Because it seems intangible and immaterial, it doesn’t occur to us that digital usage patterns have ecological impact. Like other sectors, digital media must be cleaner, more transparent and more responsible. Let’s start the journey towards eco-friendly digital media!
Countless work-related or personal emails, online searches, videoconferences, video streaming, connected objects and soon, the 5G rollout… Eco-friendly digital media, which encompasses all of these digital technologies, accounts for about 6-10% of worldwide electricity usage. Which represented 4% of greenhouse gases in 2019, and will reach 8% by 2025. 47% of this is down to hardware and 53% to data centres and network infrastructure, according to ADEME (the French agency for ecological transition). The Shift Project, an energy transition think tank, proposes solutions for switching “from instinctive or even compulsive digital media use to controlled digital media use”. Welcome to “digital sobriety”!
The manufacturing of the downscaled components in our computers, televisions, mobile phones and connected objects requires rare, precious metals, which can be hazardous to biodiversity and human health. Their large-scale extraction contributes to the depletion of natural resources. It is often carried out in terrible working conditions, in parts of the world where there are often geopolitical conflicts over these operations. Industrial processing and end-of-life management in respect of all this computer hardware require chemical treatments that pollute the soil and waterways, because these metals are a real challenge when it comes to recycling. For example, manufacturing a laptop computer generates, on average, 330 kg of CO2.
- Hold onto hardware for longer
- Get hardware repaired rather than replacing it
- Fight planned obsolescence
- Buy reconditioned second-hand hardware which has been cleaned up, serviced and checked
- At the end of the hardware’s useful life, be sure to take it to a collection point (computer hardware retailer, collection bin, etc.) so that it can be correctly recycled
Pollution caused by digital media use
Digital media usage habits also have a big carbon footprint. Whenever you send an e-mail, its content is directed to a data centre that processes the message, stores it and transfers it to the network. After this transit phase, this message passes through another data centre before being sent on to the recipient. Sending six e-mails emits as much CO2 as making a 1 km car journey. Another example: Even before the pandemic hit, it was estimated that video on demand services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) represented a level of emissions equivalent to that of a country like Chile (source: The Shift Project, 2019 report)
Eco-friendly habits to embrace
- Add sites that you visit frequently to your favourites. This cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by going directly to a site, instead of getting there via a search engine. To do so, you can either check your browser history, set up favourites or enter the full URL into your browser.
- Close web pages once you have completed your search. Web browsers permanently update open pages, even if you are no longer viewing them. To do so, they draw on web servers that use a lot of energy. So close unused web pages and tabs, and delete cookies regularly to lighten the load for web servers.
- Empty your inbox regularly and block spam.
- Connect smartphones to Wi-Fi rather than 4G, as Wi-Fi is less demanding of the network.
- Limit file size. Optimise the size of document files sent as attachments, delete attachments that serve no purpose, use a link to the cloud, or better still a USB stick.
- Uninstall unusued applications from your smartphone.
- Use video streaming services reasonably. Online videos account for 60% of worldwide data flows, and are responsible for some 1% of worldwide CO2 emissions. To reduce this growing impact, turn off autoplay in app settings, favour music downloads over audio streaming, radio over music clips and select reduced video solution.
Companies and the authorities have a major role to play in eco-friendly digital media. But we can all do our bit towards it from behind our screens day in, day out.
For further details : The ADEME guide to responsible digital media