It goes without saying that a change in our energy consumption and subsequent carbon
emissions must be coupled with a crucial measure: a change in lifestyle. Millions of people are
making more conscious decisions regarding their own modes of consumption in their everyday
lives, including diet changes, ditching the car and airplane, and investing in more sustainable
projects. However, when it comes to technology, few are those that are fully aware of the impact
their own usage can have.
There are a myriad of things you do as part of your work that might not be very environmentally
friendly, particularly regarding the technological tools that you use for various functions, and that
have become crucial to the day-to-day running of a business. From sending emails and making
calls, to using sophisticated softwares as part of complex operations, technology has seeped
into possibly all of your activities at work. And while it presents undeniable benefits – in a world
where speed is key, an email definitely beats snail mail after all – it might be time to evaluate
whether your technological consumption is itself sustainable, and in accordance with your own
people and planet policy.
Data traffic has been steadily increasing in recent years, with a notable jump during the
coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, according to the International Energy Agency, data traffic
represented about 1% of global electricity consumption. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but the rate of
growth of the industry has been high and steady for years, and the boom is expected to
continue on this trend.
This increase in Internet traffic reflects the evolution of the labour market across the world.
According to a Forrester article, there were 1.25 billion information workers in 2018 globally –
that is, workers who use a technological tool, such as a phone or computer, as part of their work
for at least an hour per day. During the lockdown in 2020, almost half of these worked
completely remotely, and over 40% are now expected to continue working remotely on a part-
time basis. As a business, and in light of these trends, it is important to ask oneself: what is the
carbon footprint of technology use at work? How sustainable is it?
According to a Green Matters article, a text-based email generates about 4 grams of carbon
dioxide. If adding attachments, such as large files or images, it jumps up dramatically – up to 50
grams per email. These figures may not be particularly staggering. But as many of us probably
have hundreds, if not thousands, of old emails in our inbox, on a global scale it quickly amounts
to millions of tons in carbon emissions every year.
A 2021 study showed that an hour of video conference call, now very commonplace post-
pandemic, can produce around a kilogram of carbon dioxide and require 12 litres of water to run an environmental repercussion that is hard to dismiss.
But, no need to despair. There are a number of habits you can try to adapt to reduce these
‘invisible’ carbon emissions.
- Deleting emails. Keeping emails in your inbox for eternity carries a small but not
insignificant carbon footprint with it. Deleting them is an easy solution, and will help
declutter your inbox, potentially making you more productive in the long run.
- Reducing the amount of email traffic in your business. Limit the number of emails you
send as internal communications – scrap what is unnecessary, or what can be
communicated directly in person.
- If your business operates a regular newsletter to your partners or clients, be conscious
of all the elements that can significantly add to its carbon footprint, for eg. sophisticated
fonts, large images, and links. Unless you are using these to convey something specific
to your audience, they might be doing more harm than good.
- Avoid a Zoom call, or turn off your camera where possible.
- Ultimately, your business should be aware of the energy suppliers you are buying from.
The carbon footprint of data traffic comes down to one culprit – electricity consumption.
Investing some time and money into switching to a more sustainable energy company or
a more efficient energy plan, might be the most eco-friendly thing you can do.
Making small changes in everyday habits, whether at home or in the workplace, can go a long
way in tackling the environmental crisis that is already affecting millions of us. Not only this, it
can also really embed the change in mindset that is necessary to becoming more sustainable as
a business, and which is best in line with your own Environmental, Social, and Governance
goals. Showcasing your environmental commitment to colleagues and clients alike, through the
simple tasks that help you run your business, is a statement that will go a long way.
Blog written by Communique’s own Rebeca Florez Gomez