Our online addiction doesn’t need to harm the environment.
Think for a moment about two choices you probably make every day.
First, how many times do you look at your smartphone? Between texts, emails, photos, and streamed videos, checking your phone could absorb as much as 3 to 5 hours per day according to some surveys. And that’s just our phones. During COVID, we are even more connected to our computers due to video conference calls.
Now, think about the things you do to protect the environment. Do you recycle paper, plastic, and glass? Do you buy energy-efficient light bulbs and carry your own refillable water bottle? Is your car a hybrid, or do you travel by public transportation or bicycle?
What choices would you make if your digital and sustainability actions were connected? The fact is, they are. The connection between each mouse click or smartphone app to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has long been known but is just beginning to be understood by consumers. A single tweet has an infinitesimal impact. But consider how much time you spend on your computer or phone and then think about how many other Americans are doing the same thing.
If you were unaware of the impact your digital footprint has on the environment, you are not alone. DigiPlex recently conducted an online poll and found that 73% of Americans said they did not know that using the internet takes a toll on the planet.
The connection is related to where the data is stored. Content on social media apps or movies from streaming services are stored in data centers somewhere on the planet. Data centers use enormous amounts of energy, much of which is derived from fossil fuels. Back in 2013, data centers in the United States alone used enough energy to support 34 coal-fired plants compared to other places in the world like the Nordics where energy is produced from sustainable sources. Despite improvements in efficiency, data centers worldwide still consume one percent of the entire global electricity supply - more than most countries.
If we are addicted to our devices, what difference does it make knowing how bad it really is? It turns out, the more Americans become aware of this, the faster they may be willing to change their data habits.
The survey also revealed that more than half of respondents would be willing to consider changing their digital behavior if they knew the environmental impact. Two-thirds said knowing the environmental impact of each streaming service would influence which one they choose. In other words, they might choose a streaming service that takes meaningful steps to reduce its energy consumption over one that does not.
This should be a wakeup call - not just to Americans who are discovering how their internet use is impacting the environment - but to companies who want to stay competitive. Consumer choice is a powerful force. Choosing a product, service, or action based on its environmental impact has become second nature to most Americans. With the consumer realization that the right digital choices can be better for the environment, big data producers should be ready to make their own smart choices about where they are storing that data.
Article written by DigiPlex chairman, Byrne Murphy