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8 Ways to Minimize Your Digital Carbon Footprint

In Climate, Digital Technologies, Micro-Feature, Sustainability by Scott

Related to UN SDG:
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8 Ways to Minimize Your Digital Carbon Footprint

It’s clear to see that digital transformation has spearheaded widespread changes in how modern businesses operate. With innovative and accessible technology at our beck and call, it’s no wonder why many company leaders have ambitious IT objectives for 2023, and how technology can be leveraged to drive their company’s continuous improvement.

Corporate social responsibility is also a high priority for many company owners and leaders, given that over 77% of consumers are more inclined to purchase from companies committed to reducing carbon emissions. Climate change is still one of the hugest challenges facing humanity’s future, and while governments worldwide are trying to combat rising temperatures on a global scale, there are still ways individuals and businesses can help positively contribute to the environment.

Going digital has its perks, certainly, in terms of how it reduces global emissions (as much as 20% according to the World Economic Forum). However, our collective consumption of data, along with our utilization of portable devices, hardware, networks, and so on, still has an impact on our digital carbon footprint. From the electricity needed to charge and use computers to the expended energy used to build, transport, install and maintain large-scale servers in data centers. What’s more, our digital consumption is only growing with the emergence of cryptocurrencies, 5G network connectivity, and artificial intelligence, coupled with the rising world population.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take to minimize the impact that your company’s technology might have on the environment. What’s more encouraging is that 98% of global companies are, according to ENGIE Impact’s 2023 Net Zero Report, “making progress toward stated decarbonization targets.” So if you want to do the right thing for the planet, demonstrate your commitment to environmental sustainability, and appeal to more like-minded clients, consumers or investors, consider following the below carbon reduction tips. All guidance is provided for information purposes only.

1. Repurpose Hardware Where Possible

Buying fewer new devices and instead choosing second-hand or refurbished equipment is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. Manufacturing is responsible for large amounts of carbon emissions and also leaches harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, so consuming less can make a vital difference. It doesn’t matter what your hardware is. Reusing high-quality computers, company phones, server racks, cabling, monitors, disk drives, speakers, or even audio-visual recording equipment will go a long way in reducing emissions as well as demand for conflict minerals.

2. Donate or Recycle Old Devices

If any hardware can’t be repurposed or repaired efficiently, then you can dispose of the hardware ethically and conveniently. Surprisingly, few people are aware of how to properly discard used and unwanted electronic products, with even fewer seemingly aware of the toxic chemicals leached from metals when buried. Any items that utilize plugs or batteries shouldn’t be disposed of in general waste bins and should instead be recycled. Hardware manufacturers are obligated to help you dispose of old machinery.

Alternatively, donating outdated - but still working - devices to charity shops can be a rewarding and energy-efficient move.

3. Clear Out Your Inbox Regularly

It might seem like an odd statistic, but every email sitting in your inbox roughly equates to 4g of carbon dioxide. However, when you look at this retrospectively, emails, like other computer-based activities, rely on data storage and electricity. Deleting or archiving emails, including subscription-based mailouts, communications, promotional materials, and documents shared with you can reduce the amount of energy that a data center is using to store and cool its servers. Alternatively, you can look at alternative email hosting providers such as Posteo or Kolab, which run on renewable energy.

4. Find a Committed Cloud Environment

Storing data in the cloud is an excellent way to make business operations easier and more sustainable in the long term. However, data centers typically use up to 50 times as much power per floor space as a typical office with an on-premise server, attributing to nearly 2% of total US electricity use. Despite this, there is reason to believe that more companies will take steps to reduce data center carbon emissions through initiatives like application modernization. More cloud providers - such as Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services - are committing to powering their data storage facilities with renewable energy. This can be reassuring for many business owners wanting to adopt new cloud technologies for their companies.

5. Be Smarter with Search Engines

Google, the most popular search engine, has openly admitted its sustainability steps. That said, there are other green options available. For example, the search engine Ecosia reinvests its profits in planting trees, committing to planting one after every 45 searches that you make. Similarly, the giveWater search engine distributes portions of its profits from its paid search ads to charitable partners that use these funds to provide clean water and sanitation for millions of people.

6. Use Renewable Web Hosting

Believe it or not, your website hosting can be made greener too. Hosting providers such as GreenGeeks, A2 or Kualo match power consumption with renewable energy and tree-planting activities, thereby proving themselves to be legitimately carbon negative.

Using eco-friendly and conscious web hosting solutions that use clean energy to power all websites on its servers can be an excellent solution. Standard web hosting consumes considerable energy, while green hosting is powered by renewable sources like solar and wind power, making a big difference in its running costs. Therefore, green web hosting can also be a cost-saver.

7. Reduce Brightness

Simply lowering the brightness on your devices can save lots of energy, not to mention being more comfortable for your eyes. Harvard Law School’s energy manager Eric Potkin found that reducing a computer monitor's brightness from 100% to 70% can save up to 20% of the energy it uses. This slight difference in brightness will be hardly noticeable to most, particularly for those that rely on computers for work, so reducing brightness is a small yet impactful step to take.

8. Turn Off Devices

Plugged-in devices will still use energy even when not in use. Therefore, if you’re not using a device, or when it has fully charged, unplug it.

The average laptop uses 15-60 watts of energy when in use, and when in sleep mode, this drops to 2 watts. While this energy reduction is ideal for short-term energy conservation, completely shutting the device down once you are done ensures that your device is not needlessly wasting energy.

These standby power loads account for roughly 1% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, so it makes sense to unplug and switch off.

Every single person cannot individually work miracles in reducing energy emissions. However, small steps can go a long way in terms of our collective efforts, in turn, influencing others to adopt similar practices to build a sustainable future.

Hopefully, these tips provide you with some simple actions that you can use as inspiration for changing everyday habits and routines. It’s clear that our growing demand for technology and our increasing need to be more sustainable need to be aligned, allowing us to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Contributor: Annie Button
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