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Sustainability in a digital world

When we think about creating a more sustainable world and reducing waste, we don’t often think about the waste we create digitally. But just think about how quickly you would unsubscribe to all those newsletters if they physically came through your letterbox every month, every week, or even every day?

There is a huge energy cost to all our online activity. Digital is not green. Digital is electrical, meaning that everything we do in digital consumes energy and creates pollution.

Each activity you perform online comes with an energy cost. When data is stored in the cloud it is not whizzing above our heads but rather in enormous data centres all over the world. Vast amounts of energy are required to power the data centres and the huge servers needed to support the internet and to store the content we access and save (the digital communications industry has higher carbon emissions than the aviation industry).

In Ireland alone data centres use just over 13% of the country’s total electricity – with projections towards 30% by the end of this decade.

Every photo, video, and file you save is stored repeatedly for security reasons and this consumes energy every time. Every mail and message that your send or that lands and is stored in your email or messaging app also requires computing power and electricity.

So, what can you do to reduce your digital carbon footprint?

In work
Consider whether it is necessary to send a message (for example, a thank you or thumbs up response etc).
Delete junk and spam mail and unsubscribe from newsletters you do not read.
Regularly clean out old messages from your inbox.
Regularly clean up your cloud storage and delete useless files.

At home
Do a digital spring clean of all your saved photos and files.
Reduce the amount of time spent refreshing news feed apps!
Reduce pressure on the internet infrastructure (and in turn energy usage) by downloading movies, shows and playlists you know you will be watching or listening to repeatedly instead of streaming them every time.
Reduce the resolution of the videos you watch to significantly reduce the data required to stream them.
The same principle applies to messaging apps such as WhatsApp – think twice before forwarding images, videos and memes!

Finally, check out the Forest app – it’s a free app that plants trees in return for you not using your phone. You set how long you want to stay off your phone, put it away, and Forest does the rest. If you forget and pick up your phone again, Forest will tell you how many trees you’ve planted in the time you’ve been away and ask you if you want to continue… helping to reduce your digital carbon impact.

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