Digital products help humans do great things. Unfortunately, those products rely on a whole lot of electricity to do them.
Electricity powers the internet. It’s used in data centres, telecommunications networks, and the devices we use to access the internet. In 2016, that amount of electricity used in data centres alone equalled 16.2 terawatt-hours of electricity - that’s more than the United Kingdom used in total the same year.
But the good news is that digital builders don’t need digital tools for every task in their workflows. And when they do use digital tools, builders can minimize their resource load.
Here are four ways digital builders can decrease their CO2 emissions while working day in and day out.
1. Skip the digital tools when you don’t really, truly need them
It’s easy to forget when writing in a Google doc that it’s an online activity. It feels like a pretty minimal task, especially if you’re simply taking notes in a meeting for your own personal use. This is an excellent opportunity to go old-fashioned.
Grab the back of that flyer someone handed you on the street yesterday and write your notes there. Use that brochure for your to-do lists. Just make sure that you have a designated location to keep track of all those loose sheets.
If you’re working in an office, why not walk to your colleague’s desk rather than sending them a message? If that type of interruption isn’t great for you (or your colleague), set up office hours that people can feel free to come and go, asking you all of the questions that they stored up throughout the day.
2. Skip the digital options when taking focus breaks
Rest is part of every workflow. Without taking breaks to rest your brain, you can’t think creatively and do your best work. We often turn to social media to take a break; however, social media isn’t without its cost. 50 million tweets are sent every single day, and each tweet produces roughly 0.02g of CO2. That adds up fast.
Communications technology could use 20% of all electricity and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025, according to an update to a 2016 peer-reviewed study by Swedish researcher Anders Andrae. If the internet were a country, it would be the seventh-largest polluter in the world.
So, instead of grabbing your phone or investigating what people are up to on social media, choose a non-digital option to take a breather. Here are just a few suggestions.
- Go for a walk and smell something lovely
- Look out the window, into the distance (It is good for eyesight, too!)
- Try a short meditation
- Count backwards from 256 by 12s
- Make a stunning cup of coffee
- Water your plants — they need to stay hydrated, too
- Read that book that has been sitting on your desk for a month
Turning to non-digital forms of rest isn’t just better for the environment; it’s better for your health.
3. Decrease energy consumption when using digital tools by staying focused
Digital builders eventually need to use digital tools. But that doesn’t mean we must go from 0 to 60 in energy consumption by turning on a computer. We can use hardware and products in responsible ways.
Try working on one project at a time. Close all of those tabs, even if you’re entirely confident that you’ll one day get back to that one article you wanted to read. See what it’s like to close tools after you use them. Decreasing the demand on your computer won’t only save energy but give you a bit more headspace.
This approach of simplifying and focusing can inform any number of areas. Unsubscribe and delete the emails you’ll never need again. Turn off your notifications and maybe even your phone. Do you genuinely need three screens on while you work?
4. Prioritize efficiency in information delivery amongst you, colleagues and clients
The heavier the email, the more resources it requires to get from you to the recipient. Science Focus reports that even basic emails contribute quite a bit. They write, “Sending 65 emails is roughly equivalent to driving 1km in a car. In a year, an average person in the developed world adds 136kg of CO2 to their carbon footprint from the emails they send and receive. This is equivalent to an extra 320km driven in a car. Globally, the world’s email usage generates as much CO2 as having an extra seven million cars on the roads.”
Communicating clearly and directly will minimize the number of emails sent back and forth. If done well, everyone will understand each other quickly and easily the first time around.
Efficiency is better for the environment in every instance. Shorten those articles, project plans and support ticket requests. Use your words and attachments carefully.
Where to begin
Sometimes working with sustainability in mind can make you feel claustrophobic at work — how is it possible to be productive without causing the planet harm?! Hopefully, these four suggestions make your days a little bit easier.
And, when you’re looking for tools to build digital products more efficiently and sustainably, we can use our partner, Contentful to help you do that.