A digital carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon emissions generated by the use of digital devices and services such as smartphones, computers, servers, and the internet. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, the impact of these devices on the environment is becoming a pressing issue. Some estimates suggest that the technology industry could account for up to 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

What is digital sustainability?

Digital sustainability refers to the responsible and constant use of digital technologies to support business operations while also minimizing negative environmental and social impacts. By integrating eco-conscious practices, mindful resource management, and ethical technology use, digital sustainability strives to ensure that your workplace maximizes its digital potential while contributing to a more sustainable and resilient future.

In short, digital sustainability is using your businesses technology to tackle climate change.

How unnecessary emails are unsustainable

Likely, you’ve already responded to several emails today and as the day goes on, you’ll spend time browsing the internet. Each of these activities leads to carbon dioxide being emitted. Globally, email usage generates as much CO2 as adding an extra 7 million cars on the road. Research suggests that over 64 million unnecessary emails are sent daily in the UK alone.

emails and digital sustainability
As opposed to using open ended questions, be assertive or ask yes/no questions to reduce long unnecessary email chains.

Whilst emails are an integral form of communication in today’s modern world, if every Brit sent just one less email, we would save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year. To put this into perspective, it’s the same as 81,152 flights to Madrid.

How leaders can achieve digital sustainability

It’s important for leaders to be aware of their organisation’s digital carbon footprint and to take action to reduce it. In this guide, we will explore how to adopt more sustainable IT practices in your office or workplace.

The five steps to achieve digital sustainability include:

  1. Conduct a digital audit
  2. Adopt sustainable computing practices
  3. Choose sustainable suppliers
  4. Develop a sustainability culture
  5. Consider going paperless

You can find more information and guidance on each of those steps below.

1. Conduct a Digital Audit

Consider this the best place to start. Conducting a digital audit can help businesses identify devices and services that are energy intensive. This can include computers, servers, printers, and other digital devices. In addition to hardware, software can also have a significant impact on a business’s digital carbon footprint. Some software requires a lot of server usage or data processing, which can lead to high energy consumption.

By identifying energy-intensive devices and services, assessing energy efficiency, evaluating software, monitoring usage, and implementing energy-saving measures, businesses can significantly reduce their carbon emissions and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

2. Adopting Sustainable Computing Practices

One way for businesses to reduce their digital carbon footprint is to adopt sustainable computing practices. This could include investing in more energy-efficient devices and encouraging their employees to turn off devices when not in use, reducing unnecessary screen time, and using energy-saving settings.

Learn more about the role of technology in digital sustainability in this interview with Jake McGuire and Jon Sweet from McKinsey:

Replacing physical servers

Organisations can also replace physical servers with virtual ones, or move services to the cloud to cut down on the number of physical technologies they’re using. As data centres around the world balance demand surge with sustainability, utilising renewable energy sources could be utilised to power them.

achieving digital sustainability with servers
Out with the old, in with the new. Cloud computing is the sustainable way forward.

In terms of data centres using green energy, Google Cloud is responsible for a considerable proportion of world-firsts. In 2017, it was the world’s first major company to match its energy use with 100% renewable energy. Looking to the future, Google Cloud is working towards eliminating its entire carbon footprint, committing to operating on carbon-free energy across its entire global data centre network by 2023.

3. Choose Sustainable Suppliers

Another way for businesses to reduce their digital carbon footprint is to choose suppliers that prioritise sustainability in their operations. Look for suppliers that offer eco-friendly products and services, such as devices that are made from recycled materials, or cloud providers that use renewable energy sources. This will help to reduce the environmental impact of your supply chain.

Choose suppliers with transparent reporting

You can also choose suppliers that have transparent reporting on their digital sustainability practices. This will help you to assess their environmental and social impact and ensure that they are making progress towards their sustainability goals, whilst you’re looking to improve your own.

Ask if the supplier uses a certified environmental management system (EMS) such as ISO 14001 to assess their environmental impacts. By considering these factors when choosing digital suppliers, businesses can ensure that they are partnering with companies that share their commitment to sustainability.

4. Develop a Sustainability Culture

Developing a sustainability culture is a critical component of any successful digital sustainability strategy, and leadership sets the transformation agenda, but for real change to happen, there needs to be buy-in from the entire business. Educate your employees about the importance of sustainability and how their actions can have an impact on the environment.

Set sustainability goals

Establish sustainability goals for the business, such as reducing the company’s carbon footprint, reducing waste, or increasing the use of renewable energy. Make sure these goals are measurable and attainable and communicate them to all employees. Businesses should then regularly track and report on the progress towards these goals. This can help to keep employees motivated and engaged in digital sustainability efforts.

Sustainability can help attract talent

Investing in digital sustainability could be said to be a triple win; it supports the climate emergency, drives business value and helps businesses to attract top talent. According to a 2021 survey from global sustainability consultant Anthesis, 53% of the U.K.’s workforce said sustainability is an important factor when choosing a company to work for. As many as 40% of UK workers are disappointed by the lack of effort and resources put into digital sustainability by their employers.

attracting talent through digital sustainability
Attracting young technology recruits can be challenging – adopting and publishing your digital sustainability strategy could make recruitment a whole lot easier.

5. Consider Going Paperless

…Or as close to it as you can. Encourage the use of digital documents instead of paper. This can include using electronic signatures, digital forms, and cloud-based file-sharing and storage systems. Businesses can identify the processes in place that rely on paper-based systems and work to eliminate them. For example, consider using digital workflows and approvals instead of paper-based processes. Switching to digital invoicing and receipt systems instead of paper-based systems can also reduce the amount of paper waste generated by the business.

Reduce unnecessary printing

Encourage employees to only print documents when absolutely necessary. When printing is required, use double-sided printing to reduce paper usage and opt for recycled paper to reduce the environmental impact. Business should also encourage their staff to use digital tools for communication, note-taking, and other tasks.

In Conclusion…

While adopting sustainable IT practices may require some initial investments, the long-term benefits and cost savings far outweigh the initial costs. By reducing energy consumption and using energy-efficient hardware, companies can not only save on costs but also comply with regulations, improve their reputation, increase employee satisfaction, and reduce their carbon footprint.

As the world becomes more conscious of environmental sustainability, businesses that prioritise sustainable practices will not only, and most importantly, benefit the planet, but also gain a competitive edge in attracting environmentally conscious customers and retaining top talent.

It’s time for businesses to take action and adopt sustainable IT practices to pave the way for a more sustainable future.

We are CPS, the experts at finding experts. A leading technology recruitment specialist who for over two decades, have been helping clients succeed by bringing the best permanent and interim talent to their doors across the multiple technologies.

Written by Naomi, Group Marketing Manager.