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How The Digital Age is Harming the Planet

Digital technology is an extremely fast-growing industry and we must start thinking about the environmental cost of this new world. We can see the integration of technology in almost every aspect of life, companies are using smart devices to automate and virtualise services as a way of improving efficiency and productivity in numerous areas of their businesses. Although this is considered a positive thing for the most part, there is a range of environmental challenges that we’re faced with when it comes to technology and the internet.

What does the internet have to do with sustainability?

Just stop for a second and think about how many internet-connected devices there are in the world, including all the personal computers, smartphones, TVs, and Tablets. Plus the less obvious things you might think of such as smartwatches and vehicles, and home systems. We think of the internet as something short-lived, but in reality, the servers that host all the data and the devices themselves use a huge amount of energy and are therefore leaving behind a massive carbon footprint.

Although when compared to other sectors and activities, the carbon footprint produced by digital technology is considered passable (for now), there are still many environmental challenges to consider. According to studies, ICT (including communication networks, data centres and user devices) accounted for approximately 4-6% of global electricity use in 2020. Translated, if the ICT sector were a country, it would rank 3rd highest electricity consumer after China and the USA. Many of us don't even consider the environmental impacts of our online activity and we don't think about how every click and scroll uses energy. After all, why would we when there are loads of other things happening that have a way bigger impact on our climate? But we could do with being a bit more aware, especially with so much of our lives moving online nowadays.

What can we do about it?

Here I will discuss a few simple steps that we can take to help minimise the carbon footprint left behind by our online activity. Although they may only have little effect in the grand scheme of things it's important to remember that every bit of effort we make brings us closer to a healthier planet.

Reduce Screen Brightness

Have you ever been running on low battery when you were out and turned your brightness down to save battery until you reached a charger? This tip might be obvious to most but it is something that can be extremely helpful when it comes to saving energy. Research has shown that reducing the brightness on your device from 100% to 70%% can lower energy usage by up to 20%. The difference is barely noticeable to most, so lowering your brightness to a minimum comfortable level is an effective and easy way to save energy consumption. Something that follows a similar concept is dark mode. Using dark mode and opting for dark-coloured backgrounds and screensavers means the majority of the little pixels that light your screen are turned off, therefore, saving battery. Reducing the times that we charge our batteries means the more electricity we save.

Clean out your inbox

I think we can all agree that the spam mail we receive through the postbox is not only annoying but is also very wasteful as it all usually ends up in the bin. But did you know that unnecessary emails are also harmful to the environment? The invention of email intended to reduce the need for postal services. Over time people moved from sending physical letters to electronic mail instead, and although this is certainly better in terms of sustainability, electronic mail does in fact leave a carbon footprint. Storing all of your spam emails and deleted emails requires a lot of electricity, which is in most places generated by fossil fuels meaning that while they don't contribute to paper pollution, they do contribute to carbon emissions. Clearing out your unwanted mail and unsubscribing from unnecessary mailing lists can really help to reduce your digital carbon footprint.

Cut down online shopping

Online shopping has become such a norm these days mainly due to its convenience, but I think it's time people realised just how bad for the environment it really is. There are millions of online stores based all over the world and every one of these sites requires electricity to host and use. When shopping online it's so easy to spend hours at a time browsing through products, and consuming electricity and this is only one small part of it. The packaging and shipping process involved with online shopping produces huge amounts of plastic and air pollution that contribute to CO2 emissions. And with the ease of returns, half of the purchases only end up being shipped back and thrown into landfills. It doesn't seem realistic to completely cut online shopping but we should make more of an effort to shop locally and support the small businesses in our areas. Donating unwanted clothes, buying second hand and swapping items with friends are great ways to shop more sustainably. And visiting your local markets for fresh produce is much healthier for the planet and also better for you. Not to mention these are often the much cheaper options, so what's there to lose?

Digital sobriety

The most impactful thing that we can do out of all of these is to cut down on the amount of time we spend online and using our devices. This may sound like a lecture from your mother but after all, it is the truth. The single best way to lower your energy consumption is by turning off your devices and occupying yourself with other activities such as going outside and enjoying nature, meeting your friends, taking on DIY projects, or reading a book. The list is endless. Not only is this better for the environment but all of these things have been proven to be beneficial for our mental health and well-being.

Individuals are not the single cause of climate change, for the most part, it comes down to the actions of big corporations. But we all need to work together in a combined effort to be more sustainable and it's crucial that we don't forget that every little thing helps. We must invest in our future and take action in any way we can to help the planet we call home.


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