Five tips for reducing your digital footprint
Digital pollution is the greenhouse gases that come from building and using digital technology
Did you know that a typical year of incoming emails adds 136 kg of emissions to a person’s carbon footprint, or the equivalent of driving 320 kms in an average car. Digital pollution is the greenhouse gases that come from building, delivering and using digital technology. It makes up 4 per cent of the world’s global greenhouse emissions – double that of the global aviation industry – and this number is growing exponentially as our way of working and living becomes increasingly digital. The good news is that we can act on this by changing our daily behaviours at work and at home. Here are five tips to help you clean your digital footprint at home and in the office right away.
1. Keep your devices longer.
There is a tendency to change devices, whether a mobile, a laptop or any electronic device, as soon as a new model becomes available on the market. In 2021, 15 billion smartphones were sold in the world. This represents an impact of 900 million tons of CO2, 1.35 billion tons of materials and 204 billion tons of water to produce them. Although the sale of smartphones in the world declined slightly in 2022, think of the mountain of waste that these smartphones will represent once they are thrown away, ending up often in low-income countries and informal recycling sectors where children are at risk. This behaviour needs to change.
- Repair devices and not change them every two or three years.
- Buy devices that are repairable, refurbished or remanufactured.
- Keep the battery levels of devices between 20 and 80 per cent as this ensures a longer battery life.
- Never leave devices plugged in at full charge. Instead, charge for short and regular intervals as this also increases the battery life.
2. Reduce the energy consumption of devices.
Energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Without energy, our digital devices and solutions would not work. There are, however, a few simple things we can do to reduce the energy consumption of our devices.
- Not use wireless chargers, as they consume 50 per cent more energy!
- Unplug our chargers when they are not in use.
- Shut down our devices when we are not using them, especially at night (this also includes Wi-Fi or Bluetooth).
- Avoid using large screens or two screens unless we really have a task that justifies it.
- Reduce the brightness of our screens and use dark mode (or grey mode for mobile). This not only saves energy, but also reduces eye fatigue and dry eyes.
- Close our apps and tabs and disable location services when we are not using them.
- Reduce notifications and the use of animated screen savers. This saves energy.
3. Reduce our use of email.
A typical year of incoming emails adds 136 kg of emissions to a person’s carbon footprint, or the equivalent of driving 320 kms in an average car. Here are a few tips that will make us think twice before using email.
- Always use links to online files, where possible, as opposed to attaching documents to emails. Cloud-based and other solutions like this help reduce the size of emails.
- Regularly delete old emails from our inbox.
- Send a ‘Reply all’ email only if necessary.
- Unsubscribe from unwanted or no longer needed newsletters.
4. Clean up our files and apps
The probability of reusing data diminishes over time. Only 5 per cent of data is actively reused after 90 days of storage. Data that are stored online take space on servers that require energy to be active 24/7. The same applies to applications downloaded on smartphones. The average retention of apps downloaded on phones falls to 5 per cent after 90 days. When we compare these findings with the exponential growth of data storage and apps, both at home and in the office, we should probably rethink what we do.
- Review and clean our files and apps regularly.
- Stop keeping and storing data that we know will never be used again.
- Reduce the file size of our documents, images, video and other multimedia assets.
- Think twice before downloading or uploading files or new apps.
5. Act more sustainably in online meetings.
The pandemic has drastically changed the way we work. With the possibility to work remotely and hybrid working becoming increasingly the norm, we are resorting more and more to online meetings. This allows organizations to continue performing and lays the foundation for even more collaboration across the globe while reducing travel, saving costs and reducing the organizational carbon footprint. However, online meetings unfortunately have some hidden costs in terms of bandwidth use, which means more energy consumed. See this calculator that allows you to compute your footprint for online meetings. While it is good to have cameras on to be connected, here are a few tips to reduce the carbon footprint.
- Use video when in a call only as needed (e.g. to meet and greet, when speaking or for small team meetings).
- Stream our videos or audio in standard definition.
- Reduce participation in unnecessary online meetings.
- When all participants are in the office, meet in person and not online.