Exploring the Environmental Impact of Our Online Activity

Digitization has led to increased energy consumption, particularly in data storage centers. We need to address the digital carbon footprint through concrete actions

By Carlos Roa

In this era of digital transformation, we have witnessed extraordinary advances that have redefined the way we interact, work, and live.

Reduced paper consumption and greater energy efficiency are just some of the benefits that digitization has brought about. However, there is also a significant and often overlooked environmental impact: the carbon footprint of our online activity.

One of the most worrying aspects is the increasing energy consumption associated with data storage. Server centers, which are the backbone of the digital infrastructure, consume huge amounts of energy.

To put it in perspective, these centers are estimated to use approximately 1% of the world’s energy, according to IT and technology firm DataSpan. A percentage that tends to increase over time, as the use of these services increases.

As a result, online content, and advertising provider TechTarget reports that data centers and data transmission networks are responsible for nearly 1% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to rising global temperatures and climate change.

This huge and growing – as well as little-known – level of consumption has a direct impact on CO2 emissions and, ultimately, on climate change.

The paradox is that, while the digital transformation has led to a notable reduction in the use of paper and other forms of physical consumption, the increase in the production, use, and transfer of data has generated an equally significant, if not greater, environmental impact.

Society is increasingly aware of the pollution generated by various industries and transportation, but the digital carbon footprint remains an underappreciated concept in the environmental sustainability conversation.

Servers Hit by Heat

Data storage not only carries a high energy cost but is itself vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as record heat waves, can severely affect the operability of data centers.

One example occurred in late July 2022 in the UK, when high temperatures caused cooling systems to fail at Google Cloud and Oracle data centers in London.

These incidents not only disrupted digital services, but also revealed the vulnerability of digital infrastructure to increasing extreme weather events.

Awareness and Action

In short, while digital transformation has brought significant benefits in terms of efficiency and accessibility, it has also exacerbated environmental challenges.

It is crucial that society recognizes and addresses the hidden environmental impact of our digital carbon footprint, through the implementation of more efficient data management practices and investment in renewable energy to power digital infrastructure.

Here are some recommended actions to take:

  1. Switch to electricity from 100% renewable sources like solar or wind power whenever available in your area.
  2. Use environmentally responsible search engines like Ecosia that plant trees with their ad revenue. This helps offset emissions from internet usage.
  3. Uninstall mobile applications and programs that are not being used.
  4. Delete e-mails that are no longer useful. Storing and processing emails requires energy from data centers.
  5. Declutter the devices and delete duplicate or unused documents, videos, and images. It lowers the energy needed to power and cool data centers.
  6. Reduce the size of the documents sent by e-mail to reduce the weight of the message.
  7. Cancel unread subscriptions, it saves the emissions from producing and distributing that content.

 

Concrete measures, such as those proposed, are needed to mitigate this impact as soon as possible and build a truly sustainable digital future.

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