What is Digital Decarbonisation?

Digital decarbonisation is centred around the responsible and efficient utilisation of knowledge and data within organisations. It emphasizes the adoption of digital best practices in sustainability strategies, with the ultimate goal of minimising data-related carbon emissions.

The global push for net zero emissions, as demonstrated through initiatives like the UK’s ‘Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy’, has predominantly focused on the physical decarbonisation activities of businesses.

This has included efforts to reduce carbon emissions from production processes and the promotion of digital alternatives to physical activities, such as remote meetings. However, one critical aspect has been overlooked: the environmental impact of digitalization itself, from the generation and storage of data by individuals and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, to the increased use of online technologies in society.

As our daily digital footprint continues to grow alongside the rapid expansion of the metaverse, the costs of digitalization to industry, society and the environment are becoming increasingly significant.

Despite this, government policies for decarbonisation and achieving net zero emissions have largely ignored these costs. For instance, data centres alone consume more power than the entire UK and are estimated to contain 65% dark data (used once or not at all), contributing significantly to the 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to digitalization.

Digital Decarbonisation explained

Tom Jackson and Ian Hodgkinson explain what Digital Decarbonisation is and what impact it has

The media’s focus is primarily on carbon emissions from the automotive, aviation and energy sectors, but the data industry is likely to produce more emissions than these industries combined.

These findings highlight the significant and previously hidden role digital data practices have in contributing to society’s carbon footprint. It is therefore crucial that future decarbonisation initiatives take a more holistic approach, considering the environmental impact of digitalization as well as physical decarbonisation activities.

What are we doing?

By increasing awareness of the impact that digital data has on carbon emissions we will:

  • help national and international policymakers to incorporate digital decarbonisation into their net zero strategies
  • support organisations of all sizes to evaluate their digital projects before they begin – not after
  • encourage individuals and groups to think about their digital behaviours and take responsible actions.
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