Digital Footprint: Practical Tips To Help You Learn How To Balancing Tech And Sustainability

Digital Footprint: Practical Tips To Help You Learn How To Balancing Tech And Sustainability

Have you ever wondered how watching Netflix, sending an email, or for that matter, our WhatsApp chats are all causing harm to the environment?

Anjali KochharUpdated: Sunday, June 09, 2024, 02:27 AM IST
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Have you ever wondered how watching Netflix, sending an email, or for that matter, our WhatsApp chats are all causing harm to the environment? I mean, we thought that by replacing paper, we are doing good to the environment. However, such is not true! This digital world, we are living in, is coming with a huge cost.

According to a recent study, the digital sector, including data centres, telecommunications networks, and user devices, accounts for approximately 2-3% of global CO2 emissions. This is comparable to the aviation industry. Let us discuss in detail, what is digital carbon footprint, how is it harming the environment and what can we do to reduce it.

What is digital footprint?

The concept of a digital carbon footprint refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), that are emitted as a result of our digital activities. This includes everything from using smartphones and computers to streaming videos and hosting websites.

Key contributors 

Data centers

Internet of Things

Cloud computing

The impact of cryptocurrency mining

E-waste

Manufacturing emissions

Networking, among others

Impact on environment

Energy Consumption: Household devices like computers, smartphones, tablets, and smart home devices consume electricity. Constantly plugged-in and running devices increase energy consumption. Vishal Laddha, co-founder of Rice Straw, also points out that many devices consume power even when they are not actively in use but remain plugged in (also known as phantom or standby power).

The Internet Usage Dilemma: While internet usage cannot be completely cut off now as it has become a major part of all of our lives, there is no denying of the fact that it is causing harm to the environment. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) reports that the ICT sector's electricity consumption could increase by 5-7% per year, driven largely by the growth in internet traffic and data transmission. Streaming a video in high definition (HD) for an hour can emit up to 0.5 kg of CO2, whereas streaming in standard definition (SD) reduces this to about 0.2 kg of CO2. Sri Hari, Chief Business Officer of GenY Medium, brings up that most of the web pages never even receive a single session visit and yet they are hosted and stored on cloud infra. “Most of the photos we save on our drives are often low quality (blurs and delete-ables) and yet they occupy huge amounts of server space and need more and more physical storage at the data hosting end,” he adds.

GenAI Effects: Chaaya Baradhwaaj, Founder and managing Director at the digital agency BC Web Wise rightly points out the impact of Generative Artificial Intelligence on our environment. “Today most of us use GenAI for a host of routine tasks thanks to the convenience it offers. But one of the lesser-known aspects of GenAI is the effect it has on global warming and water consumption,” she adds. According to research, every 10-50 prompts on GenAI platforms consume around 500 ml of water to cool down the servers and data centres which generate tremendous amounts of heat.

Cryptocurrency Mining: Gauranga Das Prabhu, director of ISKCON’s Eco Village believes that cryptocurrency mining, particularly Bitcoin, is notorious for its environmental impact. “The process involves solving complex mathematical problems, requiring significant computational power and, consequently, vast amounts of electricity,” he adds. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimated that Bitcoin mining alone consumes more energy annually than in some countries, such as Argentina.

Manufacturing and e-waste: The world generates about 50 million tonnes of e-waste annually, with only 20% being recycled, causing environmental and health risks due to toxic substances. Similarly, the manufacturing process of digital devices is energy-intensive, contributing to substantial carbon emissions and environmental pollution. Dikshu Kukreja, Urban Planner, Renowned Architect, and Environmentalist, also points out that the shorter lifespans of digital devices increase the frequency of disposal and replacement, exacerbating e-waste issues.

Reducing digital footprint

Clean Up Your Cloud: It is important to clean up your cloud from time to time. Make sure you are not getting into the trap of buying more space as remember it is going to harm the environment. “Embrace sustainability with cloud storage and digital minimalism for efficient, eco-friendly practices in the digital realm,” says Prateek Sethi, founder of TRIP.

Unsubscribe ruthlessly: Just do it right away! Click on the unsubscribe button! Clean out your inbox of unwanted emails to reduce server load.

Conscious Consumption: Cisco's Visual Networking Index projects that global internet traffic will reach 4.8 zettabytes per year by 2022, up from 1.5 zettabytes in 2017. This growth is primarily due to the increase in video streaming, cloud services, and internet-connected devices (IoT). So, make sure you don’t become a part of it. Consume content consciously. Stop scrolling your Instagram after every hour.

Proof of stake mining: Gauranga Das Prabhu suggests transitioning to less energy-intensive consensus mechanisms, such as Proof of Stake (PoS), can drastically reduce energy consumption in cryptocurrency mining. Additionally, miners can use renewable energy sources to power their operations, thereby decreasing their carbon footprint.

Green data centres: Support and use services that rely on green data centres powered by renewable energy sources.

Recycle and reuse: The rapid pace of technological advancement leads to frequent upgrades and disposal of digital devices. This results in a significant accumulation of electronic waste (e-waste), which often contains hazardous materials that can harm the environment. Ravi Kaushik, founder of AiRTH, advocates the phenomenon of recycling and reusing. Promote and participate in electronic recycling programs and support products designed with longevity and upgradability in mind. Educate consumers on the importance of proper e-waste disposal and the potential harm of improper handling.

Well, it’s not just one day that we should celebrate our environment. It should be every day. So including minimalism in our digital lifestyle can take us long way when it comes to saving the environment. Phani Tangirala, Senior Director, Expleo believes that individuals and businesses can adopt several strategies to reduce their digital carbon footprints by optimising data storage, reducing physical office energy consumption, and adopting energy-efficient cloud services. “Individuals can also contribute by limiting unnecessary digital storage, reducing video streaming quality, and responsibly recycling electronic devices. Overall, a collective effort to be mindful of digital usage and waste can significantly lessen the environmental impact of our digital footprint,” he adds.

A collective effort will take us a long way. 

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