World first: Researchers create CO2 measurement tool to calculate emissions caused by digital data

  • By 2025, it is estimated that the global data will surpass 180 zettabytes
  • The amount of digital data is doubling every two years
  • A typical data-driven business employing 100 full-time employees will generate approximately 2,203 tons of CO2 emissions annually due to new data, which is equivalent to a cost of $28,267 for nature-based carbon offsetting
  • The inclusion of the data CO2 footprint is a crucial factor missing from global decarbonisation policies
  • Data centres are responsible for 2.5% to 3.7% of all human-induced carbon dioxide. More than the aviation industry (2.1%)

A unique carbon footprint tool has been created to allow businesses to measure the CO2 output of their digital data.

Each day, the average person creates 10 DVDs-worth of data via their phones, fitness trackers, emails – anything which uses ones and zeros to process information.

All these bytes are collected and processed by companies and stored at various data centres around the globe. By 2025, there will be an estimated 180 zettabytes of stored data - the equivalent of 6.8 billion years of continuous Netflix streaming.

By using the tool, believed to be the first of its kind, companies can make data-driven decisions that benefit the environment and save money by reducing reliance on carbon offsetting schemes.

Professor Ian Hodgkinson of Loughborough Business School said: “In the push towards net zero, digital technologies have played, and continue to play, a critical role, but we must also be cognisant of the hidden data CO2 cost attached to the way society and organisations use digital technologies.

“Identifying and measuring the data CO2 footprint is essential for future decarbonisation strategies."

His colleague Professor Tom Jackson added: "We are excited to announce the launch of the world's first publicly available tool empowering organisations to assess the environmental impact of their data projects.

“With this tool, organisations can determine the carbon footprint of their data-related activities and explore better data approaches to reduce their data carbon footprint while driving down carbon emissions.

“By using this tool, organisations can make informed decisions to minimise their environmental impact while still achieving their business objectives."

Recognizing the significance of digital decarbonisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Observatory for Public Sector Innovation (OECD-OPSI) have identified Jackson and Hodgkinson's work as a critical focus for accelerating the path to net-zero.

  • The data carbon ladder is now published open access and available here.
  • More info on digital decarbonisation can be found here.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 23/104

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

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