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Digital Organizing and the Environmental Impacts of the Cloud

Digital organizing and strategies to better manage digital clutter is a topic we’ve discussed in the past. Technology can be extremely helpful in a number of ways, but it’s equally important to understand how to use it properly.  

Cloud computing and storage are great advancements within the world of technology, offering next-level convenience for internet users. However, there is also another “darker” side of the cloud many people may not be aware of.

The cloud is actually on land

Despite its name, data in the cloud actually resides on land. Data centers are large facilities housing everything that is transmitted, received and stored in the cloud. The servers used for this process run 24/7 and therefore generate massive amounts of carbon emissions. The heating and cooling require even more power and energy.

Everything we do on our devices also has an associated energy cost. From taking a photo, to sending an email, to streaming music, to searching on Google. Every action produces emissions due to the backend work to deliver the information to your device. It doesn’t seem substantial at this small of a scale, but when you consider there are over 50 billion devices connected to the cloud worldwide, the numbers scale up quickly and immensely.  The carbon footprint of the tech industry represents about 2% of global CO2 emissions. Studies show it is on track to pass the total footprint of the aviation industry.  

Not only is there the physical infrastructure of data centers, but there is also all of the infrastructure of wiring and cables that allow the transmission of data and information across the globe. Building and implementing all of this infrastructure requires energy, and as the tech industry continues to grow, even more construction will be necessary. Last, there is the manufacturing and distribution and powering of devices, which add to the emissions produced. 

Reducing your carbon footprint

The inevitable progression of cloud computing and cloud storage doesn’t have to be an ecological horror story, though. Many tech giants are already on board with green initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of their cloud-based computing by using renewable energy to power their massive data centers. There are also ways each of us can help reduce our digital carbon footprint as well.

Although it is very easy for people to back up all of their old files into the cloud, if you don’t need to reference something later, don’t take up the time and energy to archive it in the first place.  

Tips to improve data hygiene

  • Do your research! Learn where your most used internet platforms and applications store their data. Some companies have their own data centers or rent space from other tech companies. Find out where your favorite platforms store their data and push them to power their data centers with renewable energy. Alternately, switch to platforms that are conscious of their carbon footprint and are already using renewable energy.
  • Backup your own data onto an external hard drive instead of a cloud-based service, when possible.  
  • Stream music and videos on WiFi, when possible. Streaming with cellular data requires more energy than streaming on WiFi. 
  • Change your email habits. Unsubscribe from email lists. Don’t be so quick to hit “Reply All”. Emails release almost 1 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day.  
  • Delete old files and photos you no longer want or need. Although it is very easy to back up old files into the cloud, if you don’t need to reference something later, don’t take up the time and energy to archive it in the first place.  
  • Power down your devices when they are not in use. Be conscious of devices left plugged in; even when idle, they still use energy.
  • Tighten up your privacy settings to reduce the amount of data generated with every search and click on your device.  
  • Ask for a cleaner cloud. The internet, devices, and cloud computing account for 10% of the globe’s energy consumption. This consumption is not a pressing issue, however, if the energy originates from clean sources like solar and wind power. Constant consumer pressure on global tech brands helps turn around the negative impacts of that energy.  

Let us help you improve your habits

Are you overwhelmed by digital clutter and don’t know where to start to become better digitally organized? Would you like to learn more about how you can more effectively use the cloud for storage? Can we help you to improve your habits around your carbon usage? Contact us and we will partner with you on the path to the “lighter side” of using the cloud.

Sources: 

Thank you to Simply Placed community member Dr. Bizzy Riley for bringing this interesting topic to our attention. Thank you to Simply Placed Professional Organizer Dana Diaz for researching and writing this post.

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