Within and outside your company, you undoubtedly make use of multiple devices that are connected to the internet. Each email, Zoomcall and streamed video contribute to your digital footprint. Especially since remote working has become pretty standard in the last couple of years, the utilisation of digital technologies in the business world has skyrocketed.
A digital carbon footprint consists of the carbon emissions resulting from the production, use, and data transfer of digital devices and infrastructure.
Life without online technology is unthinkable nowadays
Technology has become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. Expectations are that data generated by devices connected to the internet will increase by roughly 400% since 2019, from 18.3 zettabytes in 2019 to 73.1 zettabytes by 2025 (1). 1 ZB is the equivalent of 1,000,000,000,000,000 megabytes (MBs). Yes, fifteen zeros.
Sustainability is becoming the status quo as well. The ICT industry has a rather positive image concerning sustainability, as it has substantially transformed the way we communicate and work. By implementing innovative IT, a business’ carbon footprint can potentially be significantly lowered.
IT makes firms more sustainable, but how sustainable is IT?
The benefits of IT lead to more usage, thus more required data volume, which subsequently will also lead to growing adoption of high-end technologies, such as AI. In order to create value with AI systems, Big Data analysis is critical. As data demand increases, electricity demand increases, which leads to the environmental impact of enterprise IT getting more significant by the day.
In contradiction to this trend, sustainable IT is not yet a priority for lots of organisations. The indirect energy use for data storage and transfer (scope 3 emissions) are still quite unnoticed. As a whole, the data centre industry is expected to produce approximately 14% of global emissions by 2040 (2).
Manufacturing and disposing of electronic devices have a significant environmental impact as well. The carbon cost of producing these devices is nearly equal to, or exceeds, the carbon cost of using them (3). E-waste is also becoming a larger threat, as recycling the raw materials used in e.g. phones and laptops is not yet common. For example, one survey found that 89% of firms recycle less than 10% of their IT hardware (4).
Our 3 tips to reduce your digital footprint
Conscious usage of electronic devices
Create more employee awareness about the carbon footprint of device usage. An example, video calling leads to the emission of 1kg CO2 per hour. Turning off your camera and using audio only reduces carbon impact by 96% (5). Turning off devices instead of leaving them on or in sleep-mode can be effective too. Or make sure all your devices have an auto switch-off feature.
Video calling leads to the emission of 1kg CO2 per hour. Turning off your camera and using audio only reduces carbon impact by 96%.
Moreover, extending the lifespan of electronic devices is critical as well. Avoid the temptation of always wanting the newest gadgets, and be more eager to repair, recycle or re-sell still usable equipment to extend its total lifetime.
Switch to more sustainable IT service operators
Data centre operations are energy intensive, and hence they contribute significantly to your digital carbon footprint. Request environmental disclosure and sustainability reporting from IT vendors. Thereafter, establish the carbon cost of your IT operations. Data centres using mainly renewable energy can be very beneficial for your own digital footprint.
Adopt more energy efficient data mechanisms
Execute audits of your current applications to identify the most energy-intensive ones and tackle the worst culprits. Switching to a green cloud architecture and framework also benefits your carbon footprint. One study showed a 19% cost savings can be realised when shifting to edge computing, though it is essential that the solution has to be scaled organisation-wide (6).
1: IDC, “IoT Growth Demands Rethink of Long-Term Storage Strategies, says IDC,” July 27, 2020.
2: Belkhir, L., & Elmeligi, A. (2018). Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations. Journal of cleaner production, 177, 448-463.
3: European Environmental Bureau, “Coolproducts don’t cost the Earth,” September 2019.
4: CapGemini, “Sustainable IT, Why it’s time for a Green revolution for your organization’s IT”, 2021. p. 3.
5: Obringer, R., Rachunok, B., Maia-Silva, D., Arbabzadeh, M., Nateghi, R., & Madani, K. (2021). The overlooked environmental footprint of increasing Internet use. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 167, 105389.
6: CapGemini, “Sustainable IT, Why it’s time for a Green revolution for your organization’s IT”, 2021. p. 18.