Lightening Your Digital Footprint

Written by Ali Fisher

Let’s be honest, it’s not been the year for socialising. A friend recently sent me a meme with a picture of a bin inscribed with ‘2020: The year the bin went out more than me’. I thought it was very apt. For most of us, it’s been the year for being on-line. During the April national lockdown, the UK’s internet usage surged to record levels, as we went online for work, socialising, exercising and entertainment, like never before.

All this digital activity is leaving a growing carbon footprint on the planet. If you add up all the carbon emissions from our tech gadgets, our use of the internet and the systems supporting them, it would account for around 3.7% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s about equal to the global emissions of the airline industry. There’s lots to be gained if we can lighten our digital footprint.

Add up all the carbon emissions from our tech gadgets, our use of the internet and the systems supporting them, it would account for around 3.7% of our global greenhouse gas emissions.

What action can we take as we head into winter and, in current circumstances, are more likely than ever to be connecting online for work and social? Given digital emissions are less obvious (generally there’s no smoke piling out the back of your laptop or TV), we probably need to be a bit more planned to kick start this behaviour change.

1 Switch to renewable energy
Being online requires electricity. Check to see how much of your energy supply is coming from renewables, like wind and solar. If you don’t like the answer, consider switching to one that is 100% renewable. Have a look at http://www.bigcleanswitch.org to compare options.

Being online requires electricity. Check to see how much of your energy supply is coming from renewables, like wind and solar.

2 Less is more with emails
Apparently, we are guilty of sending 64 million unnecessary emails in the UK every day! If every adult in this country sent one less email a day, it would save the equivalent carbon emissions of 80,000 flights from London to Madrid.

3 Delete from storage
Nearly a quarter of our digital energy consumption comes from data storage so don’t be afraid to have a regular clear out of emails, junk mail, trashed mail, folders, attachments, unused apps & surplus photos.

4 Unsubscribe today
Have you checked your junk mail recently? Might be worth a peak. Likely there are emails you subscribed to yonks ago and keep getting without even realising it. Most companies make it easy to unsubscribe these days so go ahead and have a good purge of the spam folder. It can be quite therapeutic.

5 Love your tech
Over half the carbon footprint of the information and tech industry sits in the end-user devices, from the mini tech we hold in our hands to the bulkier tech hogging our desk space. If we can take care of them – protective cases & screens, good maintenance and trying not to lose them – and resist the temptation of constant upgrades, then that might just be our biggest contribution to reducing our
digital carbon footprint.

If every adult in this country sent one less email a day, it would save the equivalent carbon emissions of 80,000 flights from London to Madrid.

6 Unplug overnight
Charge your phone before bed. The average mobile takes 2 hours to charge – not the whole night! By leaving phones charging over-night we could be charging for 3-4 times longer than needed. Talk about an easy win! Plus it might stop that cheeky last look at your phone before bed which is never
a night-time soother.

7 Pick up the blower
If you’re not needing to meet with multiple people online or presenting, try swapping out some of the video calls for the old fashioned phone. As a bonus you can be more mobile with it. Take a walk and get some fresh air or just stand up and stretch. The climate will thank you for the lighter carbon footprint of a call over conference technology.

8 Don’t stand-by, switch off
After a long day/night’s work, your screens deserve a proper switch off and recharge so make sure you hit the off switch. Three quarters of us say we leave electrical items on standby. Tut-tut! On average, we are wasting £80 a year by being on standby rather than switching off. If you’re struggling with this challenge, start with the worst offenders. Games consoles switch to idle mode when not in use which consumes almost as much power as when in use.

Games consoles switch to idle mode when not in use which consumes almost as much power as when in use.

9 Website weight
If you run your own website or know someone who does, you can likely reduce the digital burden of your website by reviewing page weights. Video files and gifs can be especially heavy. It’s also worth checking if your website host runs on renewable energy.

Before we beat ourselves up too much for our increasing screen time, technology is saving us many emissions too. There is a definite upside so, like many things, it’s a balancing act. Last year, Zoom calculated that it’s top ten clients saved 685,000 metric tonnes of CO2 in just 3 months – that’s the equivalent of planting 11 million trees, and that was before Covid-19 hit.

So, as we hunker down for the winter, let’s crack on with our digital spring clean. Let’s start with cleaning out our digital cupboards from emails to files and photos; let’s lessen our email obsession; let’s check that we’re running on renewable where-ever we can; let’s get off the screen and pick up the blower more often; let’s unplug and unsubscribe.

Technology is here to keep us connected. Let’s use it as effectively and efficiently as we can. Let’s embrace all the opportunity it has to offer whilst doing so with the very lightest of digital footprints.

Ali Fisher lives in Burpham. She supports businesses and brands to help build a more sustainable future. PlansWithPurpose.co.uk

 

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