly ethical

For many businesses, the pandemic brought about a greater focus on digital transformation, and globally we are seeing, on average, a seven-year increase in the rate at which these projects are being undertaken. With digital firmly in the spotlight, many enterprises have undergone extensive digital transformation projects in recent months in order to compete.

Unfortunately, these projects can be difficult to execute at the best of times and digital transformation is growing increasingly complex, especially for those organisations, whose primary concerns are ethical and environmental.

Ethical digital transformation can be tough to break down. For instance, what exactly makes a digital project ethical, and how do we integrate ethics into our digital transformation strategies and digital products?

At my agency, we have found that one of the best ways to approach these dilemmas is to break down ethical digital transformation into three simple pillars: People, Planet, and Technology.


One of the best ways to approach ethical digital transformation is to look to your community. This is your core user base and might be made up of customers, peers, and your own people from within your organisation. Though it can be a time-consuming process, engaging with the community on your digital transformation plans has a number of benefits when driving forward an ethical initiative.

Crucially, consulting both internal and external stakeholders can help to identify any unanticipated policy concerns or technical issues. This is inherently valuable from a technical standpoint, as building out channels of communication and feedback allows you to fix mistakes while remaining agile and constructive.

Raising community concerns is especially important when ethics are a part of your organisation’s mission statement. Not only does gathering feedback highlight any potential hidden concerns around the digital products you will be building, but engagement also goes hand in hand with both perceived and actual transparency, as gathering valuable feedback requires a degree of openness about the project.

From an internal perspective, this allows you to structure your development around the people the project will directly serve. Engaging with your internal team can also mean that you end up taking unexpected steps, like preserving certain legacy systems because they aren’t currently causing any problems for your team and do not pose a barrier to the efficient integration of your new digital products.


Another way to approach an ethical digital transformation project is to look at sustainability. We can no longer separate the ethical from the sustainable amid the negative effects of climate change on both the planet and millions of people. Additionally, the value of sustainable transformation has grown from inherently doing good to representing a business essential. In 2021, the World Economic Forum estimated that ‘companies linking digital and sustainable transformation are 2.5 times more likely to be among tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses.’ Therefore, how do you execute a digital transformation strategy that’s good for both your business and the planet?

Look at integrating legacy systems into modern tech architectures, or iteratively improving your products over time, so as to not throw out useable systems. For the systems that need to be replaced, investing in IT that has a lower energy and heat output can make a real impact on your carbon footprint. Additionally, eliminating single-use content, such as throwaway chatboxes or popups, can also add value, as disposable data often creates an unnecessary burden on data centres by generating heat and using, often non-renewable, energy for their storage.

Internally, taking the time to painstakingly liberate your data from silos will make it easier to find and access. From a sustainability standpoint, this practice helps avoid data repetition and command waste, preserving precious energy. This goes for both active systems as well as archived and backup data. Being more mindful of your IT architecture is worth the time spent trawling through the backlog, deleting duplicates and unneeded records, and liberating siloed information.

Ultimately, it’s vital to evaluate your IT structure and re-configure it where appropriate to eliminate waste. Investing in energy-efficient tech can also future-proof your digital transformation project and ensure that it remains ethically sound.


Finally, communicating your company’s message through your technology is key. This means aligning your product development with the business’s ethical mission and goals.

One example of this would be taking adequate time to scope out the impact of your digital choices and building a direct connection between your ethical mission and your digital products. Evaluating the ramifications of your digital transformation, and perhaps even shifting your internal measures of success and innovation to match your ethical principles, will allow you to communicate your message through every facet of the product.

This, along with considering your environmental impact and making the product work for your people, is the essence of what makes a digital project ethical.

Building a future-proofed, sustainable, and ethical digital transformation strategy is often described as a journey due to the complexity of the process. However, remaining ethical can be simple. The key is to break it down into clear pillars and not lose sight of your wider goals.

Written by Donovan Justice, CEO and founder of Digital Detox

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