• Culture

The hidden eco cost of technology

Small tips to clean up your tech habits

By Felicity Bonello

Even before the pandemic, the internet’s carbon footprint had been increasing. Now, with our newly acquired WFH life brimming with videoconferencing and streaming, it turns out our excessive tech use is having an impact on the environment. Naturally, with the world coming to grips with its own new mid-pandemic norm, it’s not like we need anything further to worry about (don’t worry we’re not here to make you feel guilty!).

But did you know for example the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7 per cent of global greenhouse emissions; with that percentage predicted to double by 2025?

While the shift to a more digital world has made an impressive dent in global emissions overall, thanks to a decrease in travel related emissions, the impact of our increasingly virtual lifestyles is worth noting too.

Group sitting around a laptop pointing
By cutting out simple things like excess emails you can do your part in cutting emissions. Image: John Schnobrich / Unsplash

Chill out on the email chat

Sure, the carbon footprint of an individual email isn’t huge, but by simply stopping unnecessary “thank you” emails, swapping email attachments for links to documents, and reducing your cloud storage we could collectively save a lot of carbon emissions. What this represents is a broader principle that if we cut out simple things like excess emails it can be good for our wellbeing (hello to those with overflowing/overwhelming inboxes, we feel you) and good for the environment too. Oh, and try not to print your emails where possible. Every little bit helps.

Consume less

We understand. Tech moves quickly. And while keeping your laptop and other digital equipment for longer might be trickier than, say, hanging on to a pair of jeans, it’s the manufacture of these devices and their additions (think chargers, adapters et al) that weighs the most in the environmental footprint of the Internet at the global level. We buy and abandon huge numbers of different tech devices every year, but what if instead of changing our laptops, for example, every 2-3 years, we aim to keep them for 4-6 years. You’ll halve its impact.

Digital money has a real-world carbon footprint, but sustainable alternatives are on the rise. Image: Executium / Unsplash

Play your crypto right

For those playing in the crypto sphere, it’s probably no surprise to hear that digital money has a massive real-world carbon footprint. While the amount of energy needed to power the largest cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Ethereum is staggering, there is good news to be had. Sustainable alternatives are growing with the rise in environmentally friendly cryptocurrency. It’s worth noting that even those crypto on the sustainable trajectory are likely to have some sort of carbon footprint, albeit a smaller one than the heavy hitters mentioned above. But if you’re interested in alternatives, start with a deep dive into SolarCoin, BitGreen and Cardano.

Seek the balance

Like it or not, AI, immersive technology, and digital connectivity will continue to make giant leaps forward, digitising our homes in the coming years. With less than 30 years to achieve carbon neutrality, tech will also play a pivotal role for our planet. If you look back on the industrial revolution 200 years ago, it changed the world and created the world as we live today. So, imagine undoing this in a tenth of the time. We need to rely on technology, we need to innovate and we will need to incorporate artificial intelligence to achieve efficient living. This just makes it more important that we do what we can, where we can – seek out the sustainable crypto, don’t send unnecessary emails, power down your internet overnight, reduce your cloud storage – to leave space for what’s set to be a tech balancing act in the future.

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