Introduction To Digital Decarbonisation: Business Edition

Introduction To Digital Decarbonisation: Business Edition

Posting on social media, receiving an email, creating a document or downloading a pdf. Our world thrives on digital data, especially due to the hit of COVID-19, adoption of digital technologies has rapidly increased. Both individuals and companies are harnessing the advantages of digitalization, which, to some extent, is beneficial to the environment. How? Well, technologies allow us to create efficient systems, lower energy consumption, improve monitoring, reduce commuting due to hybrid and online working options and even reduce paper consumption. With all these advantages and the push of the global pandemic, companies are grasping this opportunity, often relating it to their transformation towards more sustainable operations. 

70% of companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or are working on one and 21% of companies think they’ve already completed digital transformation.  

By Blake Morgan, Forbes

Nonetheless, all this data has to be stored somewhere. And so it is that we are battling a silent enemy, a type of waste that is related to our use of technology not only physically but also digitally. Let us introduce you to digital decarbonisation, offering actionable steps for companies, offices, and individuals to minimize our impact on the digital sphere.

Getting Started With Digital Decarbonisation

Firstly, digital decarbonisation focuses on the utilisation of data and technology responsibly within organizations to minimize the environmental impact of digital activities. After all, by adopting sustainable digital practices, organizations can achieve digital decarbonization, which reduces the carbon footprint associated with data storage, processing, and use.

Optimization through digital decarbonisation
Photo from Canva.com

Let’s have a look at the key concepts of digital sustainability! 

Key Digital Sustainability Concepts

Concept Description Environmental Impact Social Impact Economic Impact 
Cloud waste Unnecessary data stored in cloud storage (emails, documents, etc.) that are rarely or never used. The concept focuses on data storage and management within cloud computing environments.  High energy consumption by data centers to store and maintain unused data.
Cloud computing requires data centres and servers that consume significant energy.
Reduced data volume lowers the risk of data breaches. Increased cloud storage bills for companies and individuals.
Reduction of cloud waste can improve efficiency. Faster access and easier organization of important data saves time and effort.
Digital waste The lifecycle of electronic data across storage locations. The broad term encompasses all forms of unnecessary electronic data, including cloud waste, old files on devices, and spam emails. High energy consumption for data storage and processing. It can also contribute to e-waste if data resides on unused devices. Fewer unnecessary files reduce vulnerability to data breaches. Costly storage fees and need for infrastructure optimisation.
Potential loss of productivity due to difficulty finding important information.
E-waste Electronic waste refers to physically discarded electrical or electronic devices. Pollution from improper disposal of hazardous materials in e-waste. It can also contribute to resource depletion if not recycled properly. Health risks from toxic materials in landfills. Job creation in the e-waste recycling sector. Potential loss of valuable resources if not recycled.
Digital decarbonization Addresses the overall environmental footprint of digital technologies and the efforts to reduce the environmental impact of digital tech by minimizing digital waste and e-waste and promoting energy-efficient practices. Reduces greenhouse gas emissions from data centres and electronic devices. It creates awareness and promotes responsible digital habits. Potential cost savings from reduced energy consumption and cloud storage needs.
Table of Digital Sustainability Key Concepts

Digital Sustainability Concepts Empowering Consumers

Each concept focuses on a specific aspect of digital sustainability. Cloud waste and digital waste focus on data, while e-waste focuses on physical devices. Digital decarbonisation considers the broader environmental impact, while planned obsolescence and right-to-repair influence e-waste generation from a design and consumer rights perspective.

Concept Description Environmental Impact Social Impact Economic Impact 
Planned obsolescence The practice of designing devices with a shorter lifespan encourages frequent upgrades. Increases e-waste as devices are discarded prematurely. Limits consumer choice and satisfaction.  Increased profits for manufacturers due to more frequent device sales.
Right to repair The movement advocates for consumer rights to repair electronic devices, potentially extending their lifespan and reducing e-waste. Reduces e-waste by allowing consumers to fix devices instead of replacing them. Empowers consumers and promotes product sustainability. Potential loss of profits for manufacturers if consumers repair devices instead of buying new ones.
Table of Other Digital Sustainability Concepts

The World of Data

The world’s focus on achieving net zero emissions, often seen in national strategies and new environmental policies, has specifically emphasized reducing physical emissions from businesses. Evidently, this serves as an additional push factor for companies to acquire digital alternatives.

The world of data
Photo from Canva.com

However, data generation and storage from individuals and devices, coupled with the rise of the blockchain, metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI), is creating a significant environmental burden. Not to mention that, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), “electricity consumption from data centres, AI and the cryptocurrency sector could double by 2026”. Despite this, government policies largely ignore these costs. Data centres, for example, are major energy consumers, and the data they store often goes unused. 

“Data centres are significant drivers of growth in electricity demand in many regions. After globally consuming an estimated 460 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2022, data centres’ total electricity consumption could reach more than 1,000 TWh in 2026. This demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan.” 

International Energy Agency (IEA)

Data Adding To Global Emissions

All of this “digital waste” contributes substantially to global emissions. While headlines focus on traditional industries like transportation, the data industry’s future emissions could eclipse them all. The way organizations view digital data needs a revolution. Therefore, we must recognize that using, processing, and storing data comes with an environmental price tag. In order to tackle this, collaboration is crucial. By bringing together academics, data scientists, policymakers, and businesses, we can surely foster responsible data practices. Sharing knowledge on energy-efficient methods, establishing clear best practices, and promoting transparency in data’s carbon footprint will allow us to unlock the power of data while minimizing its environmental impact.

Digital Footprint

Our insatiable appetite for data storage comes with a hidden cost, but we can still do something about it.

Digital Footprint
Photo from Canva.com

In detail, storing massive amounts of data requires enormous storage devices, which run 24/7. Without a doubt, this relentless operation demands significant power to keep everything running smoothly. Furthermore, beyond the data centres themselves, additional hardware and support systems are needed to prevent overheating, like cooling fans and fire suppression. The more data we generate, the more storage devices and support systems we require. This also translates to a surge in electricity consumption, leading to increased carbon emissions. These emissions further contribute to global warming and climate change and, ultimately, threaten the health of our planet.

Digital data is generated by humans, every second, in every corner of the world.

The rapid growth of cloud adoption is a double-edged sword. Hence, as companies opt for the cloud with their workloads, the potential for cloud waste expands alongside it. In particular, businesses eager to embrace these advancements often add services without fully considering their long-term use. For organizations, this can be especially costly, as the money used for cloud storage can be used to run other projects beneficial for the organization, making the organization not only more efficient but also more sustainable.

Tips for Digital Decarbonisation

Organisational Digital Decarbonisation

  • Use renewable energy sources
  • Assess digital landscape 
  • Development of efficient software as well as hardware
  • Implement data governance & lifecycle management
  • Optimize cloud storage
  • Invest in green IT practices 
  • Employee training and awareness
  • Practice responsible e-waste disposal

Office Community Digital Decarbonisation

  • File management
  • Email practices
  • Go paperless 
  • Optimize device use 
  • Network optimization
  • Unplug devices 
  • Optimize power settings
  • Implement efficient digital project management

Individual Digital Decarbonisation

Do you want to help your company become more digitally green? If your company hasn’t heard about digital decarbonisation, please share the word. Until then… here are some actions that you can take by yourself: 

  • Raise awareness 
  • Cleanup your desktop
  • Manage your inbox 
  • Embrace cloud storage
  • Declutter your digital space 
  • Be mindful of email habits
  • Choose energy-efficient devices 
  • Think before you share

A Behavioural Approach to Decarbonization

Digital decarbonization isn’t just about technology; it’s about understanding how people make choices. Traditional economic models often assume people are rational, but behavioural economics recognizes that people are not always perfectly logical. There’s a clear difference between intention and action – people may want to be environmentally friendly, but they often stick to the default option or avoid changes due to cost or aversion to losses.

Photo by Magic Media AI from Canva.com

After all, looking at behaviour helps us understand cognitive biases and difficulties in decision-making. By using small incentives, stimuli, or “nudges,” we can subtly influence individuals to make further environmentally friendly decisions without restricting freedom.

By implementing these strategies, your company can become a leader in cloud sustainability. Remember, every byte you save makes a difference!

 

LET’S WORK TOGETHER TO BUILD A CLEANER AND MORE EFFICIENT DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT

 

Would you like to know more about solution-driven actions for businesses and individuals? Stay tuned and follow our social media for more tips or guides.

 

Get the full step-by-step DIGITAL DECARBONISATION GUIDE here

 

 

Bibiana

Article by Bibiana Eva Bartschova. I am an impact-driven researcher from the Czech Republic. My passion for the circular economy led me on a journey of discovery, equipping me with research skills and a desire to contribute to a sustainable future through innovative solutions.

 

Back to blog

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these third-party sites, we may earn a small commission at NO ADDITIONAL cost to you. Learn more here.

Article also published in our founder's blog: My Shade of Green