We underestimate it. We don’t pay attention. We are not aware of it. Yet navigating a sea of data (emails, photos, Whatsapp messages and videos) comes at a cost. Gigantic. And once again the planet is paying the consequences. There is a stunning example that gives the idea: if 70 million streaming subscribers lowered the video quality of streaming services from HD to Standard we would have a monthly reduction of 3.5 million tons of CO2. That is, 6% of monthly coal consumption in the United States.
But there’s more: we are often literally inundated with digital waste. Which create pollution. And that is why, to increase the digital environmental footprint awareness through responsible digital awareness actions, which today is celebrated on Digital Cleanup Day. With a triple invitation: clean up the memories of your devices, do not send useless messages and emails and, above all, always think about the opportunity to give a second life to digital equipment. The initiative was conceived by World Cleanup Day France: launched for the first time in 2020 (under the name of Cyber World CleanUp Day), it takes place every year on the third Saturday of March. And the movement, spanning 91 countries around the world, is growing.
Global warming also passes through our devices
In Italy, it is the non-profit organization “Let’s do it Itay”, created with the aim of cleaning up waste from the world and combating climate change, which coordinates awareness-raising actions on a national scale. “We try to make people understand that digital waste creates digital pollution that continues to consume energy even when we have forgotten about it. – explains the president Vincent CapassoIT expert with a Master’s degree in Information Technology and network security in public administrations – Because the digital garbage is in the backups on the servers that provide us with cloud service and still consume electricity“.
We need a small cultural revolution, in short. Because, continues Capasso, “our unlimited consumption of data today requires three times more energy than all the solar panels in the world can produce. And our Internet mania runs mainly on fossil fuels”. In short: unnecessary clicks and passive streaming are responsible for over 870 million tons of CO2. “Contributing in a consistent way – explains the president of “Let’s do it Italy” – to global warming”. In recent days, the organization has thus promoted a series of challengestarting withdeleting old emails, unsubscribing useless newsletters and removing attachments in our downloads from emails we no longer need.
“60% of emails are not opened, 62 trillion spam emails are sent every year. They just sit there taking up space and energy in our inbox“, continues Capasso.
How much CO2 consume a single email?
“The truth is that the world has always been late and today we are paying the consequences, we have always underestimated its tremendous impact on the environment and the ecosystem, and today we know how complex it is to run for cover. – explains Enrico Parolisi, a computer science graduate , digital communication strategist, director of the magazine dedicated to economics, business and innovation “F-Mag” – For this reason, now that the digital and interconnected world is a fact and there is no turning back, it is good – for once in the history of humanity – knowing that our online life also has significant impacts, and the first example is precisely our e-mails. Research estimates that 64 million ‘useless’ emails are sent in the UK alone every day. And it is estimated that a single email has a carbon footprint of between 4 and 50 grams of CO2.
Data often seems intangible is crammed into real machines that consume energy. So imagine these machines that can’t shut down to keep copies of messages with a trivial ‘thank you’ or newsletters with information from ten years ago. The difference, compared to the past, is that today we are aware of this impact. And it would be unforgivable not to act accordingly.”
Is there the call? Turn off the camcorder
And there are some absolutely emblematic numbers. An employee who participates in 15 hours of online meetings with the camera on, an increasingly common practice in the post-pandemic era, creates 9.4 kg of CO2 per month. “Turning off the video would save the same amount of emissions that are created by charging a smartphone every night for over three years”, explains the president of “Let’s do it Italy”. And again: “Did you know that it takes more energy to mine Bitcoins than the whole of New Zealand consumes in a year? That’s right: Bitcoin mining produces nothing but a few bytes of encrypted data, consumes huge amounts of energy computing without actually creating a user product or service. Again: Google consumes 15,616 MWh of energy per day, more than what the Hoover Dam produces and would power an entire country with a million inhabitants for one day”.
We (also) gain free time and serenity
And if the question of environmental sustainability is certainly of primary importance, also because the elimination of unnecessary data also allows you to extend the life of technological gadgets, to clean – explains the organization – it also helps “to feel more balanced and take control of our lives, forging new digital habits and we will be more efficient and satisfied”.
Because managing the 281 billion e-mail messages we exchange every day (often to no avail) requires each of us more than 3 hours a day, 23% of the total time we dedicate to work. A lot, too much. “Organizing our emails, sending less and using alternative modes of communication, such as co-working spaces, would free up that time, but it would also limit the ineffective practice of organizing work via email,” Capasso says.