With so many of us reliant on digital tech to communicate and orient our daily lives, we are starting to ask, how sustainable are our digital lives? Do we have the option for net-zero carbon footprint website browsing? Or even better, can we offset our carbon footprint through our digital activity?
Digital sustainability has three parts, let’s take a look at each:
- Lowering the environmental impact and carbon footprint of our digital activity
- Harnessing the power of digital to support sustainability initiatives
- Merging digitisation and sustainability
To demystify the first part of digital sustainability, we need to understand that our digital lives and online world does not come without a cost to the planet and its natural resources. In fact, simple online search engine and website activity uses energy, not just the energy used to power your computer or charge your phone, but also the energy to power big website servers that host these online platforms.
The energy demand for servers is big. In understanding this, there has been a greater drive to incorporate renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind, to power server farms. Website hosting platforms such as Greenhost, powers their servers from wind energy and Kualo Hosting has servers powered by solar. These are some of the biggest and fastest website hosting platforms that have servers powered by renewable sources of energy.
If renewable energy is not possible, offsetting the carbon footprint that is associated with the energy consumption is the next best option. What does this look like? Search engine, Ecosia operates like any other search engine – the online experience you have with Ecosia would essentially be the same as Google, except for every search creates revenue that is then allocated toward planting trees.
This is an example of the second part of digital sustainability where the power of online and digital activity is used to harness funding and support for environmental initiatives. To date, Ecosia has been responsible for planting 163 million trees at 13 000 different sites around the world. While the example of Ecosia is admirable, could you imagine the extent of a positive impact that Instagram or Facebook could possibly have if they decided to allocate a percentage of revenue towards tree planting? Perhaps we could regenerate a big portion of the Amazon which saw the greatest-ever deforestation rate in September 2022, with 1,455 square kilometres of rainforest destroyed, an area almost twice the size of New York City.
Digital sustainability is not only relevant on an everyday consumer level, but also at the highest level of business. It is no good for a company to state their sustainability plans, it needs to be backed by data and metrics. Funders and investors are taking a closer look at sustainability and much like finance, sustainability performance needs to be backed by data. Whether it be atmospheric emissions monitoring, waste management, and recycling, or water use and management, implementing digitised data capturing systems is required to present reliable sustainability information. This form of digital sustainability merges data capturing and processing systems with your sustainability initiatives. Through new ‘responsible investment’ approaches, like environmental, social, and governance (ESG) models – investors are not only looking at the financial potential of a company, but also its sustainability, and ability to be proven with data and metrics.
This is the third part of digital sustainability – merging sustainability with digital systems, or simply, digitising sustainability.