A common rallying cry for “going digital” is environmental sustainability—using less print and paper, the argument goes, saves resources—but rarely do those making the argument consider the very real environmental costs of digital technology.
In an article published recently on The Guardian’s Sustainability blog, Christopher Hodgson takes an in-depth look at the long-term environmental sustainability of digital technologies. “The overall carbon emissions from the digital ecosystem is significant,” he writes. “For example, global data centres are estimated to equate to 2% of global emissions, equal to the emissions from global aviation.” As Hodgson points out, this is with only about a quarter of the world’s population “online;” as that percentage increases, so will data center energy use.
The article also considers the “digital ecosystem” for online data and other digital media, and the factors driving energy use related to storing data. “Unlike the paper product—which, once produced, has a pretty fixed carbon footprint—a digital product is only ever part complete and its footprint is constantly influenced by many people: data center managers, cloud service providers, Internet service providers, digital developers, journalist and readers,” says Hodgson.
Read the article in full here.