The impact of technology on climate - themetaeconmist

The unexpected impact of technology on climate

29 July 2022


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CLIMATE IMPACT TECHNOLOGY - Would you have said that 30 of the emails in your mailbox have the same impact on the environment as a light bulb lit for 24h? And that the average carbon footprint of a half-hour Netflix video is equivalent to driving a conventional car for about 100 meters? Digital technology has a certain climate footprint. How? With the CO2 emissions that every single online action produces. But how much weight does this footprint have? Let’s see it together.

The impact of technology on climate

We are living in the age of digital transformation. At work and in private life, technology is increasingly entering our everyday lives. Often the digital transformation is also associated with the ecological transition, as if the two were one or traveling together, being the first a tool to reach the second. In fact, this is not always the case, because digital technology also has a certain impact on the climate.

According to The Shift Project in the study "Lean ICT - Towards Digital Sobriety" of 2019, the entire ICT sector produces 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with an annual growth rate of 9%. This last figure is not reliable today, since with the pandemic the use of digital technology has been greatly increased. To get a complete picture, however, these data should be compared with the emissions produced by the events in presence, replaced by virtual ones, and that produce a much greater environmental impact. According to a calculation by the Carbon Literacy Project: 

"An office employee receives about 121 emails a day, including spam, newsletters and drafts, which produce as much as 1.6 kilograms of CO2. In a year it is estimated that the carbon footprint of a single worker is close to the total carbon footprint of an inhabitant of India."

Event in presence vs Virtual event

The above data should, however, be contextualized, for example, a comparison between a phenomenon carried out without the use of digital technology and one with the use of technology to see which of the two in large numbers has the most effects on the climate. Let’s try for example with the Fairs and compare an event in presence to one completely online. To do this we rely on research conducted by "Punto 3", a company founded in 2007, specializing in sustainable events. According to their study:

  • "A participant traveling 200 km by car to reach a physical event, is responsible for 36 Kg of CO2
  • One hour of video streaming corresponds to 36 g of CO2

Taking a 3-day Fair (UFI 2019) with 11,600 square meters of exhibition space, 120 exhibitors and 11,734 participants, we can see that the overall impact in terms of CO2 emissions generated by the Fair is equal to 5,922 tons of CO2-eq.

If we consider a Virtual Fair with 11,734 participants and 120 exhibitors, the environmental impact would be approximately 58.67 t of CO2-eq (2.4 tons of CO2-eq per hour).

We can therefore say that the impact of the digital event is about 100 times less than at the physical fair." 

The above data would change further if a hybrid solution were implemented. 

Climate and technology, what to do to improve emissions

As we have seen, digital has a certain significant impact on the environment. Action to improve this impact is possible. The first thing to do is to look for energy suppliers that use renewable energy sources. For example, Google has compensated 100% of the energy consumed annually with the purchase of renewable energy, bringing into the network about 6 gigawatts of new renewable energy.

To talk about smaller and more immediate actions, it would be enough to begin to delete subscriptions to newsletters that do not interest us and delete, even from the basket, all the emails no longer needed.

What we need to do is put into practice what The Shift Project says:

"Digital sobriety": an approach that aims to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology.

READ ALSO ---> Rising Technology Trends Impacting the World

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