If you’ve read our last article on Ecodesign of Digital Services, you probably remember this alarming figure: digital technologies already account for 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than aviation. And both companies and individuals have a role to play to reduce these emissions! In this article, we share our tips to lower our digital impact at the individual level. 

Tip #1: Limit your digital devices

Did you know that the number of digital devices worldwide (smartphones, computers, and other connected objects) exceeds 34 billion? This represents approximately 8 devices per person between 15 and 79 years old – and consumes more electricity than data centers. Would the world really be worse if we limited ourselves to two devices?

Worst of all, to consider the entire impact of a digital device, one cannot limit it to its energy consumption but must consider the production process as well in terms of “grey energy” (the hidden energy associated with a product) and the waste it generates. That’s what we call the “ecological rucksack”: the total quantity of materials removed from nature to create a product or service, minus the actual weight of the product. It considers the entire production process, from the cradle to the point when the product is ready for use.

For instance, manufacturing a 2 kg computer requires the mobilization of 800 kg of raw materials, and generates 124 kg of CO2, out of the 169 kg that will be emitted over its entire life cycle.

So if you really need to replace an old device, consider repairing it or buying a refurbishedone!

Of course, this means that the devices themselves must be conceived to be lasting and repairable. The Fairphone is a great example of a smartphone designed to be easily repairable – and using responsible material. But not every manufacturer has taken the same path. This is the mission of the association Stop Planned Obsolescence: to fight planned obsolescence.

Tip #2: Reduce your electrical consumption

Besides weighing on the household budget, our electrical consumption also has an impact in terms of the global ecological footprint. The good news is: reducing your electrical consumption is easier than you may think. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Unplug unused electronics: TV screen, computer, … For instance, an internet box consumes as much as a fridge, you might as well turn it off when not in use. A study showed that standby devices waste the equivalent of 2 nuclear plants in France
  • Mutualize the resources: do we really need 50 Internet boxes in the 50 apartments of a building?
  • Replace old bulbs with low-energy LEDs.
  • Put on a sweater and set the temperature of the occupied rooms to 19°C in winter.

Tip #3: Be sober with your Internet consumption

Most of us are used to Googling any information without realizing that our internet consumption also impacts the environment. 

Tip #4: Don’t overload data centers

Data centers represent 3% of the global electricity supply and account for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In 2016, it was reported that the world’s data centers used 416.2 terawatt-hours – more than Britain’s total electricity consumption of 300 terawatt-hours. Predictions state that the energy consumption of data centers is set to account for 3.2% of the total worldwide carbon emissions by 2025 and they could consume no less than a fifth of global electricity. But we could curb the curve by adopting simple rules, such as:

  • Favoring local storage over the cloud.
  • Deleting old photos and screenshots, especially those stored on cloud servers, and reducing the quality of photos on your smartphone.
  • Avoiding to send too many emails, especially with heavy attachments or high definition images. A 1 megabyte (MB) e-mail emits 20 g of CO2 during its total life cycle, which is equivalent to an old 60 W lamp switched on for 25 min. Likewise, 20 emails a day per user over one year, create the same CO2 emissions as a car traveling 1000 km.
  • Limiting the number of recipients to those who are necessary: putting someone in copy in an email emits 6 g of CO2.
  • Regularly sorting through our emails, including spam and old newsletters.

If we want to make a change and reduce our carbon emissions, the first step is to understand the problem. The association The Digital Collage facilitates workshops to understand as a team and in a playful way the environmental issues of the digital world (their website is only in French for now, but the workshop exists in English too).

Have you found these tips useful? Tell us what you think in the comment section!

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash


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