When we think about our carbon footprint, hot topics include plastic waste, air pollution and high energy consumption. But we don’t give as much attention to the impact of our digital life.
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With the corporate and social changes of the past few years, more and more people are working and schooling from home. That shift comes with some benefits to the environment, like less commuters on the road and virtually no paper correspondence. However, it also comes with a massive energy footprint.
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According to a 2021 study, when pandemic lockdowns occurred in the first quarter of 2020, internet usage jumped by 40%. That means we’re sucking up a lot more energy than we used to. Most electricity is still produced from fossil fuels, primarily oil, coal and natural gas. While we work towards an increased reliance on renewable energy instead, one action we can take is to curb our digital footprint.
This energy discussion doesn’t even start to touch on other environmental aspects of our digital lives, such as mining and manufacturing involved in making our tablets, laptops, desktops, cell phones and other electronic devices. With technological innovation spinning out at the speed of light, e-waste is a huge issue too. So what can we do to reduce our impact?
Clean out your digital storage
With everything stored in the digital realm, we often lose track of the thousands of pictures and documents we’ve sent into the cloud. But digital storage contributes to a massive footprint with huge data centers working on the storage task. Reducing your personal storage by consistently cleaning out pictures, videos, documents and other digital products, means less servers, equipment and energy is needed to maintain the temperature-controlled data centers.
Skip the upgrades
Sometimes your work requires the right tool for the job. Obviously if you need to upgrade a sluggish computer or glitchy phone, do what you’ve got to do. Otherwise, resist the urge to upgrade simply because you can. Wait for your device to come to the end of its usable life before replacing it.
If you do make an upgrade, sell or donate your older model so others can benefit from it before it reaches the end of its days.
Repair instead of replace
We live in a time of disposable products. Manufacturers don’t offer much in the way of inspiration when it comes to repairing electronic devices. In fact, many make it downright difficult. Have you tried to get into a laptop recently? This “planned obsolescence” is purposeful in order to sell more products. However, you can often find a way around the difficulties in making these repairs. Look to local service people. Check iFixit for manuals and guides. Hit up YouTube for repair tutorials.
The EPA reports barely more than 12% of e-waste is properly recycled. That’s a massive amount of chemicals and hardware left to leach into the soil and mound up for generations.
If it’s time to recycle your device, look for an e-waste recycler to do the job properly. Most municipal waste management companies offer the service. Many large retailers do too. You can even recycle electronic batteries, cords, remotes and cables.
Kill the power
Phantom energy flows from your devices, even when you’re not using them. There’s no reason to power computers, televisions and other devices during the off hours. Instead, shut down computers, turn off the television if you’re not in the room and unplug all devices when not in use or charging. This simple task can significantly improve the lifespan of your device, keeping it out of the waste stream longer.
You can make cutting power easier by plugging primary devices into power strips that can be turned off with the flip of a switch. If you have outlets powered by a light switch, it makes it even easier.
Work devices more efficiently
There are many settings on your devices that allow for more energy-efficient operation without affecting your service. For example, you can lower the brightness on your screen to consume up to 20% less energy.
Find your device settings and schedule your screen to sleep after the lowest time available, often 30 seconds. This not only saves energy, but improves the longevity of your device.
Also, take a look at your streaming devices. Instead of automatically playing the next episode, turn off the auto features so you’re not sucking up data while sleeping or when you leave the room.
You may find it easy to ignore the junk that automatically funnels into your junk file or the sight of your overfilled inbox may give you hives. Either way, each of those emails leaves a digital footprint. Take the time to unsubscribe from unwanted emails, not only for the sake of your sanity, but for the unnecessary energy consumption required to receive those unwanted mailings.
Re-source your energy
Perhaps the best way to rebalance your digital consumption is to source the energy you do use from renewable resources. Install solar panels, or tap into wind, geothermal or hydro options in your area.
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