Although traditionally considered a more eco-friendly alternative to paper, digital technologies can be a major source of pollution.

“If the Internet was a country, it would be ranked third in the world for its electricity consumption, after China and the United States.” 

– Gary Cook, Digital Specialist and SeniorCorporate Campaigner at Greenpeace (2019) 

A few stats on digital pollution: 

Digital technologies are responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A typical person’s annual worth of inbound emails equals a car traveling 320 km.

10 hours of high-definition video is equivalent to more data than the entirety of Wikipedia English-language articles.

Online video alone generates 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This article highlights the causes of digital pollution as well as solutions to reduce it within your organization. 

Digital pollution sources: intangible, but not invisible

Behind each digital service are hidden physical infrastructures that are responsible for significant energy expenses. The Shift Project’s Deploying Digital Sobriety report classifies digital technologies into two categories: production and use. 


Digital technology production accounts for 45% of energy consumption 

The manufacturing of digital devices called terminals (e.g., smart watches, computers, phones, smart assistants) generates significantly polluting energy uses. Consider, for example, the countless mining operations, massive industrial processes, and ubiquitous delivery services.


The use of digital technologies accounts for 55% of energy consumption 

The use of digital technology translates into the use of terminals, network infrastructures (mobile network, optical fiber) and huge data centers that must store and process all incoming requests. 

With the proliferation of devices used by each person, the energy expenditure caused by digital technologies continues to grow and becomes difficult to stabilize.


How to reduce digital pollution within your organization?

You can tackle digital pollution one step at a time. By addressing the ecological footprint of your organization’s digital activities and by opening a dialogue with your team members, you are helping to build a sustainable digital culture


Raise awareness and involve your teams

Sharing information on digital pollution, offering practical training to your team, and creating a guide on good digital usage and habits are some examples of relevant activities. 

Your organization could, for example, take part in cleaning up your servers and emails on a monthly basis. 

Review your operating modes

What tools do your team members use on a daily basis? Are you using multiple storage servers unnecessarily? Do you have an archiving or destruction procedure that can lighten your servers, or an internal digital sobriety policy? 

Analyzing and optimizing the tools and working methods within your organization helps avoid the inefficient multiplication of documentation and storage systems that contribute to digital pollution.


Learn about the ecological footprint of your digital suppliers 

Your organization uses the services of the web giants daily. Among other things, consider your computer fleet (ex. Apple), data storage (e.g., Google Drive), collaboration tools (e.g., Slack), communication tools (e.g., Teams), search engines (Google) and social media (ex. Facebook). 

Unfortunately, these companies contribute greatly to digital pollution, especially through the use of their gigantic data centers. These require a huge amount of energy. 

You can wisely choose the companies you support based on your values. Some are trying to distinguish themselves from the competition by offering more environmentally-friendly alternatives, whether it’s videoconferencing or web hosting services, or even search engines. By doing your research, you will undoubtedly make some great discoveries! 

In this sense, this report by Greenpeace has created a rating system to quantify the ecological actions of the web giants.


Minimize the replacement of technological equipment

The manufacture of these equipment is responsible for a large part of the digital pollution.

Moreover, Canadian provinces are developing bills to fight programmed obsolescence, a technique used by technology companies to voluntarily reduce the life span of a product to increase its replacement rate. 

While waiting for these legislative changes, your organization can define its own criteria for purchasing technological equipment, taking into account both the environment and quality. Performing regular maintenance on this equipment and prioritizing second-hand purchases are also effective alternatives to minimize the replacement of technological equipment. 


The little things you can do 

These actions help reduce digital pollution when applied individually. 

Prioritize chat and telephone over email

Chatting and texting are 400 times less polluting than email.

Avoid sending attachments by email

Preferably send a hyperlink to an online document or use a document compression tool (e.g., WeTransfer).

Shutting down your computer instead of putting it to sleep

A computer in standby mode still generates 20% to 40% of its usual power consumption.

Bookmark frequently used websites

Finding a website using a search engine (e.g., Google) consumes four times more energy than accessing the same website directly. 

Turn off your camera during a virtual meeting

Although this gesture is less user-friendly, it remains an ecological method. Audio consumes less bandwidth than video.

Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters and delete emails that are no longer needed

Unassessed data (nicknamed zombie data) represents 20% of the data in information systems. Reducing at the source avoids unnecessary digital pollution generated by sending the newsletter and its automatic deletion afterwards. 

Would you like to implement more sustainable communication practices on a daily basis?  Make an appointment today for an exploratory meeting with The Storyteller! 

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