Sustainability of technology
Development Worker Craig, recently attended the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) event, How to use digital technologies sustainably. Here he summarises the content from speaker Hannah Smith’s presentation.
Sustainability of technology is much more than just measuring carbon emissions.
The production of physical hardware for running digital technology requires many natural resources. And the devices we all use daily are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to remember about the data cables that bring us the information. Also, the huge data centres that hold all of our information need huge resource too. As well as rare raw materials, datacentres require large amount of land and consume huge volumes of water (for cooling). The idea of data being stored in the “cloud” is very misleading.
The energy resource required to keep the whole digital system running is huge too, whether energy comes from fossil fuels, renewables or nuclear.
Information Communication Technology (ICT) creates a lot of greenhouse gas. It is estimated that between 2.1% and 3.9% of global emissions come from ICT. If it were a country, it would be the 7th biggest polluter. The reason tech creates such a large footprint is due to data. Data transfer requires electricity. The more data is transferred, the more electricity is used and the bigger the carbon footprint. Website Carbon is a great online tool that can tell you the impact of any website.
If you can reduce the volume of data in your website, you can reduce its carbon footprint.
What device are you using?
Most of the total pollution from digital devices comes from their manufacture. Often this requires rare raw material which are hard to find and hard to recycle. Consider if you really need to upgrade to the latest device. Perhaps you could opt for a refurbished or second hand one instead? Another option would be to repair or upgrade a broken device
There are also more ethically made devices on the market too.
Where does your energy come from?
Review what electricity sources you and your suppliers use and opt for renewable power. Renewable electricity still requires natural resources, but to a lesser extent than fossil fuels. The Green Hosting Directory can help identify hosting companies using sustainable energy.
As well as ensuring you are using the lowest impact energy possible, you need to look at reducing your energy consumption too.
How much data is being sent to the user?
Data transfer, equals emissions created. So reduce the amount of stuff you are loading. If you manage a webpage, make it less data heavy. This will also improve performance and optimisation of your site.
- You could remove old data from your website or servers. Reduce backups, archives and data logs.
- Running fewer analytics will save energy, making sure you only collect data that you will actually use and only do so when you want to use it.
- If you have videos on your site or have embedded from your YouTube channel, switch off auto-play and make them accessible on demand only.
But, making things more efficient doesn’t always have the required effects. Often, making things easier to use can result in more traffic to a site, which leads to higher emissions.
Sustainability of technology: the bigger picture
When it comes to technology, we need to consider the bigger picture. Do we need more and more, faster and faster tech? Do we need immediate gratification that technology and new devices gives us? Must we really have all the answers right here, right now?
We need to consider who stands to benefit from increased adoption of technology? Who is making the decisions and stands to make gains? And perhaps more importantly, we need to think about who stands to lose out? Whose needs are being ignored?
Sustainability of technology isn’t just about reducing emission, it is about fairness and justice as well.
You can follow Hannah on Twitter @hanopcan
Greener Kirkcaldy offer a technology recycling service in partnership with the Edinburgh Remakery. Find out more here.|