Loughborough experts shine a light on the climate change impact of dark data

Inside view of a data centre.

Loughborough Business School academics, Professor Tom Jackson and Professor Ian Hodgkinson, have put a spotlight on the hidden impact of ‘dark data’ on organisations’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Professors Jackson and Hodgkinson recently submitted a policy brief outlining the scope of this critical, but often overlooked, issue at the invitation of The International Advisory Group (IAG) of the Academy of Social Sciences. 

The IAG Briefing Series aims to examine the biggest challenges facing the world today, using an international, interdisciplinary approach which draws on the relevant expertise of leading researchers from across the globe. This series identifies and proposes solutions to complex societal challenges concerning climate change, public health, digital innovation, and population shifts.

Tom and Ian’s policy briefing: 'Why, where and when dark data affects greenhouse gas emissions' highlights the significant environmental issue of ‘dark data’ energy consumption. Dark data refers to information assets collected by companies that are largely unanalysed and underutilised. Despite not being in active use and often forgotten from corporate memory, this data still requires extensive energy resources, creating both financial and environmental costs for organisations and the planet.

Professor Hodgkinson said: “The explosive growth of data creation reflects an attitude that collecting data for its own sake is valuable for every business. However, without effective data management and planning, this practice presents notable costs for companies. Latest estimates indicate that data centres may contain as much as 65% dark data, representing a huge burden from digital waste.

“Policy and government attention has been placed on the energy-intensive nature of data centres as outlined in the UK’s industrial decarbonisation strategy. While such actions are certainly important, we need to go beyond asking ‘how we store it all’ to ‘should we store it all’.”

Professor Jackson added: “It is crucial that we bring digital decarbonisation to the forefront of sustainability policy. By championing the widespread adoption of digital decarbonisation practices, we aim to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of organisations and bolster global climate action initiatives.”

Find out more about the impact of dark data: AI drives 48% increase in Google emissions